Student Responds to The Defenders of Zionism

To the Editors:

Under the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights, all refugees of all wars have an inalienable right of return. It’s a right that no party can negotiate away. It cannot be traded for relocation or reparations. Palestinians are not just refugees of Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Their homes once stood in nearly every plot of earth now controlled by Israel. While the idea of total return may currently lie only in the realm of political fantasy, the weight of the demographic and historical facts has enormous implications for “the only democratic country in the Middle East” and a lasting peace.
Shockingly, all I ever hear is the total absence of empathy for Palestinians. Some people point out that they lost the 1948 and 1967 wars, and demand that the surrounding nations absorb their natural kin. Others lament that Israel is forced to make life — if one can call the systematic brutalization under the boot of the occupation “living” — “difficult” for the Palestinians. Do the defenders and apologists of Zionism really believe that might makes right?
My skepticism about the justice of a Jewish State in Palestine is very old. Over the years some have accused me of being a “self-hating Jew” (I suspect this letter will encourage renewed insults). And once again some people are equating criticisms of a state with anti-Semitism. As if loving Jewish history, Jewish intellectual and artistic accomplishments, Jewish difference in a Christian “civilization”, and embracing a Jewish identity requires allegiance to a nation which is utterly chilling in its similarity to brother racist, colonial and apartheid regimes.
There are signs of hope. Last I read there are 404 refuseniks in the Israeli Defense Force (The Nation, April 29, 2002). In the December 24, 2001 edition of The Nation, Robert I. Friedman reported a poll taken in Israel claiming that due to the violent hopelessness of the situation “35 percent of Jews between ages 25 and 34 said they wanted to depart [Israel for America].” According to the 2001 edition of the CIA World Fact Book, almost a third of Jewish Israelis were born in America or Europe. Only 21 percent of Israeli Jews were actually born there, almost the same percentage of the population that are Israeli Arabs.
Based on these facts I’d like to add my ideas for action to the arsenal of the peace movement. In addition to economic and military divestment, we need popular divestment. Given the demographics and the dissatisfaction Israelis are starting to feel with a seemingly unsolvable problem, we as individuals all have the power to engage in a most direct and perhaps unprecedented form of activism. We can speak directly to the Israeli people who since the Al-Aqsa Intifada began are considering ethnic cleansing in despair (poll by Ma’ariv). We can tap into this despair and offer them a way out of this nightmare. To facilitate an Exodus the U.S. and the EU should offer them asylum. A very large percentage already holds dual citizenship with the US. What would happen to the occupation if 10 percent of Israelis came back to the US? If 30 percent did? Maybe the choice could be forced with a movement to deny the right of dual citizenship — forcing them to decide.
Since the fall of 1999, each incoming freshman class at Oberlin has been progressively more Jewish than the last (see the Office of Institutional Research’s Common Data Set on Oberlin Online). This fall 13.2 percent identified “Jewish” as their religious affiliation, the largest affiliation besides “none” at 45.8 percent. That means that at least one out of 10 students on this campus is Jewish. One may assume a good portion of our campus has friends, relatives and loved ones involved. By living in Israel or fighting for it, they are not only in physical danger, but also morally responsible for Israel’s cruelty. Even “under siege” they are direct benefactors of the inherently undemocratic Zionist project (maintaining the Jewish majority). We need to write, telephone, e-mail, and otherwise talk to Israelis and their supporters, and ask them to abandon Palestine before it’s too late. Because despite their mistakes, we still love them, want them safe, and recognize their human right to a life free of violence.
Palestinians cannot continue to suffer for the privilege of American Jews who want to live out a romantic nationalist fantasy. A Jewish state could potentially be acceptable if there truly were a “land without a people for a people without a land.” But 54 years of “facts on the ground” do not earn Israelis the unquestioned right of lebensraum. Unless Jews are willing to live in one united, multiethnic, secular, democratic, anti-apartheid state in true cooperation with Palestinians and their refugee kin, then Jews have no right to that so-called Promised Land. It does not and cannot belong to them alone. And since Palestinians are not likely to forget the humiliation they, their parents, their grand parents, and their great grand parents have been forced to suffer, Jews might as well leave now. Otherwise they — forgetful victims of genocide — will be condemned to fight a genocidal war until there are no more Palestinians to starve, bulldoze, shoot, check, control, unemploy, taunt, humiliate, curse, rob, ghettoize, and then throw out from their squalid besieged homes.

–Adam Feldman
College junior

April 19
April 26

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