When I tell people I leave for Cairo, Egypt, to join up with Palestine solidarity activists on our way to the Gaza Strip on December 25th, they exclaim, “you’re leaving on Christmas?!”
“Yes,” I say. “Christmas doesn’t mean much to me. I’m Jewish.” And after I identify as Jewish, some of them have befuddled looks on their faces. “Aren’t Jews supposed to support Israel?” I can see some of them thinking that in their heads.
But when I think about my own personal history, it makes sense that my Judaism, however secular I am right now, has led me to become active for Palestinian freedom.
I went to Hebrew School twice a week when I was a child growing up in Yonkers, New York, learned how to read Hebrew, recited the four questions at Passover and vowed to be in Jerusalem next year, and made my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. I will turn 21 on December 31—the day the Gaza Freedom March will happen.
In my Reform temple, Israel was a constant source of discussion, a key part in forming your Jewish identity, even though you were a Jew in the United States. Our Hebrew School teachers mythologized the 1948 founding of Israel as the great moment of Jewish redemption in our homeland. There was no Palestine, nor any Palestinians, and certainly no Nakba (the word, which means catastrophe in Arabic, that refers to the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their native land that occured with the birth of the Jewish State). Israel was, of course, “a land without people for a people without a land,” the founding, and false, creed of Zionism.
I was only 13 when I stopped going to Hebrew School, right after my Bar Mitzvah. So, I don’t think my identity as a Jew ever got to the point of no return where I would shield myself from criticism of Israel. But then again, there must have been a part of my Jewish education that subconsciously made some emotional attachment to Israel.
So I grew up. Eventually, politics and social justice seeped into my soul. I remember my first demonstration against the Iraq War, and marching side by side with leftists chanting about the occupation of Palestine. Back then, when I was 15, I didn’t think about Palestine. Did my ignorance and lack of interest in the occupation of Palestine hearken back to Hebrew School indoctrination?
I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that I started reading about radical politics, and looked up to, say, Emma Goldman or Michael Schwerner. Their struggle against oppression resonated with my familial history, as I know one set of Great Grandparents came from Russia after escaping the pogroms in the early 20th century.
Then the massacres in Gaza happened. Something awoke inside of me. No longer could I stay silent. No longer could Israel and Palestine stay off the map to my progressive politics. I turned to Norman Finkelstein, Joel Kovel, and the authors of the blog Mondoweiss, all Jewish critics of Israel, for my new education on Zionism, and the oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of their land.
I believe Jewish identification with Israel has corrupted the Jewish soul. Jews went from being the oppressed outsiders of Europe to the abusers of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. A big part of being Jewish is to identify with the oppressed. I have come to acknowledge the connection between my Jewishness and my leftist politics, and concurrently my opposition to Israeli apartheid in all of historic Palestine, something that some older Jews can’t seem to do.
Family members invoke the Holocaust when discussions turn to Israel. The Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust, I respond. That doesn’t win the argument with them always. But that must be the response to those who invoke the horror of the Holocaust and connect it with the founding of Israel.
But enough about me. I’m a privileged Jewish-American who has a comfortable life in New York. I feel somewhat uncomfortable writing about my personal history concerning Israel, because it’s not about me, and publishing an article on it may make it seem like this matters. My handwringing and soul searching on Israel and Palestine is nothing compared to what it must be like to be a Palestinian, suffering from day to day indignities, and denied basic human rights. On the other hand, my privilege is one way in which the struggle for Palestinian freedom will be won. It’s a sad commentary on the racism that informs discussions about Palestine when Jews who speak out against Israeli oppression get more attention than Palestinians. But I think when more Jews awake from their Zionist-induced slumber, the wheels of dismantling Israeli apartheid will turn faster.
The one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead is approaching. And I sit in my room brimming with excitement at the thought of traveling to Gaza to march, with 1,000 activists from different countries around the world, for Palestinian justice and freedom. The illegal siege on Gaza makes my blood boil. Israel must not be allowed to continue their racist and thoroughly un-Jewish suffocation of the people of Gaza. Jewish people have a deep-rooted history of struggle against exclusion and identification with the oppressed, but we betray that history when we muzzle ourselves from critiquing the state that supposedly represents us when they continue to keep Gazans in an open-air prison.
So I’ll be blogging and reporting on the people of Gaza’s struggle as much as I can during my time there. And then I’ll be armed with even more knowledge when I return so that U.S. policy, and Jewish-American attitudes on Israel and Palestine, can slowly, but surely, begin to change.
Alex Kane is a junior at Marymount Manhattan College, and a reporter and writer with the Indypendent. He is part of the student delegation to the Gaza Freedom March, where he will be joining over 1,300 delegates in a historic march in Gaza on December 31.
Follow his reporting on Gaza here on the IndyBlog, and at his Twitter account.