Written by Ian Chinich
As Israeli Apartheid Week nears yet again and Israel seems hell bent on assaulting Iran, I began to reflect on how my Jewish upbringing led me towards solidarity activism with the Palestinians:
I didn’t grow up in a radical commune or with Yiddish Anarchist parents. Instead, I spent my youth in relative ignorance about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. That is not to say that I wasn’t fed a large amount of propaganda; I was raised in a relatively normal reform Jewish household, attended Hebrew school, and had a Bar Mitzvah. My early memories about the situation were the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a maniac settler, and the growing realization that the “peace accords” were actually not working. When people talked about the situation, it was usually my Hebrew school teachers blaming “The Arabs” (an amorphous population who I was told hated Jews as some sort of primordial part of their being).
In contrast to my education about Israel, I was brought up by liberal parents who told me about the anti-Vietnam war movement and other social movements. A consequence of this liberal Jewish framework was my involvement in protests against the US invasion and later occupation of Iraq. The contrast between my anti war and human rights organizing and Israel’s occupation of Lebanon and its history of noticeable oppression of the Palestinians was stark, yet I didn’t do anything about it. I was even so naive as to go on Birthright in 2004, at the height of the second Intifada. The disdain with which the trip leaders and accompanying soldiers treated “The Arabs” was very eye opening – there was so much racism and militaristic pride that I left rather disgusted. As a result, I began to read everything I could and learned about just how utterly oppressive Israel was, later seeing for myself during a summer of intense activism in the occupied territories.
The horror I witnessed reminded me of stories I heard when I traveled through South Africa (In 2006, while I was in Cape Town, Israel began bombing Lebanon) and met with victims of the Apartheid government. Later, in my travels through East Jerusalem and the West Bank I saw checkpoints with racist Israeli guards, a massive wall stealing the most arable farm land, and dramatic water shortages. I experienced settlers taunting little girls in Sheikh Jarrah, helped lift rubble and possessions out of a bulldozed home in Silwan, cleaned up the destroyed olive trees from burned out farmland and watched a mother weep after her 16 year old son was brutalized and taken away by armed soldiers. In fact, I saw 30 youths taken away in one village over the course of 2 months.
These arrests were a constant feature of Palestinian life. Almost every man I met over the age of 30 had been in an Israeli jail at one point or another for the crime of “organizing illegal protests” or throwing a stone at a military jeep, which carries the penalty of 2 years in prison. Some of those I met had been in jail for years without any charges at all. My good friend Ashraf (whose brother and sister were both killed at demonstrations) is currently in administrative detention – prison without charge or trial – where he has been for held for 5 long months already and could remain indefinitely for no other reason except his participation in demonstrations.
If the extreme nature of oppression wasn’t bad enough I saw the graves of numerous Palestinians killed during non-violent protests against the wall. Bassem Abu Rahma was killed by a high velocity tear gas shell. Yousef Aqel Srour was shot dead by live ammo at a demo in Nil’in the week I arrived. These were only a few among the many who have been killed non-violently fighting the theft of their land. Considering the sacrifices many make daily, I was most impressed by the resiliency of the Palestinian population who, like the American Indians, resisted steadfastly on their land against settler-colonial encroachment.
My mind was totally blown with these experiences. I, as an American Jew, had an enormous amount of privilege. I could literally step off the plane in Tel Aviv and become a citizen on the spot. I could leave at any time, without the fear of being permanently detained. Passing through the airport and certain army checkpoints was a breeze and I rarely thought I could be shot or beaten. In the US, I never had to worry that an occupying army would cut my neighborhood off from the world, that water would run out or be poisoned by settlers (like they did in the Beduin village of Susya) or that I would be taken away in the dead of night.
Knowing what I know and seeing what I have seen, I honestly don’t think there is a choice for Americans (and particularly for American Jews). You can’t be silent when these crimes are being carried out with the support of your tax dollars. You can’t be silent when students on campus are arguing that Israel’s technology or its usage of stolen water resources justifies their oppression of the Palestinians. You can’t allow the present oppressive course to continue. Apartheid in South Africa fell, segregation in the south fell, and Israeli Apartheid will also fall, but only if you make it happen.
Ian Chinich is a third-year PhD candidate in Political Science. His views do not necessarily represent the views of The Quad or its writers. BU Students for Israel was asked to present an alternate viewpoint but at time of publication had not done so. We accept Op-Ed submissions at buquad.com