GOTTLIEB: You can’t talk about Israel/Palestine without talking about the power difference 1Mar11 March 8, 2011

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb  -  MONDOWEISS -  1 March 2011

First I would like to thank J Street for providing an alternative to AIPAC and perhaps just as important, a respectful forum for discussing a great variety of views about Israeli and American policies toward the Palestinian people which does not demonize dissenters, such as those of us who support the call by the Palestinian community in 2005 for boycott, divestment and sanctions. I understand Judaism as a multivocal community committed to a diversity of views and J street is striving to uphold this central value. I would also personally like to thank my friend Michael Lerner for his decades long willingness to host many controversial conversations such as the BDS Roundtable discussion in which I participated in the pages of Tikkun Magazine in a climate where claims of ‘delegitimization’, anti-semitism, Israel bashing and the like, along with physical assaults, job firing, withholding of funds, banning groups like Jewish Voice for Peace from Jewish campus life are all too commonplace.

The targeting of dissent with charges of delegitimization is a form of denial of the reality of Israeli occupation. To what can this be compared? To a joke I heard recently by another rabbi at a Living Wage rally in NYC. A rabbi is riding a bus and during whole trip he sits next to a man in a suit and tie who has his eyes closed. Just before his stop, the rabbi asks the man, “Please sir, I don’t mean to be rude, buy why are you riding the whole trip with your eyes closed? Are you feeling okay?” “I’m fine,” says the man, “It’s just that I don’t like to see pregnant women standing.” The Jewish community has had its eyes closed for decades to the reality of occupation and to the way we privilege our story in this conflict. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people have given birth to an ongoing intifada that is grounded in principled and strategic nonviolent resistance. As a shomeret shalom rabbi and teacher and practitioner of The Torah of Nonviolence, I am in full solidarity with the Palestinian movement for liberation. I cannot comfortably address reconciliation, healing and peace outside of a solidarity framework. The moral injury and outrage I feel over the way my community is dealing with the war against Palestinians can only be quelled through acts of solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, which, is in truth, what will eventually redeem the Jewish people as well. We were asked to address psychological, spiritual and religious perspectives in the context of fundamentalism, PTSD, reconciliation and the Egyptian revolution.

I would like to make a few points as a shomeret shalom, a person committed to strategic and religious nonviolence as a Jewish way of life.

1. This is not a balanced situation. It is written, “I am with them in distress.” (Psalm 91:15) In order to prepare for this conversation let us reflect on the following: Who is driven from the land and who is invited to settle? Who weeps amidst the rubble of her house and who destroys the family home? Who uproots their neighbor’s olive trees and then plants a forest to hide the destruction of their neighbor’s town? Who must choose between washing her body and a cup of tea and who waters her lawn and goes swimming in the community pool? Who is crushed by bulldozer and who drives the tank? Whose is left to bleed to death in the street and who is rushed to the hospital? Who sits in prison and who locks the prison door. Who is detained at checkpoints and who travels freely throughout the land? Who is blindfolded and who ties the knot? Whose skin burns from white phosphorous and who drops the bomb? Who is shot dead harvesting wheat and who fires the gun?

No conversation about Palestine and Israel can be had without a power analysis. Palestinians are the occupied. Israelis are the occupiers. Occupation is a form of structural violence and thus demands forms of resistance which effectively dismantle the system of structural violence. People who are targets of systematic and structural violence do not need the permission of those who occupy and oppress them to determine the nature of their liberation struggle. This is what we applaud in Egypt and this is what we applaud in Palestine. In fact, struggle is a healthy response to abuse. Victimhood is about passivity. Resistance is about health and well-being. As Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker from Ramallah reminds us,”Those who benefit from the structures of oppression are dependent on the people they oppress and are equally in need of liberation. The will and strength to end the oppression and violence comes from those who bear the oppression and violence in their own lives and very rarely from privileged and powerful persons and nations.” The first healing step for Jewish people is to realize the place we are standing.

Jean further states, “In facing violence, should we ‘submit, become bitter, collaborate, do nothing about the forces that control our lives? Do we accommodate, comply or manipulate?

“The alternative is to resist. Resistance challenges the system’s values and categories. Resistance speaks its own truth to power, and shifts the ground of struggle to its own terrain. Resistance is often thought of as negative. However, resistance is the refusal to be neglected and disregarded. To resist is to be human./ None of us can resist all the time, in every area of life. We must choose our battles, meaning we must choose the priorities of struggle.”

This statement calls upon the Jewish community to dismantle and challenge Jewish privilege and entitlement in this conflict and to fully recognize the place we are standing. This is an enormous spiritual challenge that needs support, courage, and profound inner transformation that comes with the healing of our own trauma. Resistance and solidarity are acts of love.

2. There is nothing ‘post’ about the trauma that Palestinians are experiencing under occupation. It is impossible to talk about reconciliation without first removing the causes of trauma, and that is, ending occupation. In the case of active oppression, reconciliation among Jews and Palestinians can only happen in the context of Jewish solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Jewish Palestinian reconciliation takes place standing in the streets of Bil’in, Sheik Jarakh, Nilin, Jayous, and in every village, town and family home where people are threatened with dispossession, at every one of the over 600 checkpoints, and at the entrance of military bases and in the refusal to serve in the Israeli army and in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions from corporations that profit from occupation and in the halls of Congress demanding the withholding of military aid until Israel ends the siege of Gaza and either withdraws to the 1967 border or declares one state and gives every person one vote. Every time we support Palestinian agency in self-determination of the forms they choose for nonviolent resistance, we are engaging in reconciliation.

3. We have to talk about the refugees. As people who care enough to come to this conference, we have to realize that the status of refugees has to be on the table and Palestinian refugees must be present in the room.

4. J Street has taken many courageous positions, including as advocates for talking to Hamas. Where does this lead to? If democracy is good for the Egyptians, and good for the United States, then we have to trust that it will be good for the Jews and Palestinians. Everyone who has traveled extensively on the ground already knows that there are an equal amount of Palestinians and Jews who live between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan River and their habitations and proximity to each other are completely intertwined. There is no space empty of each other.

I identify Jewish fundamentalism not as the orthodoxy of settlers, but the orthodoxy associated with the whole notion of an ethnocracy, a state that privileges one class of people based on their religious affiliation and ethnic identity over the indigenous population or an immigrant population . In a post colonial world, we must envision a different future for ourselves. The beloved community is one in which we live together, protect each other, support each other’s cultural, religious and ethnic life in a demilitarized environment. For those whose entitlement is largely invisible, our spiritual work is our own awakening to that invisibility. This cannot happen apart from solidarity. Meanwhile we have to resist Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism when and wherever it occurs and begin by recognizing in it ourselves. I for one trust the capacity of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people to respond to the challenge of living together with creativity and faith in our powers of endurance and to grow into a future that embraces Palestinians and Jews living in a peaceful, bilingual, multicultural, multifaith, open bordered, water sharing, creativity generating confederation whose cherished young can fulfill their dreams together.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence spoke  at J Street’s conference, titled “Tikkun Presents: After the Egyptian Uprising: Psychodynamic, Spiritual and Religious Strategies for Mideast Peace.”

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