Dear Mom, Dad, and Rayna,
First of all, I want you to know how much I love you all and how proud I am to be part of our family. In so many ways, we each reflect similar values. Rayna and I learned so much from growing up with two amazing, smart, grounded, loving parents.
One of the values that you imparted on us is Zionism – the deep belief that there needs o be a Jewish state in the land of Israel to keep the world’s Jews safe. In so many ways, i can understand this. Mom and Dad, while neither of your own parents are Holocaust survivors, I know that others in our family survived or perished in Europe because of horrifying human rights abuses and widespread violent anti-Semitism. I know that you all firmly believe that a Jewish state will keep us safe, that it’s the answer to how to make sure never to let such atrocities happen again.
And growing up, being Zionist was so much fun! Yom Ha’Atzma’ut – Israel Independence Day – was so filled with boundless joy and music and Israeli dancing and falafel and endless pride at being Jewish and having a homeland.
When I first began to grasp how widespread and terrible and violent the occupation of Palestine is, I panicked. Mom and Dad, you taught me to love Israel and to love being Jewish. The two were always inextricably linked. When we marched in the Support for Israel Parade in New York City every year, we did it with our entire Jewish community: other families from our shul, Monsey Jewish Center; and from our Hebrew day school, Reuben Gittleman. Israeli flags stood tall and proud in all of our Jewish institutions. Nobody ever taught me that it is possible to be Jewish and not Zionist. Nobody ever modeled that for me.
When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad at the University of Haifa. There, I met my first Palestinian friend, Alaa Jubran. He was so patient and kind with me, despite my fear – a fear that I learned from you all and internalized about Palestinians being bad and dangerous and full of hate. We became friends anyway. He took me to his family’s home in Nazareth, practiced English with me, he suggested to me that perhaps things were not quite what they seemed. He suggested a book to me, one written by a British Jewish woman who came to Israel as a Zionist, but after living in a Palestinian village and witnessing how societal and legal racism impacted all aspects of life, decided that she no longer believed that a Jewish state was possible or ethical. I remember being ashamed of reading this book, remember hiding it in another book when I rode the bus.
Mom, Dad, Rayna – it has been such a long and painful process trying to figure out how to be Jewish and anti-Zionist. I remember when I first returned to Israel after that year at the University of Haifa, when within one week I took a trip to Hebron and saw the segregated streets, and then witnessed the demolition of a Palestinian home in Lod. That’s what broke the Zionism in me…although at that point, I was a liberal Zionist: someone who believed strongly in the Jewish state but thought it had a lot of problems.
I realized that we can never ensure Jewish demographic and political control in Israel without committing major human rights abuses against Palestinians, an that wasn’t okay with me. That will never be okay with me.
This is what I believe. That Jews have a powerful Biblical and modern connection to the land of Israel. A lot of the modern connection is founded on horrific racist and colonial acts, as well as rooted in the trauma of the Holocaust and widespread anti-Semitism of the 20th century. I believe that Jews can and should continue to live in Israel.
I also believe that Palestinians – Muslims and Christians – are deeply rooted in Palestine, including in what is today the modern State of Israel. I believe in their right to live there free from violence, including economic, political, and physical violence. I believe that Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 must be acknowledged and offered meaningful reparations.
I believe the Occupation must end. That the Occupation does not make anyone safer – not the Jews in Israel or America or France, not Palestinians, not asylum seekers from Eritrea like the one who was killed in Be’er Sheva a few weeks ago. I believe in BDS as a strategy to end the Occupation and achieve full equal rights for Palestinians in Israel.
I believe that we are all safer when everyone’s needs are met. That Palestinian liberation is inextricably linked with Jewish liberation.
I love you all and I am endlessly grateful for our loving relationships, and that you instilled in me such a love of Jewish ritual and Jewish life.
Your daughter and sister,