American Jews: Ahed Tamimi Is Your Issue, Too

Do you only feel injustice at the Western Wall, and not at the walls where Palestinians are shot and arrested? If you're proud to identify as Jewish and progressive, you can't just be a spectator to Palestinian suffering

Dear fellow progressive Jews,

I am sorry to hear that the setbacks of 2017 have disappointed you, not least the attitude of Israel's prime minister towards you. Well, OK, not so much. Your previous comfort level with current-day Israel was troubling, and I am relieved for anything that loosens its grip.

You may refrain from mentioning Israel in your synagogues because you find it divisive, but you are not thereby excused from responsibility. The unmentioned rifts fester, they do not heal.

Your patient political deliberation would be solely your business if the net effect were neutral. However, the passage of time is not neutral. It embeds the status quo. It normalizes a violence that must not be allowed to feel normal. 

How many settlers occupied the West Bank when you first felt queasy, and how many more live there now? How many Gazan babies have been born behind walls – condemned before birth – since you decided that justice within the Green Line should come first?

Since Trump unilaterally handed over a city that does not belong to him, you’ve gone even quieter.

You waved an egalitarian banner so vigorously to demand justice in front of one wall this year, and I am aggrieved and indignant with you on that prayer plaza.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, who was shot and killed in clashes on the Israel-Gaza border. Gaza City, Dec. 16, 2017
AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra

Then a Gazan double amputee waved a flag before another wall. He was unarmed, far away from well-armed Israeli soldiers. When he was targeted, shot and killed by an IDF sniper, did your sense of justice join him on that field?

He was one of a dozen killed in these protests so far. Ahed Tamimi is in military custody at the age of 16 years, and her 14-year-old cousin, comatose after being shot in the face; they are among an unconscionable number of child victims. 

This violence is too debased. You are not immune to other suffering, so how can you be a spectator at the suffering inflicted in your name? How can you not weigh in, with your numbers and your influence and your organizations, to arrest this accumulation of new pain, and bring peace one step closer? 

Did you think you are not implicated? When an intersection of protest against the occupation embraced Palestinians and a number of young Jews, did you think they wouldn’t point at the left side of the tent?

This tent of the mainstream Jewish establishment - it is an echo chamber, whose establishment sounds as scripted as their Palestinian counterparts. Worse for you, as thinking progressives, the gatekeepers of the tent regulate what should be your personal, unflinching, full-frontal encounter with power and powerlessness. 

A demonstrator during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, near the West Bank city of Nablus. December 29, 2017
REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

It’s past time to disintermediate the old gatekeepers, as a hopeful number of mostly-young Jews and Palestinians are doing. They are walking out. Will you?

Make 2018 your breakout year of primary sources. Here are four that help me.

Listen directly to the Palestinian voices of the new generation. Because you cannot meet them in person, make an extra effort to hear the musicians of Gaza, watch the dancers, visit the virtual art gallery, read their writing of their own stories, hire a freelancer. Let their whole humanity make demands upon yours. 

Study the Jewish primary sources. Unshroud our 6000-year-old religion from a 60-year-old policy. Wrestle with the grammar and the poetry of Biblical Hebrew to read the assignment of the Prophets.

Yonah Lieberman, founder of the IfNotNow organization, being dragged away by a police officer from a recent anti-occupation protest in Jerusalem
Jon Atkins

Read the arguments. From the hilltops to the intersections, seek out your most thoughtful and ardent opponents. Debate them in substance rather than caricature.

Read about human rights and international law. Adopt the frameworks that humanize, protect, and hold our two peoples responsible. That’s the tent to dwell in.

Dear fellow Jewish progressives, there is no tame space left for this humming and hawing that Trump was, well, unfortunate but, um, still sort of right because of the, you know, facts on the ground, and the UN – OK, kind of the whole world – is just anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and anyway, they’ve always been unreasonable about Jerusalem...

The next facts on the ground to be validated will be the settlements, you know that, right? Next Year in Ramallah, in time for Trump’s Congressional elections?

Injustice is happening in your name.

So, please, make yourself uncomfortable in 2018. Study the primary source material, and take a side. Find your piece of it, and act. 

Marilyn Garson worked nearly two decades with communities affected by conflict, including 2011 – 2015 in the Gaza Strip.  She writes from New Zealand, and her blog is Transforming Gaza. Twitter: @skinonbothsides