We all have a responsibility to help end the occupation

Hannah Bender Image
Hannah Bender
on June 9, 2017

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Last week, I returned from the most recent Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation, Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue, where I spent 9 days engaging in solidarity led by nonviolent Palestinian activists resisting the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Along with over 130 other Jews from around the world, I learned about the many faces of the occupation, and how we, as Jews from around the world, must recognize our unique and essential roles in ending it.

In this week’s parasha, Beha’alotcha, the Israelites, just a few weeks out of Egypt, have begun their 40 years in the wilderness. We receive orders for the first Passover, learn how to take care of the tabernacle and complain about how much better the food was while we were in slavery. Over the course of these chapters, God outlines the different responsibilities certain people must follow to sustain the community and uphold the covenant with God. Each person has unique powers and identities that help determine what their responsibilities to the community will be. For example, the Levites, members of the tribe of Levi, are those designated to help in the “tent of meeting” (Numbers 8:15). Various members of other tribes were sent out to survey the land ahead of the rest of the group, and others were in charge of carrying and watching over the tabernacle. These responsibilities are crucial in keeping the community both safe and holy. Just as each person in the parasha needed to recognize their roles in order to fulfill their covenant, we must look to ourselves to identify our own power and responsibility in ending the occupation and advancing peace.

That’s exactly what I did during my time in Israel and the West Bank, where I had the honor of spending a few days in the incredibly hospitable village of Um Al Khair, a community in the South Hebron Hills that constantly faces the threat of demolition. This village is directly bordered by the settlement of Karmel, which is illegal under international law. Um Al Khair welcomed us with open arms, hot tea and stories of their struggles for existence under the military occupation of the West Bank.

We spent the last few days of our time as a part of a historic coalition of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals, launching the Sumud Freedom Camp and returning residents of Sarura back to the homes they were forcefully removed from in the 90s. We began this launch on Friday morning. After a day of hard work of building walls and clearing caves, we were encouraged by the coalition to greet Shabbat in Sarura.

While I have always loved Shabbat and being a part of a community, since I began my time doing anti-occupation work, I have often felt unwelcome and pushed out of many Jewish spaces. Because of this I have found myself avoiding services, as my involvement no longer felt genuine or complete in communities that deny the existence of the occupation.  As we sang L’cha Dodi together and welcomed the Sabbath bride into our midst, I was reminded of the incredible beauty that exists in Jewish tradition and how full and satisfied I feel when it is paired with true solidarity, human connection and hope for justice.

While reflecting on this week’s parasha and my time with this delegation, I am reminded that, just as each person had a responsibility to keep our community safe and uphold God’s words while we were in the wilderness, each one of us has a responsibility to speak up when our community is engaged in injustice. Indeed, even after the Israelites left Egypt, they were said to have “enslaved souls.” That is one why God outlines responsibilities for the community — to show that everyone has a role in creating a fulfilling and free Israelite society. We all have a responsibility to help end this cruel occupation being carried out in our name. When we actively engage in these roles and take on these sacred duties, we are a part of creating a Judaism that is genuine, free, and truly out of the wilderness.

Find out more about the Center for Jewish Nonviolence: https://centerforjewishnonviolence.org/

Find out more about Um Al Khair: https://www.facebook.com/Khirbat.Umm.Al.Khair/

Find out more Sumud Freedom Camp: https://sumudcamp.org/?gi=e94de52686e0