Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation on "This Is Not Our Judaism" - Sarah Brammer-Shlay, Rabbi Brant Rosen, Laura Saunders, Hannah Bender, and Rachel Sandalow-Ash
Center for Jewish Nonviolence delegation on “This Is Not Our Judaism” – Sarah Brammer-Shlay, Rabbi Brant Rosen, Laura Saunders, Hannah Bender, and Rachel Sandalow-Ash.
Just a couple weeks ago, forty diaspora Jews of all ages spent ten days in the West Bank to work and protest alongside Palestinians. The participants of the trip with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV) spanned ideologies, ages, continents, and outlooks — and included notables such as Peter Beinart and Rabbi Brant Rosen. See our photo essay of their confrontation with Israeli authorities here.
Here we interview Sarah Brammer-Shlay, Rabbi Brant Rosen, Laura Saunders, Hannah Bender, and Rachel Sandalow-Ash about why they went, what they saw, and what we can do to help end the 49-year-old occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 


Sarah Brammer-Shlay

Sarah Brammer-ShlayMy name is Sarah Brammer-Shlay. Born and raised in Minneapolis, MN. I now live in Washington, DC where I am heavily involved with IfNotNow, a movement to end American Jewish support for the occupation. I am dedicated to this movement because I believe in the freedom and dignity of all people and that includes Palestinians. I decided to go on this trip with CJNV because I believe that in order to end the occupation we must approach this work in varied ways. It is easy to get in our bubble and not see the plethora of ways that people are fighting the occupation.
Why is this issue important right now? 
This is urgent because Palestinian families are repeatedly having their homes demolished, Palestinians in villages that we visited such as Susiya don’t have regular access to water even though they can see a settlement from their homes where water runs endlessly. It is urgent because the Jewish community is facing a moral crisis as Israel upholds an inhumane occupation of Palestinians and the Diaspora community perpetuates this injustice.
What’s one experience that you want American Jews at home to hear?
[pullquote align=left] The Jewish community is facing a moral crisis as Israel upholds an inhumane occupation…and the Diaspora community perpetuates this
[/pullquote]I learned so much about solidarity on this trip. After our action in Hebron where we worked with the incredible Palestinian organization Youth Against Settlements, we spent Shabbat in the Palestinian village of Susiya. A group of over 40 Jews gathered on Friday night in Susiya for Kabbalat Shabbat Services. While we sang we could see the Jewish settlement of Susiya just across the way, a settlement which epitomizes the great discrimination towards Palestinians. We showed up as Jews and the people of Susiya welcomed us. In a region where many Palestinians’ only interactions with Jews are the IDF; this took guts, trust and a vision for what justice and liberation could be.
What was it like working with people from so many viewpoints on the conflict?

Finally the march reached the police station and the singing and sit-in began.
Sit-in at the police station where six American Jewish activists were held. Photo by A. Daniel Roth.
One of my biggest takeaways of this trip was when a participant asked Youth Against Settlements leader Issa Amro what sort of state solution he would like to see. His answer was simple: give me rights and then we can talk about solutions. That is my approach when it comes to bringing various anti-occupation groups together, if we can agree that there is a huge problem let’s tackle that first and bring our community along too. How we want a state to be divided up shouldn’t be a barrier for us fighting the injustice of occupation.

Rabbi Brant Rosen

Rabbi Brant RosenMy name is Brant Rosen and I am the rabbi of a new Jewish congregation, Tzedek Chicago – and intentional community based on core values of anti-racism, universalism and nonviolence. We are also opposed to all forms of political nationalism and are explicitly non-Zionist. I am an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace and the co-founder of the JVP Rabbinical Council.
Why is this issue important right now? 
Purely and simply: this issue is urgent because Palestinians are being oppressed. They are being oppressed by a state that purports to act in our name as Jews; and their oppression is made possible by our government and the support of diaspora Jewish communities. As I write these words, Palestinians’ homes are being demolished, Palestinians are being humiliated at checkpoints, harassed by settlers and shot down in the streets and being evicted from their homes simply because they are not Jewish.
This issue is all the more urgent because the political elites refuse to call Israel to account for its behavior – so it is up to ordinary citizens to organize and support the popular Palestinian resistance that is courageously standing down this oppressive occupation each and every day.
What’s one experience that you want American Jews at home to hear?
During our action in Hebron, our group was walking from Tel Rumeida to the police station in Kiryat Arbah to demand the release of six Israelis who were taken into custody. After ten minutes of walking we encountered a group of IDF soldiers who refused to let us pass because they had declared the area a closed military zone.
[pullquote align=left] The soldiers backed away and we continued on our way.
[/pullquote]After much back and forth, we were essentially at a stalemate. Eventually Issa Amro appeared from within the “closed military zone,” approached the soldiers, and began to talk angrily with them. The soldiers backed away and we continued on our way. The level of respect, fear and deference Issa instilled in the soldiers was breathtaking. At that moment be demonstrated for us the very real power of nonviolence. People like Issa remind me that civil disobedience is not simply a theory or a tactic. It is a power that is greater than the most sophisticated, advanced military force in the world — and it is a power that is available to us all.
What is the most important aspect of this week?
I believe the most important aspect of this work is that it is rooted in values of solidarity. That means that this is not a benevolent human rights campaign that originates with our concern for oppressed Palestinians. Solidarity emerges out of relationship. It comes from an understanding that this is not our struggle and that we must take our cues from the ones for whom this oppression is a lived daily reality.

But the singing continued, as it would all day.
But the singing continued, as it would all day. Photo by A. Daniel Roth.
It is extremely important that we were in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills because we were asked to be there by our Palestinian partners. We didn’t come to “save them” – we came because we were invited to support them in their struggle against oppression. We were not there to assuage our guilt as privileged diaspora Jews – we were there because our privilege was a source of power that could leveraged to help them stand down their oppression.

Laura Saunders

Laura SaundersMy name is Laura Saunders and I live in San Francisco, CA. I joined the CJNV delegation because I cannot visit Israel and only tour around and visit friends while ignoring the ongoing occupation. This trip allowed me an opportunity to travel to Israel/Palestine while witnessing and learning about life on the other side of the separation wall.
Why is this issue important right now? 
As a Jew I must speak up for injustice and intolerance. I want the world to know that I do not support almost 50 years of continued occupation, oppression and injustice. I’ve been a supporter of the New Israel Fund for many years as they work to grow and support grass roots organizations in Israel working to promote a more just, equitable and pluralistic civil society in Israel.
What’s one experience that you want American Jews at home to hear?
[pullquote align=left] One child had stitches on her face from rocks thrown by a settler.
[/pullquote]We spent time in Batan Al Hawa, a neighborhood in Silwan, just outside the Old City in Jerusalem, where Jewish settlers have taken over several buildings in this densely packed Palestinian neighborhood. Settlers travel the narrow single lane roads in armored vehicles and walk with two armed private security guards wearing bullet- proof vests (paid for by the housing ministry). There is trash littering the roads. There are no schools in the neighborhood. I didn’t see any open space or playgrounds.  One child had stitches on her face from rocks thrown by a settler.
So we threw a block party so that the Palestinian children could take back the street for a few hours.  They sang, danced, laughed, got their face painted, enjoyed a cookout and just got to be carefree kids. The Israeli government should be spending money for neighborhood schools and garbage collection, not armed security guards to protect a few ideological Jewish settlers who want to make life so miserable for Palestinians that they move.
What is the most important aspect of this week? 

38 CINEMA HEBRON (22) by A. Daniel Roth
Sit-in outside the police station. Photo by A. Daniel Roth.
It was amazing for 40 international Jews to spend ten days doing solidarity work with Palestinian partners. We formed a community that helped to strengthen marginalized communities living under an unjust occupation. It was important that Palestinians who only know Jews as settlers or soldiers, got to meet Jewish solidarity activists working to end the occupation.

Hannah Bender

Hannah BenderMy name is Hannah Bender and I am a rising senior at the University of Minnesota studying religious studies with an interest in women and queer topics in scriptures. I lead an Interfaith group and I am also an incoming co-chair for my school’s J Street U chapter.  For the last semester I was studying at the University of Haifa and decided to join the CJNV delegation because living in Haifa made me realize just how deep this issue goes within Israeli society and within American Jewish society, and the role that I play specifically in being complacent to the occupation.
Why is this issue important right now? 
This issue is so important and urgent right now because Palestinians are being oppressed. As a Jewish person and having these horrible things be done in the name of Judaism, I feel a deep responsibility as a Jew and as a human. Not only are the Palestinians being torn down by Israeli policy physically, but the deep physiological and emotional abuse is so profound. Their voices and narratives are being completely ignored and erased by Israel and so much of the Jewish world.
What’s one experience that you want American Jews at home to hear?
[pullquote align=left] As a Jewish person and having these horrible things be done in the name of Judaism, I feel a deep responsibility as a Jew and as a human.
[/pullquote]On the first work day of our delegation we were in the village of Umm Al-Kheir. This village exists on the families own land but is constantly threatened by the expanding settlement, Carmel. Working in their fields, we were on the fence that just barely separated the settlement, meters away. The image of the beautiful tan houses, new cars and paved roads was so drastically different than the scene in Umm Al-Kheir, whose many structures are constantly under demolition order. It was the fact that the occupation was directly in the face of these people and yet still nothing was happening, that was so striking to me. As American Jews it is easy to not see these injustices, because of our own will or the way in which American Jewish institutions work to hide them. However, we are actively supporting this occupation both financially and with our silence, so we have a responsibility to seek out these facts and find ways in which we can dismantle this reality.
What is the most important aspect of this week? 

And the rest of the group was forced the other way.
Standing and singing in protest in Hebron. Photo by A. Daniel Roth.
As someone who works specifically within the American Jewish community on this issue, I see that we sometimes forget the people that this work affects. What was so important about this delegation was how intentional and meaningful every move was. Every action and every job done was at the lead and invitation of our Palestinian partners, because as international Jews we do not comprehend what they need.

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandlow-Ash of Open HillelMy name is Rachel Sandalow-Ash; I am a co-founder of and the national organizer for Open Hillel, a movement of Jewish students and community members working to promote open discourse on Israel-Palestine in Jewish institutions on campus and beyond. I grew up outside Boston and graduated from Harvard in May 2015. I lived in Philadelphia this past year and will be moving to New York in the fall.
I am deeply disturbed by the ways in which American Jewish institutions censor and exclude Palestinian people and narratives from our communal conversation about Israel/Palestine. For instance, Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities (which Open Hillel seeks to eliminate) serve to bar Jewish students from working with Palestinian student groups and to forbid most Palestinian speakers. In working with local Palestinian groups, the CJNV disavowed insularity of the American Jewish community and worked with Palestinians to improve their lives and resist the Occupation.
Why is this issue important right now? 
I believe that we are in a moment of two related crises: In Israel/Palestine, we see an entrenched Occupation; repeated wars in Gaza; ongoing (and sometimes worsening) human rights abuses; and rising levels of racism and xenophobia among the Israeli public.
In the American Jewish community, major donors have increased their power and influence over Jewish communal institutions, much as very wealthy people have increased their influence over US politics as a whole. Too many of these major donors have used their influence to uphold Jewish institutional support for the Occupation, and to crack down on voices of dissent — be these the voices of Palestinians, Israelis, or American Jews.
These two problems require a powerful response. At this time of censorship, it is especially important to speak out. And at a time when the Israeli government and Jewish institutions try to drive Jews and Palestinians apart, it is especially important for us to work together.
What’s one experience that you want American Jews at home to hear?
[pullquote align=left] I was deeply impressed by how CJNV brought together participants of different ages, countries of origin, organizational affiliations, and ideologies.
[/pullquote]On July 15th, CJNV worked with the Palestinian activist organization Youth Against Settlements in a part of Hebron where Palestinians are normally forbidden from building. Six of our activists were arrested and later released. When they rejoined us for a beautiful Shabbat, they reported that while held in the police station, they were treated well — given ample food and water, allowed to talk to each other and use their cellphones, and granted prompt access to legal counsel. But they also saw a Palestinian man who had also been detained. He was blindfolded and had his hands tied; and had been kept that way for twenty-four hours. He had been arrested for driving with firecrackers in the trunk of his car — firecrackers which he had intended to use to celebrate his son’s birthday.
Many people have told us how brave we were to go to the West Bank and risk arrest. But Palestinians living under Occupation have to be so much braver, each and every day. Even when we — Israeli and diaspora Jews — were “causing trouble,” we were still guaranteed more rights and better treatment than Palestinians. On a certain level, only Palestinians living under Occupation can present a full picture of what their lives are like; and I truly hope that the American Jewish community will be able to listen to them.
What was it like working with people from so many viewpoints on the conflict?
I think it’s important to remember that Hillel’s Standards of Partnership and other similar policies don’t just serve to separate Jews and Palestinians; they also serve to separate Jews from one another, by casting some Jews as “treyf” or insufficiently Jewish due to their views on Israel/Palestine.

The six (with legal counsel) that were detained, smiling upon release after 7.5 hours.
The six participants that were detained with legal counsel after being released. Photo by A. Daniel Roth.
So, I was deeply impressed by how CJNV brought together participants of different ages, countries of origin, organizational affiliations, and ideologies. I learned a great deal from all of the participants on the trip; our diversity of background and viewpoints greatly enhanced our discussions and our experiences.
And perhaps most excitingly, folks from these various organizations are already making plans for working together to raise awareness in our home Jewish communities. We’re focusing on where we agree, rather than where we differ; and I believe that together, the CJNV participants and the organizations that we are a part of will do a great deal to change the discourse on Israel-Palestine in diaspora Jewish communities.
View our photo essay about “This Is Not Our Judaism” and learn more about the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.