I am Jewish. My parents were first generation Americans. Their parents were Jews born in Odessa and Kiev often referred to mistakenly, but conveniently as “Russia”. My great grandfather on my father’s side was a Kohan, the Hebrew word for the equivalent of “priest”. He was one of the key figures in his village that people went to for advice. This was shared with me to ensure that I knew something about my roots, even if my immediate family was not religious.
My grandparents fled Russia during the early years before the Russian revolution. My grandmother said, “Red or White, it didn’t matter, the armies stole our food and raped our women. Every time we heard horses, we ran and hid in the basement.” They were sent alone via steerage on a boat to Canada, because US quotas blocked them from entering the US. They were housed by distant relatives in Winnipeg, and after years entered the US.
I grew up with two national identities, American and in the background, Israel. Israel represented the land of promise, the hope to millions of Jews running from pogroms in Russia, and genocide in Germany and Europe, where the deaths of 6 million took place. However, genocide wasn’t unique to Jews; the Turks murdered over 1.5 million Armenians during the decades leading up to WWI. What was different was the degree of automation, the systematic and mechanical nature of the killing recorded in painstaking detail by the Germans.
The individual and collective consciousness of Jews was formed by powerful sensitivities and defenses against extinction. Whatever might happen again in history, we were confident that Israel would always be there for Jews, a welcome place in the desert. After all, it says as much in the Torah and it has come to pass in reality. A large number of Jews has made Elijah to live in Israel, and even if they live in other countries they are proud supporters of Israel, and take comfort in its existence. A world without Israel is unimaginable today.
My Father’s Observation:
During WWII, my father spent a year in a German Prisoner of War Camp in Germany. He always said, “I was a guest of Hitler’s, and the accommodations were nothing to write home about”. He was a bombardier aboard a B-17 bomber on a bombing mission over Bremen, Germany when his plane was shot down. He and his crew parachuted safely. Once on the ground, they were rounded up by townspeople and put up against the wall to be executed.
A German officer with a small squadron of men was fortunately marching up the street and told the leader of the townspeople to stop. He pointed to my father, “That man is an officer and under the Geneva Accords, it’s against the law to shoot him or his men.” He marched them all to prison camp where they stayed for roughly one year, a guest of Hitler’s.
Years later, when I was visiting my parents, we were sitting in the living room watching the six o’clock news on TV. The news featured Israeli military shooting and killing unarmed Palestinians who were protesting against occupation. Israeli military were also protecting a bulldozer that was demolishing a Palestinian home; ostensibly because one of its family members may have been protesting, or was somehow involved in terrorism—never adjudicated in court.
My father turned to me; “They learned it from the Germans; that’s the way the Germans dealt with Partisans who fought against them”. It was immoral then, and it’s immoral now. Since that time, my parents expressed frustration and anger at Israel building homes in the territories, bulldozing homes for lack of permits, which are almost impossible to obtain, and killing and wounding unarmed Palestinians who protest.
Israel by all social and economic measures is a giant success. It’s per capita income, and education level, including number of published papers in science and technology, are top notch in the world. The only problem is that Israel is a rogue nation guilty of violating human rights and oppressing nearly 2 million Palestinians trapped into an existence of poverty.
Arab lands were first stolen after WWII. Israel, in a real sense, exercised a colonial force over a people who were essentially nomadic farmers. In cases, where land was sold to Jews, it was often done without collective or individual land rights and registries. It was legalized theft authorized by powerful Jordanian families, the British, and United Nations. In many situations, Jews expropriated Arab homes, moving in and claiming rights. Years later when Arab grandchildren showed up to see the house of their childhood, recognized by trees or walls, they were threatened with arrest.
While a room full of activists, scholars and historians would argue for endless hours about land ownership and rights, and political claims ‘who was here first’, the focus on the present demands its own attention, littered as it is with violations of democratic principles and human rights.
Anytime substantive questions are raised about Israel’s violation of human rights against the Palestinians the weight of the Jewish lobby is used to stifle dialog or address genuine facts. This lobby is among the most undemocratic institutions in the world. When Representative IIhan Omar (D-MN) has tried to raise questions about the relationship between the pro-Israel lobby and political oppression of Palestinians she has been threatened with sanctions and labeled anti-Semitic. It’s virtually impossible to hold Israel accountable for any actions without being sidelined as a ‘pro-Arab terrorist’. Democracies are about open dialog; let us actively explore the Israeli-Palestinian situation with full disclosure.
Escape from International Law:
Israel has systematically violated international law at every turn according to the United Nations, International Laws and Agreements, and Human Rights Organizations. As of 2016, the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel in over 50 resolutions, more than the rest of the world combined.
These condemnations include, but are not limited to building housing for Jews in the territories—5, 618 in 2018, and 5,995 approved plans for housing 2019 and more built in 2020—which according to UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process is “a flagrant violation under international law”; recently demolishing 30 Palestinian homes and 504 in 2019 on the excuse that they weren’t permitted, even though the land belongs to Palestinians, not the Israelis; air strikes and shelling in the Gaza strip, killing 28 civilians; a military policy which approves shoot to kill Palestinians who protest or are perceived as a threat, resulting in the deaths of children and youth of all ages; the use of exploding bullets that expand upon hitting the human body, causing irreparable damage to organs; the dropping of cluster bombs in Lebanon upon exit; execution of unarmed Palestinians flying a white flag of surrender and captured on film; records of torturing of captured prisoners using electricity and internationally outlawed methods, the practice of systematic racism against Arabs, part of which is evidenced by the theft and destruction of their farm lands—-tens of thousands of productive acres.
Each time issues of human rights violations are raised at the UN or by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the US steps in and guarantees impunity; even though violations have been captured on film, recorded in dairies and military records, and doctors reports, and presented as well-researched legal cases. In addition, Israel exempts soldiers from adjudication for committing atrocities.
Given a consciousness formed by fears of extinction, it’s understandable, albeit unacceptable, that most Israelis would rationalize the above sanctions and/or deny their importance. They are identifying with the aggressor, their leaders, and US president Trump in committing crimes against humanity. My father called it accurately; they learned this behavior from the Germans. It’s time for Israelis to mourn their actions against Palestinians, overcome their fears and move on to real solutions; killing and oppressing Palestinians will not solve problems inherent in fear and differences in culture, religion, social and economic practices.
What You Can Do:
- Support legal sanctions against Israel. Call your representatives and tell them to follow international law and stop protecting Israel against democratic scrutiny. Tell them to vote for human rights for Palestinians, as all peoples;
- Buy products from Palestinians. You can order directly from distributors who carry Palestinian products, for example olive oil or spices, strengthen the farm economy in the territories.
- Send money to organizations that work together for peace, for example, Israeli and Palestinian integrated schools; you can check Arab-Israeli peace projects Wikipedia.
- Attend demonstrations that call attention to the issues, and support legal actions against Israelis who have violated the law, including military sanctions.
- Reach out over the web to befriend Palestinians and share music, culture, and thoughts about life. Personal relationships are important to wellbeing, nationally and internationally. When Covid-19 lifts, go visit your newly made friends.
- Read the Torah and Koran together; pray together, if you are so inclined. Open Synagogues and Mosques for mutual discussions. How is it that we share the same father, with such different outcomes?