birthright - Erez Ozir - February 11 2011
Birthright participants at the organization's 'Mega Event' in Jerusalem, February 2011. Photo by Erez Ozir
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I'm going to try to put something into words, something that I've felt with precision for a very long time, but something which, I've found, words tend only to obscure, not to illuminate.

Like most attempts at this, it probably won't work. But here goes.

People need a home. People need to know where they come from. People need a place where they feel they belong, a place where, for reasons which may elude all understanding, they feel profoundly and uniquely rooted. A part of things, rather than simply and permanently apart.

Some people - and there is luck in this - feel completely at home in the place they live. Others, for reasons which may have to do with the way they look or the way they talk or the reactions of other people or because of such things as family history, feel an ache that does not go away. It cannot go away, because it was made by exile.

The Jews, as a people, are made of this ache. The Palestinians are as well.

I am made of this ache. California born and bred that I am, I grew up with it also. I have met many Palestinians, American exactly as I am, who have moved over the past years to the West Bank. They felt the ache as well. They want to stay. I fervently hope they will.
There will be those who will say I have no right to have moved to Israel, to call this home. There will be others who say the same of Palestinians who have moved to Palestine.
This is what I say: Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have every right to a home.

Palestinians and Israelis have equal right to a home. And no one is entitled to decide that your sense of home is valid or not. No one.

This is all you really have to know, as my wife summed up earlier this week, while we were driving home at night past a huge moon the color of fire:

1. We are human beings.
2. We have families.
3. This is our home

I believe that the challenges posed by the Palestinian Right of Return and the problems inherent in the Israeli Law of Return are soluble. More about that next week. Next week will, therefore, be about frustration. This week will be about pain.

This week, when I came across anguished essays by American Jews about this homeland/distant relative Israel, pieces like "Life After Zionist Summer Camp," and an article in The Nation that appeared a day after, "The Romance of Birthright Israel", the ache comes through, clear and unavoidable.

With all the success that Jews have found in America, with all the acceptance and tolerance and fame and influence, the ache, that vestige of dispossession and danger and oppression and powerlessness - that vestige of being cut off from some barely remembered true home - still somehow comes through.

Zionist summer camps and, for that matter, Birthright, were created specifically to address that ache. They were created in an effort to fix something that was broken almost beyond repair. The ache in Jews that goes beyond time and space and the kvetching over everyday annoyances. They may not have worked right, and they may not have been set up or run for the right reasons or by the right people, but nothing else in the entire grand institutional enterprise that is North American Jewry has provided anywhere near the positive experience that young Jews have experienced in camp and now on trips to Israel.

I well understand the reasons for the audible distaste when Kiera Feldman in The Nation and Allison Benedikt write the words "Zionist summer camp."

But there's also this: People I know who went to Zionist summer camps and on Israel trips are among the people I know who are working the hardest for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, a just and peaceful solution to the conflict, an Israel of social justice and true democracy.

They know that there's a battle underway for the future of a place in which they have, much to their shock, come to feel at home. This home is under direct and dire attack, threatened by extremists who push fascistic laws and racist pronouncements and who would like nothing better than to have this place to themselves, as a failing, oppressive, callous, self-satisfied, sinking theocratic slug of a one-state solution.

There are many who would like nothing better than to see progressives bail on this place, turn tail and pronounce it a lost cause. The last thing they want is for progressives to stay and fight. Because they know that no one fights harder, than those who are defending their own homes.