Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem–All Jerusalemites–with Our Words, Our Money, Our Advocacy

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. This post originated on her Facebook page and is shared here with her permission.

Like so many of you, I have been watching the events in Israel and the occupied territories with fear, pain, and anger. There is so much to say, and the situation on the ground is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. (I recognize that in the 2 seconds that it takes me to post this, something new may have happened.).

First, I am mourning the deaths there over the last 24 hours, including the two women killed in Ashkelon this morning by a rocket from Gaza, the Palestinian citizen of Israel killed seemingly by a vigilante last night in Lod, the Palestinian civilians–including 9 children–killed in Gaza. And I’m praying for the hundreds injured over the past weeks.

I am also sending love to my friends in the human rights community in Israel, who have spent the last few weeks protesting on the street, and some of the last day or so ducking into bomb shelters–including Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are attempting the impossible task of simultaneously fighting for equal rights within Israel, and protesting in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation. I also want to hold up those who have been fighting the good fight for human rights and civil society, both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side for years and decades, even as others might tune in only occasionally.

Over the past weeks, we have seen the confluence of many dangerous events–the attempt by Israeli settlers and the state that backs them to evict Palestinian residents from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah based on 19th century legal deeds (whereas obviously, Palestinians have no right to return to homes they lost in the 20th century); the closure of an area in East Jerusalem where Palestinian youth gather during Ramadan, and the violent police response to protests there–including injuries to hundreds of Palestinians as well as to Jewish activists; the march by Jewish extremists/Kahanists through Jerusalem a few weeks ago, and the planned Yom Yerushalayim Flag Parade (thankfully rerouted last minute) in which historically, extremist youth march through East Jerusalem terrorizing Palestinian residents; the use of stun grenades and rubber bullets against worshippers at Al Aqsa; the random attacks on Jews on the street, including some posted on TikTok; and now the rockets from Gaza and the retaliatory response that has already killed too many people, and shows no sign of stopping.

This is all on top of the background of coalition agreements likely to oust Prime Minister Netanyahu after more than a decade. As is common with men like him, he gets more dangerous when threatened. So he has no desire to calm tensions. A war in Gaza serves the interests of nobody other than him (& possibly Hamas).

But even before we get to the precipitating events (and there are many), the real background is the occupation that has lasted more than half a century, and that violates the human rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza every single day. Like everyone else in the world, they have the right to citizenship in a country, to self-determination, to freedom of movement, and to safety and security. If you want this for Jews, you have to support the same for Palestinians (and the reverse is true as well).

Those of us in the Jewish community also need to contend with some of the ways in which we have turned the state into an idol. We saw this yesterday, in the shocking video of hundreds of Jews dancing with Israeli flags at the Kotel, while singing “זכרני נא”, a song of revenge popular among extremists, taken from Samson’s words praying for the strength to take revenge against the Philistines (Judges 16:28). The Kotel is a complex space for many of us, but it should be a religious space, where one comes to worship God, not the state. We can invest in the future of Israel without idolizing it.

American Jews need to face our own complicity in this situation, both in the ways in which our own organizations have pushed a narrative in which Israel can do no wrong, and have saved criticisms only for Palestinians (note, for example, the organizations whose first statement on the situation was when rockets started flying from Gaza); and the ways in which some of our donor money supports the status quo as well as the expansion of settlements/occupation and even the most extremist extremists (see my recent Haaretz article about US funding to Lehava and other extremists). To paraphrase an old slogan, if we’re not investing in solutions, we’re investing in the problem. Just as criticism of US government policies that violate human rights (and organizing/advocacy to change such policies) ultimately strengthens-not weakens–the US, criticism of occupation and other Israeli policy is an investment in creating a better future, not a threat to the state.

All of us who care about the future of Israel and Palestine, and of Israelis (Jewish, Palestinian & other) and Palestinians should be putting our money, advocacy energy, and organizing power into working to end occupation, investing in organizations both here & there that are doing so, and supporting the extraordinary activists on the ground who are devoting their lives to this work.

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem. . . and everywhere else.

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