My Saba Helped Build the State of Israel. Am I Still Allowed In?

Ella Israeli Image
Ella Israeli
on March 28, 2017

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

A recent law passed by the Israeli government allows visas to be denied to foreign nationals who support boycotts of Israel, including boycotts of products from the settlements. Under this law, it is possible that young, pro-Israel, American Jews like myself, who oppose the Global BDS Movement but choose not to economically support the settlement movement could be denied entry into Israel.

For me, this law is deeply alarming and personal. My great grandparents helped found the state of Israel. In 1932, my great grandfather Yehuda Bar-Or walked from Poland to Palestine. He was eighteen. His parents wanted him to stay in Europe and become a doctor, but he felt the rise in anti-Semitism, and wanted to lend his hand to the burgeoning Zionist movement. There was a Jewish state to be built, and my Saba Yehuda yearned to do his part. Tragically, his parents and the rest of his family remained in Europe and perished in the Holocaust.

Upon arrival and informed by his experiences with anti-Semitism in Europe, Saba Yehuda dedicated his life to the building of a Jewish state. When the State of Israel was declared in 1947, he danced in the streets with his daughter, my Savta Nurit, on his shoulders. Then, he left home to fight for his beloved Israel’s independence as a member of the Haganah. He worked as an electrician, was active in Mapai, the Socialist Zionist party, and wrote about the need to forge relationships with the non-Jewish residents of Palestine. One note reads, “We should be living together with Arabs as neighbors.” For him, coexistence was a prerequisite for the moral establishment of the Jewish state.

Nearly twenty years later, in 1967, my Savta fled Jerusalem with her two-year-old son, my father, when the Six Day War began. As bombs lit up the night sky, they drove to Haifa, where Saba Yehuda lived, traveling without headlights so they would not be caught. Before leaving, she called her father to tell him the plan, upon which he asked, “Are you sure Jerusalem doesn’t need you?” As always, Saba Yehuda was looking out for Israel above all else.

Shortly after the war, my family moved to the United States, where I was born and where I grew up. Even though I am not an Israeli citizen, I’ve inherited Saba Yehuda’s deep love for Israel, and I feel great pride to be the great-granddaughter of someone who helped build the state. I share his belief that the only way for Israel to secure its future to live in peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. I feel a similar responsibility to do my part in securing that future. Saba Yehuda’s stories have inspired me to fight for a two-state solution with J Street U, to spend this upcoming summer as a counselor at an integrated Israeli-Palestinian camp at Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school and to engage financially with Israel and the Palestinian territory in a responsible manner.

It is because of my pro-Israel, anti-occupation values that I do not buy settlement products. I cannot financially support institutions that I believe present a major threat to the two-state solution and peaceful coexistence. According to the recent law passed by the Israeli government, it’s conceivable that I may not be allowed into the country, a country that my family helped build, on these grounds.

Still, as an American citizen, the worst that will happen to me is that I am detained at the airport. I am not living under occupation, nor do I have compulsory military service. This is the first time that my freedom of movement – a right denied to the Palestinians living in the West Bank every day – may be restricted.

As I make my plans to travel to Israel this summer, I can hear my Saba’s words, “Are you sure Jerusalem doesn’t need you?” Jerusalem does need me. Israel needs me. It needs young people who care about it to take actions towards peace in order to preserve its future. Barring many of those young people from entering the country because of their political beliefs is detrimental to the future of the state of Israel. It’s not what Zionist pioneers like my Saba would have wanted.

Ella Israeli is a senior at Wesleyan University, where she is majoring in Government and minoring in Writing. Previously, she has served as a Co-Chair of J Street U Wesleyan, a J Street U Northeast Regional Co-Chair and as a J Street U Summer Intern. She is currently in J Street U National Leadership and hopes to continue organizing in the Jewish community when she graduates. Follow her on Twitter @EllaIsraeli. 

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