A comment on Israel and Palestine

By Andrew Feinberg

I am someone who has grown up identifying as Jewish, and I can see how easy it might be to hold onto that identity and never let go. Even when I stopped believing in God I felt an emotional attachment to Jewish culture. Growing up Jewish in America, Palestinians are often ignored in one’s conversations pertaining to the Holy Land. “What are those dotted lines?” I once asked a Hebrew School teacher, pointing to a map. “The West Bank and the Gaza strip,” he answered. Somehow, I was content with his answer. My failure back then to ask the necessary follow-up questions is what drives me to ask them today.If you’re Jewish, you’ve heard this in prayer services: “Hear, O Israel,” Israel being the Jewish nation, regardless of where you are as a Jew. Throughout the centuries, the statelessness of Judaism has caused incalculable suffering for the Jewish people. I can see the appeal of rejecting the ‘minority mindset,’ of turning away from our non-violent ways and taking an aggressive stance to defend a homeland of our own. The follow-up question being, is it really our own?

To my annoyance, many in my family have questioned my loyalty to Judaism. “Whatever you do, don’t tell your grandmother that you’re a German major. or in the P.L.O.,” my mother told me after coming home for Spring Break. So what was it that transformed this patriotic Israelite into a Palestinian rights activist? In a word, it was information. Following the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, a family friend complained that he “lost his faith in C.N.N.” when they started showing footage of smoke rising from Lebanese buildings. Only later did I ever think back and contemplate on the absurdity of blaming a news organization for doing their job. I realize now that that’s how militarists think: it’s only a tragedy when they’re the victims and not the perpetrators. Very recently I sought information from non-Western media to deal with my perception that I wasn’t well informed enough on the topic to take a viable stance. The fact that Israel has for decades now occupied the Palestinian territories and built settlements in the West Bank came as quite the surprise. It is clear I owe my ignorance to my family’s philosophy of ‘liberal’ on all issues but one. I’m sure this is the case for Jews around the country.

It is certainly unfair to tie the unjust policies of a group around the heads of innocent individuals. But unfortunately, the world has a history of doing just that. As Jews and as world citizens, to address this conflict, we must first take a moment to appreciate our societal values. What have Jews learned from the Holocaust? Is it healthy for a people to engage in constant war and occupy other countries? Is nationalism ever a good idea? Is it not in the spirit of Judaism to speak out against injustice?

It is only a recent phenomenon that Jews could be labeled ‘conservative’ on any political debate in American politics, but the Israeli lobby and the uninformed grandparents of America are doing their part to tie Jews to the inhumane war crimes of a far-off apartheid state. As Jews, we’ve officially had enough. We’re speaking up to our families and our synagogues. We’re beginning a dialogue to establish solidarity between American Jews and the oppressed people of Palestine.

Andrew Feinberg ’13 can be reached at [email protected].