I support and believe in the Palestinians—their right to inhabit the land they live on and have lived on for many, many years, and I support their plight. Does this make me Anti-Semitic?
After Israel attacked Gaza in December of 2008, I had a deep need to go over to the Middle East and learn first hand about the situation. I could have read more books on the conflict, but I believe experiential education is the most informative way to the truth. So, in March of 2009, I traveled with a peace delegation to Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. There, I witnessed conditions on the ground in places such as East Jerusalem, Hebron and a small village called At-Tuwani. In Hebron, I witnessed horrible conditions, where over five-hundred of approximately seven-hundred shops have closed due to Israeli military orders, or because the illegal settlers have pushed the Palestinians out. There is chain link fencing with plastic over the existing shops in Hebron to stop the settlers from throwing objects down on to shop owners and on to shoppers—such as cement blocks, glass, urine, feces, as well as other hazardous materials. I went through several check points, finding myself annoyed at the time it took and had to remind myself that Palestinians go through that every day.
I witnessed Palestinian and Israeli children, maybe ten feet away from each other with a concrete barrier being the only thing separating them, hurling insults at each other in Arabic and Hebrew. They may not have understood what the other was saying, but they certainly understood the intent and more, felt the hatred. I met a woman who cannot leave out her front door anymore, because her street, Shuhada Street, is now occupied by Settlers.
In the village of At-Tuwani, I witnessed Palestinian children escorted by Israeli Defense Forces between villages, through an illegal Settlement and Outpost area, because if these children are not escorted, the settlers attack them. At-Tuwani is a village completely dedicated to non-violence. Furthermore, the only school for several miles is in this village, so children come from neighboring villages, such as Tuba, to get an education.
I drove in a taxi from Jerusalem to Nablus and because I am an “international,” I was allowed on the “clean roads,” where Israelis can freely travel where and when they want to. I made it to Nablus in about an hour. If I was a Palestinian, I would not be allowed on the clean roads and instead, it would take me about four hours, if not more, to go the same distance. This is only some of what I witnessed in Palestine.
On the other side, I spent an evening with a self proclaimed Zionist who helped me understand his religious beliefs and why he feels what he feels. He does not recognize Palestine as a country, nor does he recognize the Palestinians as a people. Although I had a difficult time grasping his ideology, I left with a much clearer understanding of why some in Israel feel the land is simply theirs, with no ifs, ands, or buts.
I also spent a day in Sderot with filmmaker, Laura Bialis. Sderot is one of the main reasons Israel attacked Gaza back in 2008. For years, Qassam rockets have been launched from Gaza killing Israelis in Sderot and other surrounding areas. There, I witnessed playgrounds, markets, schools, theaters, temples, and almost every home equipped with a bomb shelter. And, I lived through a Color Red. In a coffee shop having lunch, the siren sounded, the recording in Hebrew, “Color red, Color red,” came over the speaker. With no bomb shelter close by, we ran to the back of the coffee shop by the bathroom with everyone else—and waited. From the time the alarm sounds to the time of impact, you have fifteen seconds. I admit it, I was scared. I stood there thinking, Will it hit here? Nearby? There is this eerie silence and then it is all over. An all clear is given and you go back to eating and chatting as if nothing happened for it is a norm there. For years, people in Sderot have lived with this. They are traumatized, despondent and psychologically damaged.
Backing up—I have had the privilege of studying with Elie Wiesel three times in my educational career, most recently in the Fall semester, 2010. We have chatted out of class about several things, one being my trip to Palestine. Before I left, I told him how important it was for me to understand both sides of the conflict. His most important advice for me was to listen. I did. While there I listened to both sides. I listened to people’s stories and in my listening, I could feel their fear; I could feel their passion; I could feel their deep-rooted faith; I could and can still hear them. All of them.
I left Israel with what I wanted—a better understanding of what is occurring there. I left with people’s lives enmeshed within my own life, with their pain in my heart and with their struggle entrenched in my soul. I left more pro-Palestinian than when I went. However, I also left with a profound understanding of the ideology of a Jewish Settler, as well as a sense of what it means to be Jewish and love Israel, and probably most important, what it means to live in a protracted conflict zone.
When I returned home and tried to tell people what I learned, I heard, “Careful, you don’t want to be called Anti-Semitic.” My reaction to that was and still is, So if I side with the Palestinians, I am Anti-Semitic? I cannot criticize what I witnessed? I can’t speak out against radical Jews who are taking land that is not theirs and hurting people in the process? I can’t criticize a system that oppresses and even worse, comes from a people that were and have been oppressed themselves? If I can’t do that, if I can’t speak for truth, justice and what I witnessed, then, call me what you want.
Jumping back to now. In Professor Wiesel’s class this last Semester, I asked a tough question. In fact, it made everyone in the room look at me and I could tell they were thinking, I can’t believe you asked that! What did I ask? “How can I, as Christian, speak out and support the Palestinian people, understanding both sides of the conflict, and not be considered an Anti-Semite?” Oh, yes I did! Professor Wiesel’s answer? “Karen, you speak your truth and no one can tell you what to believe and what to say. You should be able to speak out for anyone you want to, including the Palestinians, and not be called anti-Semitic.” So there you have it. Unfortunately it is not that easy—I know that.
From my experience in Israel and the West Bank as well as with Professor Wiesel, more than anything, I learned that it is OK to contradict yourself. I do not agree with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. In fact, I also do not always agree with Professor Wiesel politically, but that does not mean I do not respect him or his profound wisdom. Israelis, Palestinians and Professor Wiesel taught me to see beyond the situation, beyond the mere existence of humans and see what really makes us tick. To be a true peacemaker, this is what I must continue to do.
The simple truth is that Palestinian’s are an oppressed people and suffer terrible, countless injustices. On the other hand, I understand the Israeli’s love for their homeland—for their history and their culture. I witnessed first hand the fear of what it means to be Jewish in Israel. I witnessed first hand the oppression and what it means to be Palestinian in Palestine. I love both Palestine and Israel! I love the people who live there. I see and could feel the impetus for peace from so many, on both sides, that I encountered while there. I am a woman who immersed myself for a very short time in a culture, a conflict and a place that is entrenched in a history that literally shaped who we are today. I sought to understand both sides and I do.
I support and believe in the Palestinians—their right to inhabit the land they live on and have lived on for many, many years and I support their plight. Does this make me Anti-Semitic? No, it doesn’t. It is my truth and my understanding of the situation. What’s yours?