From the corner of my ear, I caught the smiling comment of one boy, "Israel kicked their butts and the rest is war booty." While I pretended not to hear, I will admit that I felt a burning at my core. With such ironic, unrepentant racism, a Jewish American high school student had reduced my entire family and the whole nation to which we belong, to "war booty." For a good few moments, I struggled to subdue images bubbling in my mind: Of my grandmother, the heir to a beautiful stone home inside the Old City wall, rotting away as a refugee in a bug infested shack, while an immigrant Jewish family enjoyed the fruits of her heritage, her furniture, money and personal belongings; The ancient olive farms, passed on from one Palestinian generation to the next like family heirlooms, confiscated and then uprooted to make way for another Jews-only settlement; The countless images of ineffable suffering of human beings dispossessed of home and heritage, of dignity and freedom, of water and life.
The most vociferous students were battle ready. Of these, few came with open ears. And I conceded that anyone is entitled to believe that an immigrant population from Europe, Russian and New York has the right to forcefully take possession of property belonging to the indigenous population; that a soldier has the right to shoot an unarmed child for throwing rocks at an occupation military; or that it is acceptable to promote the welfare of a select group based on their religion, to the terrible detriment of those who do not belong to that religion. But such beliefs do not stand on moral ground, certainly not on legal ground.
I have never understood how an abused child grows up to be an abuser of children, and I shall never understand how a people who endured the foulest racism should come to violate and oppress another people as the Israelis have done for the past half-century. I believe that I shan't ever understand how American Jews, liberal and compassionate defenders of Civil Rights, continue to defend and excuse Israel's horrendous abuses of Palestinians.
How does one fight against segregated housing and schooling in the US, and at the same time support a nation that has marked 93% of the land off limits to purchase or lease by non-Jews? How does one fight for equal opportunity in the US, and on the other hand support giving 85% of water resources in Hebron to 600 Jewish settlers while the remaining 15% is rationed among Hebron's 240,000 Palestinians inhabitants?
One can invoke suicide bombings, the Jewish holocaust or the Old Testament, but the very simple fact remains, Israel is a nation founded on the notion of Jewish entitlement to a land that already had a people. Those ancient stone homes, of which Israel often boasts, were built by Palestinians. The orange and pomegranate orchards and olive groves were planted and nurtured by Palestinians long before any European arrived to claim it as Jewish heritage.
Yet, Palestinians are only asking for 22% of their historic and rightful homeland, namely the West Bank and Gaza. Despite such a painful concession by the natives of the land, Israel continues to confiscate and colonize the West Bank and Gaza, imprisoning a whole people like cattle, denying them at every turn, be it education, work, medical care or the basic elements of life: water and shelter.
I posed this question to a student in the audience: why does a foreign Jew who has no personal attachment to the land (not to be confused with the religious attachment that every Jew, Christian and Muslim has), have the right to a farm that has been in a Palestinian family for centuries? Why does an American, French or German Jew have an automatic right to dual citizenship when Palestinian refugees linger in human wastelands without a nation or passport?
At the heart of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is not only the land, but also the fundamentally racist belief that ones religion is the ultimate criteria for human worth and the final determinant for access to liberty.
There are many who will argue that granting equal rights to Palestinians will overwhelm the "Jewish character" of Israel. But this is an ancient argument dating long before Israel was even a glimmer in Herzl's eye. Slave owners made that same argument about freeing their human property. Then white folks made that argument when it came time to grant Black American civil rights. It was the argument made by Apartheid South Africa and every other imperial power to pass its force across the earth.
Jewish people, American Jews in particular, must choose whether they support the notion that "all men are created equal" or they support Israel. The choices are mutually exclusive.