Report from a Delegate — Anna Lippman

May 23, 2023 — I’m a member of IJV’s national steering committee and I’m currently on a delegation to Palestine with the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV).

There are close to 40 Jews from across the US, Canada, and the UK on the delegation and we have all come to join in solidarity with the Palestinian people living under occupation. We are currently in occupied East Jerusalem/Al-Quds, where we have been for the last week. On May 18th, we witnessed the Jerusalem Day Flag March, a yearly event where tens of thousands of far-right Israeli Jews descend upon the old city of Jerusalem in a horrific display of ethnocentrism, nationalism, and colonialism.

I spent the day with one of CJNV’s movement partners, Khalil, from Grassroots Al-Quds. The day of the march begins with what is called ‘sterilization’, where police violently clear Palestinian residents from public space in order to make way for the march. This removal begins at Damascus gate, which is not only an entrance to the old city, but also one of the few spaces where the Palestinian community is able to gather together and socialize. At this gate, 20 Palestinians were brutally murdered by the Zionist Irgun militia in a barrel bomb attack 1947. Despite its painful history, it is still a place for children to play, friends to meet for coffee, and teens to make TikTok videos. But today the square is filled with young men waving Israeli flags.

Someone closing up their shop in the Old City of Jerusalem / Al-Quds.

We walked into the old city from the gate and watched as all the Palestinian businesses closed up their shops for the day. Despite their entire livelihood coming from these stores, the threat of settlers destroying their goods and storefront and terrorizing the shopkeepers is enough to prompt them to sacrifice their livelihood for a day. These closings also meant that any of the Palestinians stuck in their quarters were unable to buy anything they might need during the day. The few Israeli businesses in the Muslim quarter remained open. They sold water and snacks all day while blaring nationalist music in Hebrew, benefitting greatly from the closure of all Palestinian businesses. Even before the march officially started, young settlers were running through the Arab quarter of the old city, saying chants like “may your village burn” and waving Israeli flags in the faces of those Palestinians cordoned off by the army.

Yet, Khalil was not fazed by this. It is his everyday reality. He took us to the neighbourhood where he grew up. Yet again, all the businesses were closed, but every person we passed stopped to greet and hug Khalil. They spoke about the day and rumours of what was expected. Khalil’s friends greeted us, a visibly Jewish group, with love and kindness and shared stories of growing up in the neighbourhood. 

A short while later, we came upon some young Israeli settlers running through the street and attempting to destroy Palestinian businesses (with police escorts). They bashed in metal shop doors and pushed over everything they could. We watched as they threw stones into the one shop that was open, breaking the glass door and the clay tiles below, all the while shouting insults in Hebrew. The shop owner was furious and went to chase after the boys, but two of his friends stopped him. The police who had safely allowed the boys to destroy his shop would surely arrest him for any sort of self-defence. The young boys took this opportunity to come back and mock the shop wonder, asking in Hebrew if everything was alright and if he had a problem. Their raucous laughter echoed through the street as Israeli police and army escorted them away from us. 

People waving Israeli flags at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

We left the old city to check on how the members of the neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem were managing. Many of the residents were on the street, arguing and resisting as the police and border guards forced them further and further out of their own street. Despite having very little movement on a regular day, today Palestinians could not even walk on their own streets. We as internationals however were able to walk right through the police cordons. No one questioned our movements. We reached a second barricade and went through again with ease, but this time, Khalil was unable to walk through with us. His darker skin was enough for the police to decide he was an undesirable. We continued on to witness the march, walking freely in between all the checkpoints that prevented those who lived there from passing. We walked back to Damascus gate, now filled with thousands upon thousands of settlers. The few Palestinians left in the area were pushed, harassed, and had things thrown at them as the police and army looked on. At one point, Israel’s fascist Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, came out to greet the crowd with an escort of over 20 soldiers. He was greeted with chants of “here comes our next Prime Minister”. 

Surrounded by armed guards and fervent settlers, I was struck by how safe I felt. My white skin, Ashkenazi features, and English tongue allowed me to avoid the anger of the settlers and all of the armed guards. I walked in and out of the march, in and out of the old city, and in and out of East Jerusalem with ease, while Khalil, who’s family has lived here long before Israel even existed, was forced to remain at our hotel until the police decided otherwise. I’m too young to have lived through South African apartheid or Jim Crow segregation. These are things of the past that I learned about in history books. But in the three days I’ve spent in Jerusalem/Al-Quds, I’ve seen with my own eyes what it means to live under apartheid.

A small group of people stand around talking in the Old City of Jerusalem / Al-Quds. 

In Canada we have systemic racism, but most Canadians who exhibit racist behaviour would be ashamed to be called a racist. In Israel, this settler-colonial racism is a point of pride. It is celebrated by Israelis. It is admired by police forces from around the world. At times I need to pinch myself to remind myself that I am not in a science-fiction movie, but in an actual, modern day country. A country specifically created in my name. Apartheid is not history, it is the lived reality of every Palestinian seeking to hold on to their homeland. It is an extensive and intricate system of policies, practices, surveillance and brutal repression that is practiced every minute of every day. It is the uncertainty Palestinians feel in whether their water, electricity, and roads will be cut off tomorrow. It is the banning of the Palestinian flag in the very place it should be flown the most. 

My first night here, I broke down in tears. My heart ached for the things I had seen that day. I thought of my Palestinian comrades in Toronto; how proud they are of their culture. How much they wished for nothing more than to return to their homeland. I wept for the people of Palestine. I wept for the cruelty of Jewish supremacy and the ways my religion, which has always taught me the importance of Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”), has been weaponized for this brutal land theft. I wept for those who have lost their lives and lives of loved ones for this project. I have never imagined that I could witness such injustice with my own eyes. But this is the reality that the Palestinian people face every day. 

A child holding a rooster approaches an adult who is speaking to him.

Palestinians talk about existence as resistance. I felt this concept so strongly in my travels with Khalil. Everywhere we went, Palestinians gathered to laugh, chat, and drink the best coffee I’ve ever experienced. There was dancing and singing and children playing in the street. These moments of joy and community were interspersed with tense aggression between the community and the settlers seeking to harass them, but even the small children could instantly move from extreme trauma back to their soccer game. 

In a place where the government is doing everything it can to separate Palestinians from their homes, they remain. Glass panes are repaired. Graffiti is painted over. Life continues on. Because it must. Palestinian culture has a value of sumud, or steadfastness. This is a value that Palestinians live every moment, both here and in the diaspora. There is no other way but to remain steadfast. I am in awe of the Palestinian people and how strongly they resist this daily injustice. The way they find joy and community in a world that literally does not want them to exist is truly awe inspiring. They believe a free Palestine will come, and that hope and sumud inspires me to fight even stronger back home. 

Thanks for reading my dispatch from occupied Palestine. To learn more about the situation on the ground, I would encourage you to check out the work of Grassroots Al-Quds and CJNV.

In solidarity,
Anna Lippman
Member of IJV’s National Steering Committee

[Reprinted from the Independent Jewish Voices Canada Newsletter]