Israel, Politics

Oops, This Jew Ain't No Israeli!

Benjamin Bright-Fishbein got a first-hand view of the conflict most American Jews don’t: he got kidnapped.

The 20-year-old Brown University junior ventured alone into the West Bank city of Nablus, where he was abducted Saturday by a Palestinian gunman while he sat in a cafe.

In a videotaped statement shown on Al-Jazeera television on Saturday, the New York City native said his captors would kill him if Israel did not release Palestinian prisoners.
Then, just as suddenly as they had taken him, dressed him in a skullcap, and said he was Israeli on the video, militants from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades turned him over to Palestinian security forces, who freed him to Israeli authorities near Nablus, a center for anti-Israeli militants.

Read the full article.
This bodes poorly for those of us engaged in Jewish-Palestinian encounter projects, hampering our ability to overcome participants’ fears about seeing the conflict first-hand.
Most American Jews are so distant from the events of the Holey Holy Land that Israel-Palestine is little more than an intellectual exercise, a shallow moment of ethnic loyalty, or a sparring match to show off political hobbyism. American Jews are inundated with an idealized view of real Israeli life, a one-dimensional view of Palestinian society, and a shallow love of Israel. Anything can be justified from a safe, sheltered classroom seat in New York or LA, surrounded by equally uncritical head-nodders.
From personal experience, taking American Jews to see Hebron, East Jerusalem and Ramallah has opened their eyes to the full complexity. And rather than make Israel haters out of us, it only strengthens our involvement. Is face-to-face peacemaking worth the risk?
Despite the setbacks of Hamas-Fatah rivalry, the lethargy of negotiations, and the very real risks of being a Jew amongst Palestinians, we will press on.

16 thoughts on “Oops, This Jew Ain't No Israeli!

  1. Anything can be justified from a safe, sheltered classroom seat in New York or LA, surrounded by equally uncritical head-nodders.
    And where does sir live? Jericho? Bethlehem? Ramallah? Umm el-Fahm? Lod? Jerusalem?
    What? You mean to tell me sir lives in safe, sheltered New York? Interesting! I never would have guessed…maybe my critical thinking skills are a little rusty…

  2. This kind of tomfoolery will result in the loss of life – if not of the well-intentioned traveler/emmisary him/herself – then the Israeli soldiers and/or Palestinians civilians who might get killed during a rescue attempt.
    After reading the full article, which described the kidnapping incident as “typical whats-his-name”, I cannot help but regard the whole “effort” as bordering on cowboy mishegass…

  3. Michael, I’m pleased to see your critical thinking skills are sharp. Next time I’m headed to the West Bank (should be winter 2006), come with me.
    I can’t say Benjamin was being a peacemaker or doing anything honorable. “Conflict tourism” is a dubiously ethical industry. (See But the point is seeing both sides first-hand is the only way not to get swept up in the punditry.
    It is statistically easier to get hit by a car in Israel than hurt by the conflict. Hundreds of volunteers from America and abroad criss-cross the territories every summer. The risk is real enough; hundreds of Amercan Jews have braved it, and deemed it worth it.
    A number of Jewish and Israeli organizations which run encounter programs for Jews:

  4. I agree with Michael. You are a diaspora fool. You can do whatever “ecounter” bullshit you want, it’s us Jews who actually who live in Israel that deal with the consquences.

  5. Israelis do live with the consequences, and your opinion is respected as such. Most of these programs are started by Israelis who are damn tired of brainwashed American kids casting votes at home and paying visits to Israel as if it were a jewish Disneyland. Because American lives aren’t on the line like Israelis’ are.
    Encounter work is to wake up these folks from their stupor, to realize their votes and actions have impact on the lives of Jews and Arabs. Maybe then they’ll treat Israel like a country, and not like a theme park. With luck, every day they’ll think about what they say first-hand and how to change it.
    Or else, those kids can keep on keepin’ on that Israel is a toy box for vacation, a loyalty test for ethnic pride, and a dancing ground of two half-real peoples.

  6. Statistics, shmatistics … if you’re the one hit by a car, all the odds in your favor are meaningless.
    “Conflict tourists” – feh!
    Ask Christian Peacemakers Jim Loney or Harmeet Singh Sooden (who were uncharacteristically mum about their rescue by US, UK and Canadian troops) if they would have preferred to stay in captivity in Iraq rather than risk the harm their abduction would have wreaked on civilians who (damned odds!) were in the wrong place at the wrong time or the soldiers charged with the task of saving them.
    Folks can learn about the dehumanizing realities of the occupation without personally adding to its body count.

  7. DrDan, your sentiments about adding to the body count are obviously shared by KungFuJew–he makes that clear in the first post.
    Harry, would you also turn down money from “diaspora fools”? Tell all those kids coming on Taglit that they shoudl get their daispora asses away? or are you just finding a convenient way to tell someone off?

  8. Kung Fu – as I understand, all your efforts are invested in getting American Jews to experience the “complex reality” of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
    This is precisely what Mr. Fishbein did.
    You further protest that the area is perfectly safe, and that people should not fear direct encounters.
    Mr. Fishbein embraced that opinion whole-heartedly!
    So what exactly is wrong?
    Fishbein missed your brilliant political lectures?
    Your organization didn’t get a cut of his airfare and accommodations?
    What about Fishbein’s experience was not “real” or “direct” or “open-minded” enough?
    There’s another possibility of course…. that you, like many journalists and other Useful Idiots, are in fact SHIELDED from “real encounter” with the situation as you pass through Arab-controlled areas – at least as long as you serve a purpose to your Arab handlers…

  9. Ben-David, I think that there is a different between what Kung Fu Jew is saying and what Mr. Fishbein is doing. First of all, in terms of conflict tourism, Fishbein went to Nablus just to see what it was like there; there wasn’t necessarily any activism involved with it – it was quite simply a tourist wanting to see the cool, off-beat, sexy-because-its-forbidden city.
    There are many direct encounter tours that visit Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, villages up north, etc. but always do so with the support and assistance of Palestinian partners – that is, Palestinians who will also tell the tour organizers when it is too dangerous to go to a certain location.
    I remember driving around the West Bank with a Palestinian on the way home from a mobile health clinic sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights. This Palestinian wanted me to go see the situation in Nablus with him but explained that every time he needed to go to Nablus for business, he would always call his contacts ahead of time in case Nablus was too dangerous for him. If it’s too dangerous for a Palestinian, it’s doubtless too dangerous for a Jew.
    (And there are reasons certain places are too dangerous for Jews. Palestinians are reacting in many ways, peaceful and violent, to the oppressive occupation the Israeli government and army keeps them under.)
    I think what bothers me most about Mr. Fishbein is that he ignored all safety warnings simply to tourist a city. This was no civil disobedience or peace activism. In doing so, he put at risk many people’s lives.

  10. I love birthright kids, let them visit, spend their money here, and if we are luckly, they’ll make aliyah, serve in the army and make Jewish babies. I find American involvement in coexistance projects a bunch of nonesense. You want to make a difference here? Then move here. There are many successful coexistance programs such as Givat Haviva and MEET which really do make a difference. The links to the organizations above are fringe to say the least and are laughed at in Israeli society.

  11. Harry,
    You see to undermine what I understand as your point. If you are saying that if an American Jew seeks to make a difference in Israel, then they should move there…and therefore become Israeli, then that is their only legitimate path to real contribution. What I don’t understand about this assumption is that many Israeli-Americans, if not that vast majority, maintain strong ties to their native countries, retaining dual citizenship, their passports, as do many Israelis – many of them left wing – who spend time in Arab countries on a wide rage of European passports. To say that to make an authentic difference in the conflict, or to educate others about it, you must live inside it permanently, is baloney, even for those who are native hebrew speakers but spend time with our youth in programs across Europe and other parts of the world. To our Americans, both Jew and Gentile, who do ANYTHING to involve themselves in our conflict, so long as its done with an open heart, I applaud you. Every other aspect of this resists blanket statements because there isn’t one right answer to this question.

  12. Heh heh… so because we support birthright we re uncritical? Is it not possible that we made a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of birthright before formulating an opinion? Or is critical thinking only possible if one has the exact same opinion as kung fu jew? I have nothing against interacting with Palestinians on a human level. However, I fear that the political biases of the organizations you cited simply don’t correspond to my notion of peaceful coexistence. And you know exactly what i men. But this coexistence thing you’re harping about – are these Palestinians going to coexist with you on the Lower East Side?

  13. listen, Palestine is very dangerous for Jews. first, they will bring you tea. before it’s even finished, there’s another tea, and then coffee. if you try turning down the coffee because you’re already too caffeinated, then comes the nescafe. You must eat all the food you’re given despite the fact the last ten homes you’ve visited have already fed you and you’re ready to explode. if you try to turn down the food your host will say, “what’s the matter? the food is not tasty?” (maybe they are fattening the yahud up for the kill?). if they bring out the arghile, you can forget about moving for the next six hours. also, the children may be surprised you don’t have a gun (most have never seen jews without them.) and even if you don’t speak hebrew, they are liable to try to impress you with their hebrew.

  14. Lali-leh wrote:
    There are many direct encounter tours that visit Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, villages up north, etc. but always do so with the support and assistance of Palestinian partners – that is, Palestinians who will also tell the tour organizers when it is too dangerous to go to a certain location.
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Yes, that’s right – Jews are only safe with Arab *handlers*.
    Does it not cross your mind that:
    1) this allows the Arabs to cherry-pick the people and places that are presented to you – severely undercutting the “direct” nature of the encounter, and in fact politicizing it.
    2) this also allows the Arabs to limit access to those sympathetic to their cause, those who will not ask uncomfortable questions.
    In other words, the entire setup is a staged, ideological echo chanber that facilitates indoctrination.
    Useful Idiots being trained, stroked, and deployed by their “handlers”. Exactly as I described it.

  15. I have also made a counter-weighing of birthright israel. As Ben-David says, it hand-picks the people, locations and ideologies of those involved. Jewish “handlers” so to speak. It is important to go on birthright and get a free, peaceful and positive understanding of Israel and Israelis. If you doubt it, then read the earlier posts about folks getting kicked off for ideological reasons.
    But it’s shallow to assume a true love of Israel and lasting connection to Jewish life results from eight days of sanitized tourism. Thus, encounter programs — for both international Jews and Israelis — will continue to be the passion of a great many of us.

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