I learned that nonviolence is not simply a lofty ideal but a very real strategy for leveraging people power to fight state power. And I believe more than ever that concepts such as “coexistence” and “peace” are meaningless if they do not emerge in a context of justice and equity.
My name is Brant Rosen and I’m the founding rabbi of Tzedek Chicago – an intentional Jewish congregation founded on core values of justice, equity and solidarity with the oppressed – including Palestinians. I’m also involved with Jewish Voice for Peace on a local and national level.
I attended a CNJV delegation during July 2016, in which we stood in solidarity with communities in the Palestinian villages of Umm al-Kheir and Susiya, as well as Hebron and Silwan.
My experience on this delegation had a powerful impact upon me in a number of ways: it helped me better understand the meaning of solidarity. It created indelible relationships with activists and organizers in Israel/Palestine who are on the front line of this work. It changed my view of what kind of activism is truly necessary in this particular moment. I learned that nonviolence is not simply a lofty ideal but a very real strategy for leveraging people power to fight state power. And I believe more than ever that concepts such as “coexistence” and “peace” are meaningless if they do not emerge in a context of justice and equity.
I’d like to focus on one powerful memory from that delegation, in which we participated in a direct action with Youth Against Settlements in Hebron. I’ll quote here from my blog:
The goal of the action was to begin the process of turning an old metal factory in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron into a movie theater: Cinema Hebron. YAS chose to build a movie theater so that the isolated, segregated Palestinian residents of H2 could have a place to come together in community – to experience even a little slice of normalcy in this intensely abnormal, unjust environment. It was also designed to be a statement to the settler community that the Palestinian residents of Hebron will continue to resist the theft of their property – and that Jews from around the world are ready to stand in solidarity with them.
We spent all day Thursday preparing for the action. Our plan was to go to the old, cluttered site, begin the process of cleaning it up and announce our intention to turn it into Cinema Hebron to the press. We planned to put up a mock marquee, pass out Cinema Hebron popcorn, give interviews to press, chant and sing, and do our best to clean up the site before soldiers and police inevitably ordered us out.
There were 60 participants all told – 40 from CJNV and another twenty from Youth against the Settlements and All That’s Left. The site was heavily overgrown with high weeds and all kinds of scrap metal everywhere. As we started raking, hauling, piling junk we sang every Jewish song and civil rights chant we knew.
In short order settlers started to gather, peering at us through the front gate. The IDF and police arrived soon as well – we worked for about an hour or an hour-and-a-half before they actually entered the site. They began arguing with the Palestinian owners and after some back and forth, they eventually fell back and we continued with our work.
After another hour or so, they returned and announced that the area was a closed military zone. At this point, some members of our delegation left and the rest of us sat down in the middle of the site, continuing to chant and sing. A police officer came up to us and told us that our presence on the site was illegal and if we did not leave in two minutes, we would be arrested. When our two minutes were up, they started to physically remove us. They shoved us to the back of the site, gathered us together and ordered us to take out our passports. They then asked the six Israelis from our delegation to take out their identity cards and led them away. We were sent out in the other direction and told to leave the site.
It seemed clear to us that the Israelis were targeted because they were easier to process – and that the authorities likely wanted to avoid the bad publicity of arresting internationals. When we received word from our lawyers that our six friends had been taken to the police station in Kiryat Arba, a group of us decided to walk there together and demand their release.
We eventually made it to Shuhadah St., continued down the road, passed the Ibrahimi Mosque and headed up a hill that led us in the direction of Kiryat Arba. As we walked in, we were joined by soldiers who silently walked alongside us. It quickly became clear to me that they weren’t there to impede us but rather to protect us from angry settlers. (I’m fairly sure this was the first time the residents of Kiryat Arba had ever witnessed a group of singing diaspora Jews walking down the street wearing “Occupation is Not Our Judaism” T-shirts).
When we arrived at the police station, we talked to the guard at the front gate and explained we wanted to see our friends inside. We were told that our six friends were indeed inside but that we would not be allowed to see them. Eventually we sat down on the ground in front of the station gate and began to sing and chant once more.
After spending an hour at the station, we got up, walked together down the street and gathered near the front gate. As Shabbat was getting closer, we sang Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi together with our other songs. After reuniting with the rest of our crew, we boarded our bus and returned to Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills where we would spend our Shabbat.
That evening just after a gorgeous sunset, we made a circle on a rocky hill and I began to lead our Shabbat service. As I prepared to lead Lecha Dodi, the prayer that welcomes the Shabbat bride, I heard someone shout. I looked up and saw two cars pulling up. Our six friends got out, grinning ear to ear as we cheered their arrival. After lots of hugs and laughter, we all continued with our service.
Shabbat had arrived.
I strongly recommend CJNV to anyone who wants to be involved in a true Jewish-Palestinian solidarity movement – not one that falls back on lofty platitudes about peace making but is grounded in true relationship-building between all people who have a stake in the vision of a land in which all people who live between the river and the sea have full and equal rights.
– Brant Rosen, 2016 Delegate