My son Mattan is living proof that a more just and equal society is possible.
It was our family’s landmark case in the Israeli High Court over twenty years ago that helped bring about the official recognition of equal rights for LGBT+ parents in Israel. It was a proud moment for my family, for our community, and for Israel.
Mattan’s arrest last week in the West Bank was a far less proud moment for Israel.
He and other Jewish Israeli peace advocates have been staying near the West Bank town of a-Tuwani to learn Arabic and help document and deter a dangerous spike in settler attacks this year.
Gangs from nearby settlements have been trying to harass and intimidate Palestinians off their land by burning farmland, slaughtering cattle, vandalizing property, throwing rocks and firing weapons into towns. Ongoing attacks this year have left several dead, dozens injured and one child in the hospital after a rock fractured his skull.
The IDF, tasked only with protecting Israeli citizens (but not with protecting vulnerable Palestinian civilians) has too often stood idly by, acted as security guards for the attackers, or even turned on peace activists to prevent them filming the violence. Since West Bank Palestinians aren’t citizens, Israeli authorities almost never bother to charge settlers or hold anyone accountable for the attacks.
Last week, my son and his colleagues were arrested after witnessing an altercation between a settler and local Palestinians. They faced excessive, trumped-up charges which were dropped entirely a day later.
Perhaps the most galling thing: One of the cobbled-together charges was an accusation that he and other peace activists had failed to intervene when witnessing the dispute — when it is actually the security force’s failure to intervene to prevent violence that’s become a primary reason he and other activists are there!
The message sent by these arrests and a number of recent IDF raids on Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists is clear: Stop speaking out about the occupation and settler violence. Stop making noise. Stop pointing cameras at the injustice that’s happening here.
(Despite dropping the charges, authorities continue to impound the cameras, phones and computers used by several activists, frustrating their ability to do their work).
“We’re not going to be intimidated; we know our rights; we know what we believe in and we know the people that we’re fighting with,” Mattan told me.
It might not be the usual response after having your son released from jail, but let me tell you: I’ve never been prouder. Despite the intimidation, my son and others will continue standing up for equality and speaking out against settler violence. It warms my heart to see him continue the fight for the equal rights of all families to live freely and raise their children in peace.
Israeli and Palestinian peace activists are on the frontlines fighting for a better future, and those of us who consider ourselves progressive, pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans have to have their backs.
We must press our government to take action, to stand up to the Israeli settlement movement, and fight for the shared values of justice, democracy and peace which underpin the US-Israel relationship. Because when the US government acts with determination and clarity, it can have a major positive impact.
Just this week — following both public and behind-the-scenes pressure from the Biden administration, as well as internal pressure from progressives within the Israeli government — Israeli authorities significantly delayed plans for a major new settlement between East Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Now, the Biden administration must continue to build on this progress and advocate for Israeli authorities to confront settler violence, to hold perpetrators of violence accountable no matter their citizenship, and to uphold the principles of justice and equality for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy progressives in the United States are not alone in this struggle, and we cannot give up. There are brave and determined people on the ground working every day to build a better future. As Israel’s strongest partner and closest friend, America has to have their backs.