Should we be accepting support from Israelis who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank?
Believe it or not but many Israeli Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and in Israel condemn the actions of their government and put their lives at risk to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and justice. I have met on more than one occasion Israelis who work for organisations like B’Tselem, which document human rights abuses.
For the longest time though, I felt this to be a massive contradiction. So you want to help our struggle but yet you are also living in a settlement? You are living in the homes of our parents and grandparents but yet somehow advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people? How can that be right? So I began to question things. Was I just being unfair on people who are choosing to extend their hands to us and want to help?
This took me back to 1947-48 when everything really went wrong for the Palestinians. In 1948 when the state of Israel was established and following the aftermath of the Holocaust, many Jewish families were paid to come and live in Israel. The reason behind this was to encourage mass immigration to the region – a very smart strategy if you ask me. Jewish families from all over the world began to immigrate to Israel being lured in by the prospect of a better life, financial support and benefits.
This was combined with a lot of hostility towards Jews from the MENA region as a reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel. (Whether this was a fair or reasonable reaction is a debate we will leave for another time.) Nevertheless there was uncertainty about their fate in the Middle East. Don’t forget it had also only been a few years since the end of the Holocaust and so most Jews still felt insecure about their future.
Now putting yourself in their shoes in the context of what had just happened and the reaction of the Arab countries, would you have said no to an offer of a better and more secure life in Israel? Really the question comes down to this: should we be standing against the Jews who chose to immigrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens or should we be accepting help from them as Palestinians because ultimately we all would have made the same decision?
I decided to investigate this question a little further as I wasn’t sure what to think. One part of me understood how simple the decision must have been for them but then the other part of me thought how cruel these people must have been to be able to live in homes that did not belong to them. These were our homes, our land, our trees. How could a person make such a selfish decision and live in the home of another family, knowing full well it was not their own and yet not say anything?
One man in particular really made an impact on me and helped me come to terms with the reality of what happened in 1948 and I want to tell you his story. Let us call him X.
X is an Israeli, originally a Moroccan Jew whose family has lived in Israel since the 1950s. I was curious as to how he could live with himself knowing he took over another family’s home (of course I didn’t say this to him but that’s exactly what I was thinking) so I began to question him about things and I was completely taken aback by his response.
X was a young boy – no more than about 8 or 9 years old – when his family emigrated to Israel. They were previously living a comfortable life in Morocco until the late 1940s when riots broke out against Jews all over the Middle East in response to the establishment of Israel. More than 18,000 Jews fled their homes in Morocco in 1948 and 1949 alone seeking a better life.
X’s family were offered money by the Israeli government to come and live in Israel – a life they could not even have dreamt of in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East at the time. Of course, his parents did not hesitate and they packed up their things ready for a new life in Israel.
On arrival, he described to me how he walked into the new house given to him by the military and he could feel the presence of another family. The house almost felt ghostly with the carpets, antiques and belongings of another family. They had obviously belonged to the Palestinian family that had lived there before them.
I then asked him whether his parents had said something, asked who the family were, demanded to be moved to another house and his response was this:
“No one spoke about it. We just didn’t ask. We knew, but we didn’t ask.”
For them it was very straightforward, they were told this was their new home and that was that. They made it their own. Until this day, they still do not know the Palestinian family who used to live there.
After hearing his story, it made me question how I would have reacted in the same situation. When I put myself in their shoes – would I really have said no if someone had offered me a life in Israel in the context of 1948, only several years after Hitler’s killing spree of the Jews? Would I have made that choice, as most Jewish families did, of a better quality life for my family and just turned a blind eye to everything else?
They didn’t physically remove us, heck most of them didn’t even see us thrown out at the time. They were invited into empty homes and many of them chose to simply not ask questions. Would you have asked had you been in their position?
Of course, hundreds of years of suffering is not an excuse to justify what happened and what continues to happen to the Palestinian people. Palestine was not an empty land when the Jews began to immigrate in and as each year passes, we watch as the land we once called Palestine is slowly engulfed by Israeli settlements and the 400 mile long wall.
I do however accept that at the time the state of Israel was established, the Jewish people needed to identify themselves with a land and they needed a place to call home. This is a point of fact not an opinion. And unfortunately for us, this was at our expense. Being Palestinians though, we must understand their struggle and their need for a homeland. After all, we are now a people without a land.
I remember reading a book about Judaism and something really stuck in my head: “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow-man.”
Religion advocates justice, peace, righteousness, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I believe in both our rights to live in the land and I believe we have the potential to live together; if we could do it before we can do it again. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it isn’t possible. Wounds can heal, painful memories fade and hate can be overcome.
[The wall in Bethlehem, West Bank]
Let’s create a community where we accept each other’s existence and focus on what both people have in common rather than dwelling on our differences. Let’s bring together the new generation of Palestinians and Israelis and recognise both peoples’ struggle and right to self-determination.
The power of change is in our hands. It is us – the new, young generation of educated Palestinians and Israelis – who can prevent more suffering. Let’s make sure we all have a good future and our children and grandchildren do not suffer as our ancestors did.
We need as much help as we can get from inside and outside, from Palestinians and Israelis, from Arabs and non-Arabs, from Jews and non-Jews. Do not shut out people who extend their hand to you.
Let’s create a democratic state and home for us all.