Gaza/Israel/Palestine Reactions from People in their Twenties

I have been a volunteer intern at Tikkun since January of this year. In the last few weeks, at the request of Rabbi Lerner, I have compiled reactions from people in their twenties to the latest events between Israel, Gaza, and the Palestinians. By no means is this a fully representative account of my peers’ ideas or reactions to what’s transpired in the region. But I believe it is typical of my experience growing up as an American Jew: one of isolation from Palestinian voices, and even from other Jews who do not share my specific political ideologies.

Ronnie Hecht: Intern for Tikkun in the winter and spring of 2021--

This time I couldn’t stand it anymore. How long must we continue to bear witness to the biggest lie American Jews can tell themselves? This past week, driving through Pico-Robertson, a notoriously Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles, two young women waved Israeli flags outside the windows of BMW. I watched their smug nationalism and felt betrayed by my people.

Is this really a question of Jewish safety, or one of domination? I look at the nationalism on display and mourn what appears to be the disappearance of Judaism in the state meant to preserve that very culture. When we protect nationalism over Judaism, a highly moral and spiritual culture, what are we still fighting for?

In my opinion, the State has done such a good job of destroying Judaism in place of a national identity, that when I question the need for a Jewish state I am not doing so with contempt but with a genuine desire to protect Judaism.

Wouldn’t you want your children to feel so safe wherever they are in the world that they question the need for a “safe haven” to begin with? I think about how moderate Jews are now advocating for a two-state solution when, in 2014, that was very much not on the table. It makes me wonder about the next war, maybe four or five years from now: will the mainstream Jewish community be ready to discuss the right of return? How much death and destruction will Palestine need to incur before American Jews decide they are ready to open their minds?

Nathalie Castro: Mexican-American woman, East Bay Area--

It feels like a conflict that will never see an end. Not as long as other countries, in particular, the US and Russia keep supplying arms and can make a profit out of this. I feel like as Americans we’re told we’re being anti-Semitic if we criticize Israel’s horrifying behavior toward Palestinians. Much in the same way people were criticized if they supported BLM protesters from last summer’s protests or literally any other protesters across the world I.e. Mexican women in DF, Colombians, Chileans, Hong Kong residents, or any other time protesters who responded to extrajudicial killings and/or other police brutality. From what I’ve been reading and watching of the brief historic summaries (at least to try and contextualize things within a struggle that’s been happening for generations back), both sides feel deeply wronged and deserve their own states, but we have to consider the here and now and the now is screaming that Israel is bombing people and brutally forcing them out of their homes. There’s no way to debate that as a moral issue and it feels frustrating and movement-suppressing to not call out murder for what murder is. There’s still so much I don’t understand that I know can help me better understand both perspectives and also understand the stances and inactions of other countries, but I will always side with keeping people alive, safe, and just generally out of harm’s way.

Yahli Livni: Israeli American child care worker, Los Angeles--

My immediate reaction to the news in Israel was fear and shame. I usually expect flare ups like these to lead to indiscriminate violence, including deaths of children. Stories of Palestinian children dying so that Israel can flex its ability to defend itself is such a horrific thing to witness, and makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed.

I continue to feel so frightened by what further escalation can look like. Watching videos of young Mizrahi boys running through the streets looking for violence presents such a pessimistic reality for a country that claims to be a bastion for “all” Jews. It feels like basic human psychology on a huge level. It’s like a father who makes empty promises to his family and to compensate for his failures he brings down the hammer violently when his kids don't do their homework. And watching people defend that behavior makes me feel insane.

Josh Bloom: Jewish communal youth worker, Los Angeles--

A hit of some brain chemical connecting with the next neuron in the circuit. It’s brought about by some visual cue, played enough times that my brain begins to associate the brutality with a reward pathway. But it’s hard to tell at the moment what urge is being satisfied.

The resolve to block social media and sensationalism on my computer browser quickly melts away. It’s almost immediate as the first news article ends. I find myself 30 minutes deep, obsessively circling through “trusted sources”. Ha’aretz, +972, Twitter, Ha’aretz, Electronic Intifada, Jewish Currents, back to Ha’aretz again, Twitter one more time. Those which prominently feature photos begin to rise to the top of the queue. Each image is stirring enough to invite me to come back soon - but also just blurry enough to obscure any (in)humanity. This exact level of focus conveniently maintains a sense of plausible deniability for any role in exacerbating tensions in moments such as this. It also clears the way for “news” companies to capitalize on this moment.

Because in those images human beings coalesce into waves. Rage, suffering, nations struggling to realize themselves. All I can see are the explosions, uniforms, smoke, the inertia of the crowd. All I can feel is that hit, my sole and unsatisfying response to the rising negative emotions. And the hit sells.

Eventually, my doom scroll is shattered by a video posted to Twitter by IMEU. Two Arab men are struggling to push closed the door to the room they are in. In the moments they are failing I can see bodies just on the other side of the door. They are screaming, swinging makeshift weapons, and pushing to get into a home that isn’t theirs. I am not sure how we arrived at this moment. I can only see what the caption purports: an “Israeli mob and police attempting to break into an Arab home in Haifa”. I am sure, as the video continues, that if the mob breaches the room, the woman filming and the two men at the door will be lynched. Their flesh and bones will be ripped apart by the hands of Jewish men whose reason for ending up at this door I will never truly understand.

As the video ends and freezes, immediately the world comes into focus. I do not switch to another website’s homepage. I do not scramble for more numbers or information. I watch the video, over and over again, terrified from my couch thousands of miles away. When I finally stop hitting replay I pause.

I think about how I am really scared that more people will be killed. I look back on my diary that I kept while living in Jerusalem. I look back at things I wrote about my time there and feel angry and sad that such a world exists. I think about how I am scared for the safety of the friends I made living in Jerusalem. I text my friend Mie to ask how she is doing. I feel stupid for accepting the imposition to care “as a Jew” about a situation that I am confident, from the outset, has been misguided in its best moments, and genocidal in its worst.

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