Deciphering Israel And Palestine As An American Jew

Israel's governmental policies toward Palestinians are atrocious.

Yesterday, I visited the West Bank for the first time. I went with a group of Israeli activists called the “Reacha Kamocha” who regularly go into the West Bank to interview locals, meet with the heads of villages, and help out wherever they can. I accompanied them as a photographer to document the activities of the group, and also to help out wherever they needed an extra hand.

On the drive from Tel Aviv they showed me more maps than I can count, and explained to me a few aspects of the occupation which I was not aware of.

For example, the West Bank is separated into 3 zones.

  • Zone A is under Palestinian civil and military control, this area includes most large cities
Zone B is under Palestinian civil, and Israeli military control
  • Zone C is under both Israeli civil and military control

Palestinians in area C (and sometimes B) are not allowed open access to their olive groves. Either they are separated from them by a fence, or settlers will chase them off with guns if they go to them. In many cases the Israeli authority only allows them to harvest their olives once a year, even if it’s a grove their family has owned and been harvesting from for hundreds of years.

Khader, a Palestinian man in Yatma
Khader, a Palestinian man in Yatma

How Do Americans View This?

As American jews, I feel that it’s difficult for us to form our own opinions about Israel.

Coming to our own conclusions on Israel and Palestine requires us to cut through an entwined web of our own ethnic, religious and political identity. In addition, the Israel/Palestine conflict is one of the most vitriolic subjects in public discourse today, and it’s difficult to have an amiable disagreement on the matter.

I’ve lived in America my whole life, and my dad is Israeli, so the matter of Israel is an especially entangled subject for me.

My mom is American, but she volunteered on a kibbutz in Israel for two years, which is where she met my dad.

Growing up, we would speak Hebrew around the house, and my dad would recount my sister and I with tales of his misadventures in the military.

Throughout my childhood, my family would travel to Israel once every year or two to visit relatives. These frequent trips to Israel from a young age cemented my attachment to Israel.

What I Think About Israel

I love Israeli culture, Israeli people and especially Israeli food, but frankly I think their governmental policies towards Palestinians are atrocious.

I am only criticizing the policies of the Israeli government, not Israelis’ worth as people.

Even though I strongly disagree with their governmental policies, I still love visiting Israel and enjoy spending time there.

I Bought A One Way Plane Ticket To Israel

After deciding to take a gap year (or five) before going to college, I made a decision to visit Israel without my parents for the first time. Since I was homeschooled, I wasn’t exposed to the harsh realities of life as much as most kids my age were, so I felt that a solo-adventure would be a good way to remedy this.

Israel is the perfect place for my pilgrimage for a few reasons:

  • I have family here, so I’m not going to be entirely alone.
  • I’m planning on going to a kibbutz to volunteer, and I think that the kibbutz ideology of hard work and community spirit will be beneficial to me.
  • Even though I have visited Israel many times, I have never had a chance to visit Palestine.

As I’m writing this I have been staying with my grandparents in Tel Aviv for two weeks, and my time here has reinforced something I already knew:

The Israeli people generally very open and warm. When sitting in different cafes and restaurants around Tel Aviv, it is easy to strike up conversations with friendly strangers. And when I’m lost, they are always happy to point me, the clueless foreigner, in the correct direction.

In addition to this, I am amazed at the bright diversity and energy of Tel Aviv.

I have just begun the process of registering to volunteer on a kibbutz, and I will be placed on one in a month or two. I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay there for, and I have no plans as to what I’m going to do afterwards.

Back To Palestine

After driving for two hours, and with my brain swimming with new information, we finally arrived in Yatma, a village in zone B.

At one point, we came face to face with a large truck, and there wasn’t enough room for us to pass each other. Luckily, there were some bright eyed, smiling faces nearby who directed us on how to back our car out of the way.

We asked them for directions, and after a few wrong turns we managed to find the building we were going to have our meeting with the Palestinians in.

Outside of the building, we met five Palestinian men, and they led us inside. We all sat around a table, and the discussion began to roll. My shoddy Hebrew wasn’t enough to decipher what they were saying (some of which was in Arabic), so a couple of the members of my group would lean over every few minutes and update me on what they were saying.

A meeting between the members of the Reacha Kamocha and the Yatma village council
A meeting between the members of the Reacha Kamocha and the Yatma village council

They told us how Israeli settlers are allotted twice the amount of water resources as Palestinians by the Israeli authority. Palestinians often struggle to water their crops and livestock, and settlers living right next to them will have swimming pools.

In some cases, such as in the Jordan Valley, settlers are allotted more than five times the water of their Palestinian counterparts. These settlers in the West Bank are illegal under the fourth Geneva Convention, yet the Israeli government actively protects them and subsidizes their housing.

After talking intently for a few hours, they brought out coffee spiced with cardamom and fed us with cheesy bread.

We ate the delicious offerings, said our goodbyes, and departed back towards Tel Aviv.

After hearing about the conflict for so many years, it was very refreshing to actually experience it firsthand, and I made plans to go with them again this coming Friday.

If you think I’m funny, an anti-semite, or just a nerd with bad hair, let me know in a comment below.



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