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Diaspora Jews must place our bodies on the line

As internationals and Jews, we are unjustly privileged — and therefore obligated to take part in nonviolent direct action in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

By Leanne Gale

Israeli soldiers confront Jewish American activists in Sarura, a village that had been rebuilt of Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists, May 21, 2017. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers confront Jewish American activists in Sarura, a village that had been rebuilt of Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists, May 21, 2017. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

My first protest in the West Bank was in 2012. On the advice of a college professor, I went to a demonstration in Susya, a Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills. The village was then, as now, under threat of demolition.

When we arrived, along with a few other American students affiliated with J Street U, there were already around 700 Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals present. The children of the village had painted Palestinian flags on their faces and the energy was almost celebratory. But when we began to march to the site of Susya’s ancestral lands, which had been taken over by an Israeli settlement, the Israeli military came out in full force. The demonstration was dispersed with tear gas, stun grenades, and the threat of skunk water. I had never been so terrified in my life.

That terror came back this week when I returned to the South Hebron Hills with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. Almost 200 diaspora Jews helped establish the Sumud Freedom Camp on the site of the Palestinian village Sarura. Twenty years ago, the residents of Sarura had been forced to abandon their village in the face of settler violence and the imposition of a closed military zone on their land. This past weekend, they chose to name the freedom camp “Sumud,” Arabic for steadfastness, to embody a central concept in the Palestinian lexicon of resistance.

The action was organized by an unprecedented coalition of Palestinian, joint Israeli-Palestinian, and diaspora Jewish organizations, including the South Hebron Hills Popular Committee, Youth Against Settlements, Holy Land Trust, All That’s Left, Combatants for Peace, and Center for Jewish Nonviolence. Many of the Jews who flew in from around the world had absolutely no idea what it might be like to confront settlers or the Israeli military. And yet, out of obligation, they came.

Palestinian, Israelis and diaspora Jews at the Sumud Freedom Camp, Surara, West Bank, May 19, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Palestinian, Israelis and diaspora Jews at the Sumud Freedom Camp, Surara, West Bank, May 19, 2017. (Gili Getz)

One trip participant, an American Jew from Connecticut, recalled her first time protesting the occupation in the West Bank in 1983. She was the only diaspora Jew there then. A second trip participant, an American Jew from Washington D.C. and veteran anti-occupation activist, remarked that if I had told her 10 years ago that she would be standing in the West Bank chanting “Free Palestine” with a group of over 100 American Jews, she would have laughed in my face.

Within moments of our arrival, a Palestinian farmer named Fadel Aamar returned to the home he had been forced to leave two decades before. We snapped photos as he used his original key to open the rusty door, a broad grin on his face. Unsure of when the Israeli military might come to break up the camp, we worked quickly to clear caves, establish tents, and mark the entrance to the village with painted tires. By the end of the first night, we were feeling more confident. Other than a short visit from the settlers from a nearby settlement, all was well.

The second night didn’t go quite as well. I had just put my glasses in my shoe and crawled under a blanket to fall asleep when I heard the shrill sound of whistles: the IDF had arrived to destroy our encampment. I found my way to the entrance of the camp just in time to watch as a soldier slammed one of our group leaders into a table. My heart sank and tears began to silently stream down my cheeks. An hour before, we had been finishing our Havdalah service and dancing dabke.

Our tents were destroyed, our supplies and generator stolen, and many of us were physically harmed. But four days later, Sumud Freedom Camp still stands. As I write, Palestinians, Israelis, and diaspora Jews are crawling into the rebuilt encampment to try again for another night of sleep.

Palestinian, Israelis and diaspora Jews at the Sumud Freedom Camp, Surara, West Bank, May 19, 2017. (Gili Getz)

Palestinian, Israelis and diaspora Jews at the Sumud Freedom Camp, Surara, West Bank, May 19, 2017. (Gili Getz)

As Sumud Freedom Camp continues to grow, diaspora Jews are continuing to build a stronger infrastructure than ever before to put our bodies on the line. We are developing the trainings, resources, and community to do this sustainably, rather than quickly becoming isolated, traumatized, and burnt out.

As our organizing continues, the presence of our bodies, unjustly privileged by our identities as internationals and as Jews, will shield our Palestinian partners from the worst excesses of the occupation, as they continue to resist displacement, erasure, and violence. Make no mistake: the only reason that the Sumud Freedom Camp has lasted so long is the presence of Jews from around the world.

The more diaspora Jews take part in nonviolent direct action in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, the better we will be able organize our communities around the world. In the course of our work with Palestinian organizers at Sarura, we were repeatedly asked to draw attention to Palestinian nonviolent resistance in our home countries. We take that call as a sacred obligation.

As our movement grows, more diaspora Jews will begin to share personal stories of the violence Palestinians face on a daily basis under military occupation — whether in our synagogues, schools, or summer camps. Palestinian suffering has not been enough to wake our communities up; will our communities turn their backs on the suffering of their children, students, and rabbis?

We came to Sarura to place our bodies in the gears of the occupation machine. Our Palestinian partners knew that our presence would make it possible for them to reclaim their space and regain their homes. And it’s working. We are physically reversing the process of displacement, with every cleared cobweb in every abandoned cave. I’ll be headed back to Sarura this week, and I call on every Jewish community I have ever been part of to join me.

Leanne Gale is a Jewish anti-occupation activist and former NIF-Shatil Social Justice Fellow. She will be starting Yale Law School in Fall 2017.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bernie X

      Question: What was the date that it became illegal, under international law, for individual Jews to move to and settle in Judea and Samaria?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @BernieX: I suspect it was the same day it became illegal for Palestinians to move around the place they were born in without Israeli permission.

        Reply to Comment
    2. i_like-ike52

      So Leanne was “terrified” when confronting Israeli soldiers. Apparently she wasn’t here during the mass suicide bomber campaign conducted by the Palestinians. I suggest she ask her Palestinian comrades what they think of their fellow Palestinians who have carried out those atrocities.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Susan

      I’m on the left myself and I don’t support the occupation, but the left and especially the American left overuses the word privileged.

      The Israeli left can’t convince their fellow Israelis that they should end the occupation. They want Jews around the world to rescue them from their own incompetence.

      Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        I find it amusing how the “progressives” respond like a bunch of parrots when one of their leaders decides to come out with a new slogan or campaign. Someone like Judith Butler or Angela Davis starts ranting about “white privilege” and then the whole choir joins in. They don’t even know what these slogans mean. How can Jews, for whom simply being born in Jewish in Europe was a capital crime just 70+ years ago, and who suffered antisemitic discrimination even in “liberal” countries like the US, can be accused of having “white privilege”. It is particularly bizarre when Edot HaMizrach Jews who came from the Middle East or Ethiopian Jews who came from Africa and supposed to feel they also have “white privilege”.

        If anyone has unwarranted “privilege” it is the Arabs who, in an unmatched campaign of imperialist aggression invaded the Middle East and forced the populations there to adopt the Arab’s religion, culture and language, and who imposed Jim Crow-like dhimmi regulations and discriminatory jizya taxes on non-Muslims in the conquered/colonized countries. I suggest Leanne educate her Arab friend about how they should shed their “Arab Privilege.”

        Reply to Comment
    4. Firentis

      I suppose the first question you would have to answer is what you mean by “Free Palestine” and whether your Palestinian allies agree with you. For most Palestinians it means that Israel should not exist and the Jews should be forced either out or to live as an oppressed minority in an Arab Muslim state. I can’t imagine much of the diaspora Jewish community signing up once put in those terms.

      Thank you for providing your name and organization and demonstrating that NIF is a front group for anti-Israel activism. The proper policy for dealing with foreign provocateurs like you is to deport you and to keep you out of the country for ten years. Hopefully that is what will happen in your case and the case of the other provocateurs that come to a foreign country to cause a disturbance.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        For most Israelis Palestine should not exist either. Your Education Minister and leading light on the right says it loud and clear every day. You can’t always get what you want. Looks like you and they need to, you know, compromise and make a deal. And the first step towards that might be to stop seeing yourselves in a falsely positive light.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          I parse from your comment that you accept that ‘Free Palestine’ as used in these events refers to destroying Israel. At that point the question remains how receptive American Jews would be to such a message. Or for that matter how receptive Israel should be to “activists” coming in to protest for the country’s destruction.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You parse poorly.

            Reply to Comment
    5. i_like_ike52

      I see how these “conflict tourists” flatter themselves by claiming they are “putting their bodies on the line” against non-threatening IDF troops. The people who really ARE putting themselves on the line are those very same IDF forces who, day in and day out, are protecting us from the murderous terrorist jihadists, just like those who struck Manchester.

      The writer, Leanne, will go back to Yale Law School, show everyone her “heroic pictures” standing up to IDF troops, and will now be able to show real credentials that she is a SJW–Social Justice Warrior.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “The people who really ARE putting themselves on the line are those very same IDF forces who, day in and day out, are protecting us from the murderous terrorist jihadists, just like those who struck Manchester.”

        Hilarious hack hasbara.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          You don’t think there is such a threat? Manchester didn’t happen? It would have been interesting to know what the Palestinians who participated in this protest along with the “brave conflict tourists” what THEY think about terrorist attacks like this, and would they be willing to actually live in peace with Israel as a Jewish state coming as a result of a compromise peace agreement in which the Palestinians give up the demand for an unlimited “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees. I would be willing to bet it is only a small minority, if there are any at all. Our “conflict tourists” are closing their eyes to the reality around them.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is blatant “PA = Isis” propaganda. From the same guy who berates people for realizing that Iran in its proper regional place is needed as a counterbalance to these Isis criminal forces and there are no immediate easy answers to Syria. Trump won’t tell you that. Obama did, and you and the Isis-spawning, 9-11-spawning Saudis, Netanyahu’s buddies, loathe Obama for that. There is a hack quality to this turning each and every complex problem into fodder to grind in the hasbara production mill, because in your mind it seems all problems in the world are subordinate to the Feiglinist project.

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Wasn’t it the Palestinians, by way of both HAMAS and FATAH/Al-Aqsa Martyr’s brigade among the first that turned suicide bombings into a Muslim “art-form”? Thousands of Israelis (including now a few Arabs) were killed or wounded from this onslaught. Do you think that the Palestinians are immune to the wave of Islamic extremist violence that is plaguing the Middle East? If Israel foolishly unilaterally pulled out of the West Bank the way it did from Gaza, the area would shortly be embroiled in a bloody civil war as extremist groups and the variuos clans would fight for control. The ONLY reason Abbas’s FATAH/PA stays in power is because of the IDF presence in the area.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            These never ending concocted excuses are not credible. If Israel wanted to pay the proper price and to engineer a stable, peaceful end to the conflict with constructive trust building and strengthening of the relevant parties and one tenth of the effort it puts into occupation and dispossession, it could do it easily. It doesn’t want to.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      What would the American authorities react if Israeli citizen made anti-government politics in the USA? If these Americans or other Jews from diaspora want to make some politics here they can make aliya. It is not moral to be inside and outside at the same time. It is the Israeli taxpayer who pays the price for the police deployment. I hope that these “progressive foreign Jews” will be banned.

      Reply to Comment
      • mordechai ben yosef

        The United States has a long history of foreign nationals protesting in the U.S. against its policies and wars such as Vietnam, support of the Shah of Iran,treatment of immigrants, etc. It is Israel who calls itself “The Jewish State,” and Netanyahu who claims to speak for diaspora Jewry. In this context, Jews have the obligation,the duty to stand up against the injustices, lies, crimes done in our name. American Jews help underwrite the repression of Palestinians and the government fomented racism against other people of color in Israel such as Africans, Ethiopians, and Mizrachi Jews with 3 billion dollars of direct annual aid to support the systems and weapons of repression. In addition there are many millions of dollars spent on the “deadly exchanges” between U.S. and Israeli security organizations to share the worst practices in maintaining control of communities in both countries who dare resist injustice, racism and government sanctioned murder.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          When foreign nationals come to the US for the express purpose of protesting and clashing with police you will see them get very quickly deported.

          Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people in the homeland of the Jews. It functions as both a shelter and as a guardian for Jews around the world. It speaks in that role.

          You will not have to live with the consequences of the delusional policies that you promote and so have no right to have a say in how this country operates. You most certainly have no right to come here and participate in political activism.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Homeland of, shelter of, guardian of, but not nation state of. Mordechai is dead on target, bullseye, with ‘It is Israel who calls itself “The Jewish State,” and Netanyahu who claims to speak for diaspora Jewry. In this context, Jews have the obligation, the duty to stand up against the injustices, lies, crimes done in our name.’

            ‘”Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed,” is how Netanyahu detailed his demand in his speech to AIPAC last week. “The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged. It was in Hebron that Abraham blocked the cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Beit El that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history.”
            The Palestinians, of course, flatly deny that the Bible stories are history or that they give Israel a claim over the Holy Land. They deny that modern-day Israel is the real-estate successor of Biblical Israel.
            But so do some Jews. They love Israel and are loyal and devoted to it not because its present leader or previous Zionist leaders declared it to be “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” but rather as the strongly and determinedly defended haven for all Jews everywhere in the wake of the Holocaust, and as the one state where the Jewish religion and Jewish culture are central components of the national ethos.
            That makes them Zionist, but with no allegiance to Netanyahu’s imperious version of Zionism, nor to his effort to force it down Palestinian throats….
            Regarding the present Israeli-Palestinian impasse, many Israelis and Palestinians believe that Netanyahu’s broaching of the “Jewish state” issue was intended deliberately to slow the negotiations or thwart an agreement. He must surely have known that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would spurn his demand on the grounds that the definition “Jewish state” could imply an abandonment of the rights and claims of Israeli Arabs and of the Palestinian refugees.
            So is today’s Israel “the nation-state of the Jewish people?” A lot of Jewish people, the center of whose lives is abroad, clearly do not think so. Many Israelis, too, have problems with Netanyahu’s domineering view of Israel’s past and present – but most especially with his insistence on the Palestinians, hopefully our partners in peace and pragmatism, becoming members of the Zionist executive.’
            -David Landau
            http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.578905

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            And they are entirely free to disagree and agitate politically in their country. What they are not free to do is to come and engage in provocations and confrontations with the police in mine.

            This is some sort of weird argument which combines a rejection of the basis for any special privilege they might have to influence within Israel while also insisting that they have special privilege within Israel to come as foreigners and engage in political activism. Their argument boils down to: “we insist that we are foreigners and that your country has no relation to us, yet on the basis of the claim your politicians make that we strenuously reject we insist on the right to come to your country to engage in political activism”. It is incoherent nonsense.

            It is time to round them up and deport them. It is a waste of resources to have the police repeatedly have confrontations with these foreigners who are here exclusively for the purpose of political provocation.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Ben

      The Young Jewish Americans Coming to Israel to Fight the Occupation
      Some 130 overseas Jews are part of an initiative to restore Palestinian families to their West Bank village.

      …“We’re here until the end,” says Ashley Bohrer, a campaign organizer for the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, who is among the small group of hard-core activists who have spent every night at the camp since it was erected…
      Bohrer, 28, wears a purple T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Occupation is Not Our Judaism.” Her path to becoming a Jewish star of the Palestinian solidarity movement was not immediately obvious. She grew up in Los Angeles in a family that belonged to Chabad (the Orthodox outreach movement).
      After she began studying Arabic in George Washington University, she says she “began to see with new eyes the horrors and brutality of the occupation.” Her initial response to this awakening was to deny her Jewish identity. It was only during the Gaza war in the summer of 2014, when she encountered like-minded members of her faith for the first time, that she understood being Jewish didn’t contradict opposing the occupation. “It was an earth-shattering moment for me,” she says…
      read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.792000

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