By Sarah Turbow, Deputy Director of J Street U
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinians through a trip with Encounter. The IDF military operation searching for Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel had received criticism for Palestinian deaths, mass arrests and widespread home searches. Each speaker we met with, the question was inevitably asked: Given the criticism, what would each of our Palestinian speakers offer as an appropriate response from Israel, in searching for these three boys?
Most answered in some variation of “end the occupation.”
One answered, “Be Jewish.” Be Jewish. Act on your values.
I was thinking about this a lot as I traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem yesterday, reading Haaretz on my phone in the back of a shuttle taxi. By that time, the horrible reality of the three boys’ deaths had begun to sink in, and the morning’s news did not look good: the body of a 16-year old Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khudair, had been found, a suspected revenge killing. The night before had been marked by roving bands of right-wing Israeli extremists attacking Palestinians throughout Jerusalem, attempting to drag people off the light rail, attacking them in the street. A colleague called as my vehicle pulled up to the outdoor market to say that I should stay out of East Jerusalem, where images on TV were reminiscent of footage from the terrible days of the First and Second Intifadas.
It’s tempting these days to want to throw up our hands and say, “Maspick, Khalas! Enough!” Between the events of the past few weeks, the failure of negotiations, the mounting violence in the region and the polarizing political environment back home, it’s hard to be an American partner for peace, especially when the news seems to indicate the number of Israeli and Palestinian partners are dwindling. What is this place where children are kidnapped and brutally murdered? What are we fighting for? What is Jewish about this response?
But amidst the live updates, of bombings in Gaza and unrest in East Jerusalem and mourning parents, there was a little blip of hope – a rally of 1,000 people who gathered in central Jerusalem yesterday evening. Organized by the crucial anti-Price Tag organization Tag Meir, it was to mourn the boys, protest racism and say, we must find an appropriate response to all this horror. We must be Jewish.
I was proud to be there, along with the J Street U students among droves of young people, families with babies, white-haired ladies, and several Knesset members. I embraced friends and started to remember the many partners we do have here on the ground.
And as the sun started to go down, white-on-black stickers were handed out that said “Khalas!” in both Hebrew and Arabic. Enough!
But this time, “enough!” wasn’t an expression of despair, throwing up our hands in frustration and walking away. It was “enough. Enough of all of this. It’s time to go back to work.”