These relationships — and this willingness to think flexibly and expansively about how the occupation hurts everyone — give me hope.
My name is Davida Ginsberg. I’m writing to you from Boston, MA, where I live and spend my time thinking about national and local movement building as a part of my work with Momentum. Exactly one year ago today, I was getting on a plane to travel home from Israel-Palestine after a CJNV delegation. I can’t believe it’s already been a year, and in a spirit of staying connected and not forgetting what I learned and experienced, here are some of my reflections from the delegation.
I was deeply moved by my experience with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. I thought I might leave Israel and Palestine more confused than when I arrived — unable to hold the seeming contradictions and all of the complexity and pain that comes with them. But surprisingly, I left feeling more whole than when I arrived, with each of these truths stored in my body in the form of conversations, smells and sounds, faces, and the land itself.
The majority of our time on the Spring 2019 delegation was spent in the South Hebron hills. We traveled between four Palestinian villages that are in deep partnership with one another and the Center for Jewish Nonviolence: Umm al-Khair, Susiya, Sarura, and A-Tuwani. At each village we were welcomed by the Palestinians living there, who hosted us overnight, served us tea and maqluba (a common rice and chicken dish), and shared their stories of decades of frustration and grief, as well as incredible hope and resilience. We joined them in the seemingly routine daily tasks – painting a mural, fixing a fence, planting cucumber seeds – that are in fact acts of resistance that enable them to maintain their daily lives.
While some of us were painting a mural, we found out that there had been a home demolition in the nearby village of Susiya. Scared that the soldiers would come to us next, the leaders of Umm al-Khair gathered and began an all-too-familiar period of tensely waiting, praying that the soldiers would leave them alone. The soldiers didn’t come that day, but they came the next — which was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. We were back in Bethlehem at that point, but heard from those who were there that the soldiers stopped mid demolition to respect the siren that commemorates Yom Hashoah. And then — they continued the demolition. I found this both unbelievable and deeply disturbing. To be faced with a siren commemorating your own people’s annihilation and then to continue tearing down the home of another — that is a moral disaster.
Later in the week, our group took part in a larger act of co-resistance with these same Palestinian communities. Within minutes of starting our work project, Israeli soldiers and police officers stationed themselves at the end of the road. They later declared our worksite a closed military zone. Soon, dozens of soldiers and police closed in on the group and forcefully arrested 17 people – including 5 from our group, 5 Palestinians (including a 15-year-old and two Palestinian journalists), and other Israelis and international Jews. It was scary to see close friends be dragged and thrown and bruised. And it was horrifying to see how much more violent they were with Palestinians; the racism behind who they intended to arrest was obvious.
The good news: no one was seriously injured, and everyone was released the same day — including the Palestinians. This was unprecedented and therefore a big deal, especially for the Palestinians, who often get sent to a military base for an indefinite period of time without being processed in any legal system, which underscores that they have no rights.
You may be wondering, “Was it really worth it? What did you accomplish?” Many of those thoughts ran through my head while I was standing on that hillside, but afterwards, while debriefing the next day with many of the Palestinians who were there with us, I heard how moved they were to have had us there with them. I heard how much it meant to our Palestinian partners to have had such visible solidarity from Jews. And I realized that they are resisting on a daily basis, whether or not they want to, and whether or not we are there. Their existence is a daily act of resistance. By being there, we just enabled them to peacefully resist the occupation in a bigger, bolder way, and with fewer consequences.
Throughout the whole delegation, I was deeply impressed by the way CJNV values and centers relationships. The Palestinian leaders from across the South Hebron Hills have been deepening in relationship with CJNV over the past five years; together, they have built a strong, ongoing coalition that informs the joint visioning and execution of all the actions and projects on each delegation. But — what really surprised and moved me — is that CJNV is actively building relationships with Palestinians not only in the West Bank, but also inside the Green Line – in East Jerusalem, in mixed cities like Lod/Lyd, and also with Mizrahi Jewish Israelis who face similar impoverished living conditions and threat of demolitions in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and other cities.
These relationships — and this willingness to think flexibly and expansively about how the occupation hurts everyone — gives me hope. But just like in the picture below, it is hope that has barbed wire woven throughout — because the pain and the brokenness is real. I’m committed to continuing to learn, to build with the people I met there, to do this work.
Thank you for reading this. Writing this and sharing it with you all is helping me to integrate this experience back into my life here, to continue grappling with it and trying to make sense of it, and to do my part in making sure the learning continues. The Palestinians that we met said that the best thing we could do when we got back was to share their stories.
Sending love and hope,