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Young, Jewish, and Going to Gaza

December 22, 2009

Guest post via Alex Kane:

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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nour permalink
    December 23, 2009 3:16 am

    i am proud of you and i hope that God be with you on this trip. You are the true Jew person that fear God and not scared of telling the truth. I wish you always great success in life.

  2. Kathy Felgran permalink
    December 24, 2009 8:10 pm

    As a Jewish woman who grew up with the same Zionist mythology to which you refer and who visited the W. Bank in spring, 2008, I share all of your convictions. Moreover, I am so moved as to be “kvelling” with pride at your courage and your wonderful writing. I admire you and your spirit and commitment to truth and justice. I have had all of the same conversations with other Jewish friends, and they cannot accept that what I saw with my own eyes in the W. Bank is the truth. I have read the many books written by Jewish and or Israeli authors that expose the reality of the Nakba, yet so many friends and relatives refuse to read even one of the books.

    I’m sure you have been called a self-hating Jew like I have. But I applaud you and may God bless you and your courage and may we find justice and peace in your lifetime. I am so encouraged by your stand. Bless you in all you do,

  3. Miriam permalink
    December 27, 2009 4:28 pm

    As a 51 y.o. Jewish American woman, I, too, had the Zionist mythology hammered into me at a reform Hebrew school. It took me a few decades to become conscious and understand the true story. Kudos to you for waking up so early! The more of us who speak up, perhaps the more we can educate American Jews about what is really happening. Not an easy task, but, as you pointed out, it is nothing compared to the suffering of the people of Palestine.

    I leave for Palestine too late to join the March (Jan 1), but you will be in my heart!

  4. Renee Nassif and Denise Levy permalink
    January 8, 2010 2:28 am

    Dear Alex and Advocate for Gaza:

    We are two Lebanese American sisters who enjoyed reading your article concerning Gaza. You are a true humanitarian, and we really identify with your compassion and feelings about the Gazans and the Palestinians living in the West Bank, or what is referred to as Palestine. We are so proud of those who have taken up the torch for freedom and justice everywhere.

    Although we were unable to participate in the Gaza Freedom March,we were there in spirit, and busy doing some grass roots activities, which included: candle light vigils, A Middle-East Dinner Fundraiser for Gaza, hosting a seminar in helping to educate Americans regarding the Middle-East, and starting a humanitarian group advocating peace among the Palestinians and the Israelis. We are also members of a peace coalition, and are trying to raise awareness in our community, to advocate for non-violence and peace. We believe that humaitarianism and goodwill begins at home, among families,and that positive social change begins within, and then workds outwardly. Thank you to all who advocate in our world, and in particular in the third world countries, including Gaza! Renee Nassif and Denise Levy

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