Why Jews Must Speak Up on Palestine

I believe in a secure, prosperous Israel. But I also believe the occupation is draining Israel's moral and economic strength.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Yesterday, I spoke at an event in New York City called Rachel's Words. Two years ago, Rachel Corrie, a human rights activist, was crushed to death by an Israeli Army bulldozer as she tried to protect the home of a Palestinian pharmacist from demolition in Rafah, Gaza Strip. She was 23. A play based on her writing, "My Name is Rachel Corrie" was scheduled to open yesterday in New York City but it's debut was postponed indefinitely, in all likelihood because of the controversy it would cause in a city with such a large Jewish audience.

As a Jew who lived in Israel for seven years and whose family still lives there and has deep roots going back more than 80 years, it breaks my heart that there is a refusal to grapple with an almost untouchable topic in our country: why does the United States have such a one-sided policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict? And it's the reason I agreed to speak at the event which honored Rachel's life and her beliefs.

The event took place at the historic Riverside Church. I stood in the pulpit in the very same place that Dr. Martin Luther King stood almost 40 years ago. And that's where I began my remarks:

Almost 40 years ago, in 1967, Dr. King spoke in this very place about the need to speak up against a great purveyor of violence: his own government. He said, "If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam...So it is that those of us who are yet determined that "America will be" are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land."

Dr. King also said that he was speaking on behalf "of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries."

"I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours."

How those words, sadly, have so much meaning for us today.

Those of us who stand opposed to the war in Iraq do so as patriotic people who love our country and our communities but, because it is our country, we demand that it live up to high moral standards of peace, justice, democracy and human rights.

We speak and stand up and oppose the war in Iraq for the same reason that we speak and stand up and say the occupation of the Palestinian people is wrong, morally and legally, and must end with a negotiated, just, and peaceful solution between the lawfully elected governments of the Palestinian people and Israel.

To be honest, I don't think most Jews -- and certainly this is true of most Americans -- understand the brutality of the occupation, the violations of international law and our role in perpetuating that occupation. Most Jews have never been to the area and so they either have no idea what goes on or choose to ignore the awful reality. Their perceptions are framed by the MSM and pandering politicians.

If you raise a criticism of Israel or our country's policy towards the conflict, you immediately are targeted, within the Jewish community, as being either disloyal (if you are Jewish) or anti-Semitic (if you are not Jewish). This is nonsense and has got to stop.

In fact, those politicians who pander to our worst instincts of fear and hatred, who praise policies that violate international law, they are the ones who are hurting Israel's long-term security and the security of all the people in the area.

So, let me state clearly: I believe unequivocally in a secure, prosperous Israel. But I also believe with the same passion that the occupation is draining the moral and economic strength of Israel and that there will only be a just peace agreement when a Palestinian state -- a strong, vibrant, prosperous, independent state, able to provide jobs and a good life for its people -- thrives alongside Israel.

Taking away the liberty, the humanity and the dignity of the Palestinian people takes away from the security from Israel. Targeting civilians, killing innocent men, women and children is evil -- no matter who is doing it. Killing civilians is a "grave breach" of international humanitarian law. Whatever the circumstances, such acts are unjustifiable. We have to end the violence on both sides and support the peacemakers in both Israel and among the Palestinian people.

Opposition to the occupation is showing enormous love for Israel and for the Palestinian people. For the sake of Israel and for the sake of all people in that region who are fed up with three decades of war and occupation, we have to have an honest, open discussion.

There is a physical embodiment of the occupation that we must speak up against now: the separation barrier that is being built in the occupied territories, slicing through Palestinian communities, with the support of the U.S. government. Yes, Israel has a right to protect it citizens. But last night I asked:

How does peace come one day closer when we do not speak out against a wall that not only violates international law but, more important, embitters thousands of people for generations to come because it cuts off neighborhoods, separates families from each other, farmers from their land, the sick from hospitals, children from the schools and saps the economic vitality from an already impoverished people?

We have politicians who claim to be for the rule of law and stand before the Wall (as Hillary Clinton has done) and praise it -- even though it violates international law.

For us in the United States, the question becomes what is our government's role in perpetuating this conflict. As I said:

For too long, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, our government has had a counterproductive, one-sided policy that too often ignores democracy, human rights, and respect for international law.

Let's get this debate going. Begin to raise it among your friends and do so with the same love and commitment that you do for our country that leads you to vigorously oppose the Iraq war.

As Dr. King said in 1967, "Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now."

Popular in the Community


What's Hot