[pullquote align=right] I really wanted to ask you to reflect about what you’re doing.
[/pullquote]Hey! I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time!
Maybe I should introduce myself. I’m Israeli, like you. I studied in the U.S. for my PhD, for eight years actually, and that’s how I found out about Hillel. I don’t know what your experiences are as an Israel Fellow.
I’m guessing you’re doing this for all the right reasons. You really want to do something for our country – to protect it from people who could harm it. You’re probably doing your best to reach out to Jewish students here, and you may well be someone who believes in peace, someone who wants Israelis and Palestinians to come together. I knew a lot of Israel Fellows who sincerely felt that way.
But this is what I wanted to talk to you about. I think sometimes people do things as part of a system that’s bigger than them. Sometimes you can only see the bigger picture in retrospect, but then it’s too late. I really wanted to ask you to reflect about what you’re doing.
[pullquote align=left] I know, right? What has this to got to do with Palestinian students?
[/pullquote]Take Birthright, those trips that you are involved in organizing. Birthright trips can be something really emotional for Jewish students. There is a sense of freedom people feel, people can fall in love with the country. And you want to give them a chance to have that experience. But did you ever think how this looks to Palestinian students on your campus?
Whoa! I know, right? What has this to got to do with Palestinian students? Actually a lot. Because, you see, people who now live in the U.S. have roots in Israel/Palestine – all over the country, not only in the West Bank or Gaza. This is where their family is from, where their ancestors are buried, where their particular Arabic accent is recognized, where people eat typical food – where they feel at home. And they can’t go there. The State of Israel turns a lot of people back at the airport. Unlike American Jews, it certainly doesn’t encourage Palestinian Americans to move there. There aren’t any advertisements for free trips for them, even though their family is actually from there. It’s as if they have no birthright.
Now imagine you are helping a Jewish student have that experience of a lifetime. You help set up a table for the trip, or put up a notice about it somewhere noticeable. Or that student comes back from the trip and talks excitedly about all the places she saw. Can you imagine how painful that it for the Palestinian student overhearing that? Can you even begin to imagine? The Palestinian student who was heard detailed stories about every inch of where her family is from, but can’t see any of that?
[pullquote align=right] Now I’m guessing you’re going to say Israel’s policies towards Palestinians are more complex.
[/pullquote]I know you’re going to say you’re for co-existence. You don’t mean to hurt anyone. And I believe you, of course not. Of course. But people can do things for all the right reasons and still hurt people. Not out of malice, but out of too little awareness. This is why I’m reaching out to you – because I wanted you to reflect about the bigger consequences of what you’re doing, beyond making the students you know happy.
Now I’m guessing you’re going to say Israel’s policies towards Palestinians are more complex. That things are not so black and white. More nuanced. Did you ever notice we don’t use that language when we talk about genuine humanitarian crises? “Hey, it’s terrible Jews are feeling unsafe in France. That’s wrong! – No, it’s not so black and white!” But it is, right? Shouldn’t Jews feel free to be visibly Jewish wherever they live, period? So why is it regarding Palestinian suffering, people talk like it’s a cubist painting? Whoa, so many angles! So many narratives! So many nuances! That’s like saying – “on the one hand, yes, it’s bad that a fire is about to destroy your house, but on the other hand, hey, isn’t fire just a wonderful force of nature? I think I’ll just sit here and watch.” Does that sound like an exaggeration? Think about thousands of people in Gaza who don’t have access to clean drinking water, to medical treatment, or those whose houses were destroyed in 2014 and have still not been rebuilt so they have to live in tents.
[pullquote align=left] I’m asking for your help because, I hate to break it to you, but you’re involved in this too.
[/pullquote]Think what it means for babies to be exposed to all these conditions. And yes, whatever you’re going to say about Hamas, Israel has something to do with this. Some responsibility. Read about it.
And the government has responsibility for plenty of things actually. Like taking more and more land for more and more settlements.
Or displacing Bedouins in the Negev to make place for Jews.
So much suffering. And you know what? If there were more international scrutiny, more international pressure, I think something could change. I really do. Just take a moment to think what you’d do if these were your relatives suffering like that. Would you be having a nuanced conversation, or would you be trying to help them?
I’m asking for your help because, I hate to break it to you, but you’re involved in this too. There’s a buffer zone protecting these policies from international scrutiny. And that buffer zone is… you! When you’re spending all that time telling people about the best possible aspects of life in Israel – of the diversity in the population, of humane behaviors, of different groups and the rights they’ve achieved, of the food and the culture – every time you do that, attention is directed away from people suffering, people dying. You don’t mean to do that, I realize. [pullquote align=right] Please think how you can do better – if you really do care about Israelis and Palestinians. I know you really do.
[/pullquote]But that’s really how it works: these things have been continuing for decades and they won’t change unless there is intense international scrutiny, a proper international outcry. There’s only so much Israeli activists like me can do. So I really want to ask you, sincerely, please allow this outcry to happen: you know in your heart it’s more important than introducing people to krav maga and Israeli high tech. You have a part in this, a responsibility. Please think how you can do better – if you really do care about Israelis and Palestinians. I know you really do.