When Jewish Americans uphold occupation, it corrodes our souls
On Monday [May 14, 2018], I joined over a hundred other young American Jews in Washington DC to protest Trump moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As we marched, news rolled in of Palestinians killed by Israeli snipers at the Gaza separation fence. A staggering 37 people had been killed as we blocked Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol. By the time the protest ended, the death toll had passed 40. And at the end of the day, at least 58 people had been killed. It was the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war on Gaza.
As we marched, we blocked the road that connects the US Capitol and the White House, disrupting the morning commute for many. DC police cleared the road and guided traffic around us. Although many of us were willing to risk arrest, we were allowed to demonstrate for hours in the street, singing, chanting, and raising our voices against the occupation. As mostly white American Jews, we have the freedom to protest without fear for our lives.
Over the last month and a half, Palestinians in Gaza have protested every week near the fence that keeps them trapped in what is essentially an open-air prison. Every week they have been met with snipers using live ammunition to silence their calls for freedom. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and thousands more have been injured, in blatant defiance of international law and my Jewish community’s values.
When I protested Israeli violence a few weeks ago outside an Israeli Independence Day festival in San Diego, a man carrying his young daughter came up to us as we read the names of those who had been killed in Gaza. “Terrorist!” he yelled at us, as we read their names.
Not everyone goes so far as to yell at fellow Jews mourning the loss of human life. But too many in the American Jewish community support and help uphold the Israeli occupation and, by doing so, they support the daily nightmares experienced by millions of Palestinians. And far too many share the view of Jared Kushner and the White House that Palestinians are to blame for their own suffering, that those protesters killed or injured by indiscriminate live fire should have stayed home instead of demonstrating for their most basic rights.
When I demonstrated yesterday, I was overcome with emotion. Grief, for the lives taken in Gaza. And simultaneously, pride and hope, to be marching and singing with Jews from around the United States, calling for an end to the occupation. For too long, Jews and Palestinians have been pitted against each other. It is long past time for the Jewish community to realize that violence will never keep us safe.
As the Jewish-American center has focused more intensely on supporting Israel, it has grown clear to me that when Jewish people become instruments of and supporters of oppression, that corrodes our soul. The dehumanization that is required to believe that the occupation is justified is eating at our morals. The hatred I heard in the voice of the man who told us how protesters, journalists, and children were terrorists was so strong I recoiled. I cry for those killed in Gaza, and for this man and his young daughter, and for everyone who believes that violence is the path to peace.
Depriving people of basic human rights, demolishing their homes, and indiscriminately killing them, cannot, has not, and will not keep us safe. There can be no peace in the absence of justice. Our Jewish tradition teaches us that life is sacred; it is long past time to reject dehumanization and embrace the call for freedom and dignity for all. The future of both Jews and Palestinians depends on it. In the words of Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
- Mariyama Scott is a leader with IfNotNow, a movement of young American Jews working to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation