It’s Hard to Build Bridges when Bombs are Falling


We stood to sing O Canada – “with glowing hearts …” – my heart was not glowing. Remain standing for Hatikva, “hope,” the Israeli anthem. Let me not give up hope. To attend this rally was difficult. We knew the Government of Canada was in wholehearted support of Israel, no matter what, and we knew that Israel’s position was to use its military power to keep Gaza under blockade and to squelch Hamas from its rocket fire — in their words, “defending against the terrorists.”
A few days into last week’s action, the call to rally came to my Inbox – Emergency Briefing, Crisis in Israel, at Vancouver’s reform Temple Shalom. Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region, and ICEJ, the Canadian Branch of the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, the featured speakers were the Hon. Stockwell Day, former MP with the Conservative Party of Canada, here representing the CIJA’s National Board of Directors; Mr. Eliaz Luf, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the State of Israel in Canada; and, via video, the Hon. Jason Kenney, MP, current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.
The night before, a hurried email campaign was organized by many dissenting voices and groups. Their invitation was to stand outside Vancouver’s Temple Shalom a half-hour before the program was scheduled to begin, in support of the people of Palestine, and in protest not only of Israel’s disproportionate display of strength over the past week, but against its ongoing blockade of Gaza.
I recently joined the planning team of Building Bridges Vancouver. I feel great compassion for all the people who are suffering in this ongoing struggle, Palestinians and Israelis, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish, and I wish to support an end to the Occupation, granting all people a safe home with human and civil rights guaranteed. My views, sadly, are not welcome within parts of my own family or in the mainstream Jewish community. Until the night before the rally, my fears of confrontation and of being seen as a traitor to the Jewish community had overwhelmed my ability to act. But when I looked myself in the mirror and gave serious thought to the source of my fears, I suddenly realized that my own personal anxiety was not useful at all in such a critical matter. This is about human survival, the survival of humanity. I have to go.
With a flurry of emails amongst our group, seven of us on the committee decided to attend, and all felt better able to do so in the company of each other. We decided not to join the protest outside, figuring that the only chance we would have to raise concern for all people of the region would be to go inside, listen openly to the positions of our government and Israel’s government, and broaden the conversation by asking pertinent questions. We each wrote on small sheets of paper, deciding to fill the collection baskets with our questions should we be stopped from asking them.
Together we walked towards the synagogue steps. The protesters had been moved to one side. Security had been revved up, and our purses and bags were searched before our being admitted. Following the anthems, the speeches began. We heard about Israel’s democracy, the human rights and privileges it grants to “all citizens.” We heard how willingly Israel takes in people from every oppressive country and every belief system, while other countries do not. Israel helps first in every world disaster. Their generosity, advances in technology and sense of the humanitarian know no bounds, even though people world-wide probably don’t know any of this, they say; because they don’t brag about it.
No mention was made of Palestinians, those in Gaza, their children, their poverty, their humanity, their need for generosity. The generosity was for Jews, for Israel’s supporters, for other downtrodden people, but not for those behind the Wall. Suddenly, a small group of people near the back of the hall stood and called out, “What about the Palestinians?” Within moments, Security ushered them out of the sanctuary. As the speeches continued, one of our group members, called out, too. He was ignored by the speaker, but was watched carefully as he sat down — and when he left the building shortly thereafter, because what was being said was so intolerable to him, someone from Security rushed to check under his chair.
When Israel left Gaza in 2005, pronounced the Israeli deputy ambassador, they left it in the charge of the Palestinians. Israel never interfered. And what have the Palestinians done with it? he asked. The green fields and farmlands are now a wasteland; they made it themselves. The picture he painted became more and more repugnant. He was actually gloating as he spoke. He stressed how the rockets from Gaza have bombarded southern Israel daily, and that they are not merely firecracker rockets; they are bombs, 1500 of them in this last barrage, terrifying Israel’s millions. They are strategically fired from schools and hospitals because the Palestinians know that Israel would never retaliate to places filled with children, the sick and the vulnerable. Palestinians take that risk, he said. They put their children in harm’s way, intentionally; they don’t value the lives of their own children.
His final topic was asymmetry, not referring to the power differential between Israelis and Palestinians, but to Israel as target of blame, target of anti-Semitism, target of the media, when it is so small, surrounded by Arab countries, suffering the constant threat of Iran and the fervent wish of every Palestinian to see all of us dead. Why? he asked. So that they can take over the land – the land promised to the Jews! And, he added, we have all the documentation necessary to prove that promise!
A terrible sadness overtook me. It was very clear that the speakers and the audience held a very fixed point of view. They were not looking for a humane settlement of the conflict. There was only one people to protect. From all the reading and research I had done and from my own visit to Israel-Palestine earlier this year, I knew that almost every statement was intended to fire up the crowd, whether true or not, cheers and standing ovations one after the other. I searched the faces of the audience, hoping to see the same shock and horror that I was experiencing. Other than our own group, the audience applauded their willing response to the rallying cry.
Don’t they know the suffering of the Palestinians? Don’t they know about the expulsion, the Nakba? Don’t they care? I had heard this kind of talk many times before. The Palestinians are to blame for their own misfortune. Their treatment is their own problem. Surely, they can’t still believe that the people with no land came to populate the land with no people! Were they following blindly, without all the facts? Sadly, there was an attitude of ridicule and smugness in the room, evident with every snide remark and chuckle about the people of Palestine and the people outside protesting.
I couldn’t stay till the end; none of us could. The language, tone, and most of all the dehumanization of the Palestinian people made it impossible. Minister Kenney’s remarks, even about Hamas, “banned anti-Semitic death cult” were deplorable. To sit and listen with judgment suspended felt like being an accomplice, condoning what was said and done. Four of us left, turning our questions over to the two from our group who remained a little longer. Thank you, we mumbled as we hugged each other and headed out the door.
I stood outside, wondering what fairytale I had just stepped into and out of. The whole experience seemed so separate from the rest of my life and my values – the values I first learned from my family and from my people. Where were the voices of justice, humanity and non-violence now? What possibilities were there for compassion and dialogue? Where was the invitation for all voices to be heard?
I don’t know why I hoped to hear something different. For years, I have felt shame in realizing that “my people” are committed to Israel, regardless of their bullying tactics. They say Israel has no choice. They had to build walls of protection. They have to knock out “the enemy.” It troubles me that I, too, could have followed that path without question, not wanting to upset others, feeling a responsibility to Israel, a strong allegiance to the new nation that provided a homeland for all Jews. When I learned that one people had been driven out to make way for another, it seemed impossible. And then I found out more — deliberate policies of transfer, of occupation, even of elimination. I have been shocked time and time again as documentation has been made public. Who could do this? Not my people. Never. It took until last night when, perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt surrounded in shul by people who are my people, but they are not my people; their deeds are not my deeds. I sat in the sacred space of a synagogue feeling that I didn’t belong, and that I didn’t wish to belong. I felt that I was on the other side of the separation wall, the one erected right there in that sanctified place, each speaker digging it deeper and the crowd building it higher. How can what I heard and saw last night build bridges? How can my own feelings in this moment build bridges?
My sympathies went to the crowd outside, still shouting ‘Free Palestine’ — and yet protesting and shouting are not for me. Some were yelling to keep the Intifada going, and that voice is not mine, either. The Vancouver Police were out in a full contingent, red and blue flashing lights, their vehicles filling the driveway, spilling out onto Oak Street, with more parked across the street. We were “escorted” away from the protesters towards our vehicles, as if we were being threatened. We weren’t. Some of the banner-wavers saw us leaving and called out to us, “Shame. Shame.” And there we were, just like that, lumped in assumption with those “on the inside.”
Last night was not easy for any of us. I am glad we were there to see the reality of the situation, as hopeless as it all seems now. Thank you, Mark and Twilla, for taking our questions and leaving them on the chairs. That was a statement. And thank you, Max, for standing and speaking out, raising your questions. That was a statement. Dear Susan, John and Jennifer, all of our withholding of applause, our refusal to join in the cheers and rah rahs, and our early exits were also statements. Samia, we tried; we feel for your pain and the pain of the Palestinian people. Jennifer, what a “blasphemy,” as you said, hearing the words in Hatikva, “To be a free people in our own country,” knowing that equal rights are not extended to the Palestinian people. What is heartening is to have experienced it together, to have been able to share and hold each others sorrow and anger. I think we built some bridges last night amongst ourselves, and I am so grateful for that mutual support. The evening gave me the opportunity to face some very difficult facts and feelings and the courage to keep moving forward in spite of them.
Building Bridges Vancouver is a non-partisan, non-sectarian organization which aims to provide a forum for dialogue and information concerning the long-standing conflict in Israel-Palestine. For more information: Facebook & Transcript of Minister Kenney’s Speech. Ada Glustein is currently a member of the planning team of Building Bridges Vancouver, a long-time meditator, and a fledgling writer.

0 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Build Bridges when Bombs are Falling

  1. We as Jews have to take care of our own and have down so by creating a thriving Israel. The Palestinians have been crying foul of 65 years after their initial rejection of partition. Israel has done what Jordan never did after it annexed the West bank in 1952, conceded land to the Palestinians. What have the Palestinians done for themselves? They have built bombs rather then build a society.Gaza was trashed by Hamas after Israel left and they are holding the people here hostage.
    BTW a protest by a mob of anti Semitic “Free Palestine” protesters in front of a Jewish house of worship chills me to the bone. Imagine if there was a similar proves in front of a mosque, you would be crying oppression.

  2. 1. The Palestinians were in their land. Why would they agree to its partition? Especially as the minority (Jews) were granted 55% of the land?
    2. As a matter of fact, when Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza, in many cases they switched the water to the greenhouses off. Hence, killing the plants. One of the settlers who had left came back to see what the situation was, soon after, and was appalled at what the Israeli Army had done.
    3. Even then, things might not have been so bad, had not the Gazans ELECTED, IN A DEMOCRATIC ELECTION, overseen by, amongst others, EU observers, Hamas mainly on the basis it was less corrupt than the Palestinian Authority. Another democracy in the ME? And Muslim Brotherhood type to boot. The US/Israel have to attack.
    4. The Palestinians, as I understand it, try to keep going largely by agriculture – olives are the most important crop. Difficult when the intruders, the holy settlers, actually destroy olive trees. I won’t go into the Israeli control of water, harrassment of Gazan fishermen who are supposed to have 20 miles of territorial waters and get shot at if they go to 6 miles.
    Well, I could go on. I really think that the question now is not one state or two or more states. There is one state, Greater Israel. The question really is, what sort of Israel do you want? The current pariah?

    • 1. At least 2 Palestinians leaders,Abbas included, already said that they should not have rejected partition. But in fit there were 2 partitions. The Palestine Mandate included present day Jordan. That was portioned out in 1922, so Israel got far less that 55%. But the land assigned to the Jewish state was legitimately acquired, not stolen. Bt this is al past history that you choose to beat into the found lie the Palestine Victim Industry
      2. Those green houses in Gaza were donate not purchase by Gazans. How disappointed that you do not think the Palestinians can do something for themselves rather than being handed to them. Palestinians have built themselves a culture of dependence.
      3. Hamas one Parliamentary elections by s slim margin, not presidential elections. That did not them the carte blanche to seize power in Gaza.
      4. Israel learned that an agrarian economy falls short on progress and chose to go the high tech route. While agriculture remains important, the high tech sector has made Israel into an advanced society. Perhaps Palestinians can learn that lesson as well.
      Your blind support of the Palestinian Victim Industry dooms them to failure and a life of dependence. How sad is that?

    • Courage? Standing in form of a Jewish place of worship with a anti Semitic mob is courageous? Courage is standing in form of a mosque and protesting the oppression of woman, or standing in form of a Syrian embassy protesting the atrocities there. Don’t confuse courage with cowardice.

  3. Yes, courage. Dear reader, I think you might like to read Ada’s piece again. She did not join the protesters on the street, in front of the synagogue. Although, if she had I’m not certain I would have seen that as an act of courage either. Her courage, to me, is that she is reflective and thoughtful and willing to engage in the painful struggle of becoming aware that the most treasured
    values of her people, justice, mercy, compassion, humility, loving kindness, evenhandness, and truth are not what she is witnessing in Israel’s behavior nor what was witnessed, that night, in what a space intended as holy and sacred and transcendent. Her courage is demonstrated further in having written this article and then having it submitted to “Tikkun”. What Ada did that night, through the writing of this piece and by submitting it here, is to have made herself transparent and vulnerable by nature of its sheer honesty a public target to comments of the nature you have made. It is not easy to have personal criticism thrown at one especially when one can be certain one will become a target for acting according to one’s good and, I would say, noble conscience. I know Ada would argue that she did not act “nobody”; she is far too humble for that. But she has been able to articulate well and beautifully some of the nuances of this sad and sorrowful complex situation that Israel/Palestine find themselves in. She is a voice of sensitivity and sensibility and truth: her truth, maybe a truth and, perhaps even, the truth. I am grateful and humbled to have met her.
    PS Pro Palestinian groups are not the only groups to have protested in front of a sacred place. Two years ago, when the UK’s MP, Mr Galloway spoke at Saint Andrew’s Wesley United Church on Burrad in Vancouver, there was an even larger group of Jewish protesters who made it difficult for others to make their way into that holy place. But inside that place of worship there were calls for nonviolence, on all sides. That is not what I witnessed, while sitting beside Ada in Temple Shalom. What I saw and heard there were a sample of a people who over the millennia have been targeted and oppressed and brutalized and humiliated and dispossessed and who have had efforts made against them in the aim of exterminating them. I saw people who have reason to be afraid but who are made blinded further by the political will and fanatical believes of others, so much so, that they are either unwilling or unable to recognize, let alone take responsibility for, how Israel’s behavior toward the occupied territories and Gaza might be making the situation worse. This is not to say Israel does not suffer. It does. It is not to say the violence is one sided. It is not. What I am saying is that all sides suffer, that each side is guilty and each side is innocent. It is to say that healing of all the traumatized needs to take place in order that decisions are not made and actions are not taken that result in creating new injuries in others, including those within the very moral fabric of the offender: the one who has the power and who wields that power as a weapon to crush the other.
    I believe it’s true that the “victim” has more “insight” into what has hurt him, what his injuries are. I only wish the “oppressor” would know the damage he has done, is doing even to his own self.
    In peace,
    Twilla Welch

    • Courage is serving in a war while in uniform and putting ones life o the line, who marcginhg beside MLK while facing police. Publishing an article does not take courage. lit usually feeds the ego. Don’t confuse courage with a self serving article.Now if she went to Gaza and confronted Hamas, that wold be courageous.
      BTW, Galloway is widely know as a creep and ousel never stand in frort of a Mosque condemning condemning Arab behavior, that wold be courageous.
      Israel is facing an existential threat and the likes of Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran are just waiting for it toloe any semblance of support around the world. When Israel can exist without those threats,perhaps it can make e had decisions.It take courage to live there under such a threat, not the type of faux courage Ada has while living out of harms way

  4. Twilla, you possess the same courage that you accord to Ada. How very ironic that the synagogue was called Temple Shalom. I am grateful that I had the privilege to read what you both wrote. I had a similar experience in Boulder, but thankfully less extreme. I was actually able to make a couple of comments to an IDF soldier defending Operation Cast Lead. Thanks for all that you do.
    Sammy, rather than retaliate with hate to your hate and bigotry, I would rather offer my condolences. If some one attempts to dehumanize you, I hope you remember that what you do does come back to you.

    • Oh Jim, you are soooo brave. You have not a clue what that IDF soldiers faced. You probably would call him a Nazi stormtrooper

    • Thank you, Jim, but I am not as courageous as Ada. While, it would seem I have familial Judaic roots, I was not raised Jewish. I do not have the same risk of being ostracised by elements within my community. I am not afraid of rumors or concerned about gossip or being otherwise labeled. Having said those things, neither can I say that Ada is troubled by them. Nevertheless, and despite these less than admirable behaviors I’ve witnessed and more than unpleasant thoughts I’ve heard expressed, I do actively consider converting to Judaism out of my genuine and sincere respect and love of it, and perhaps even more surprising than that, my love for Israel as well. I want Israel to be a success and to me, that success will be measured in terms of Israel’s capacity to extend a true humanity that embraces the “stranger”: the “Other”.
      When I was in Israel/Palestine in March 2011, I did not see this humanity. What I saw was a flawed “humanness”. I was not afraid of any Palestinian that I met and I met many. Again, that is not the same as knowing, absolutely, that all Palestinians I meant were trustworthy. It merely says, I had no evidence before to make me frightened.
      However, I feared greatly the Israeli settlers, with their guns and their dogs and their mob mentality, which I not only witnessed, but which it was the mandate of the organization I was with, in our role as pacifists, to physically “get in the way” of those settlers and their protectors, the IDF and the police in order to protect, when we could, the Palestinian civilians from the harassment, assault of person and property, resistriction of movement and general safety, and if we couldn’t do that, to at least witness, document and report any violation. Over the years, many of our delegates, reservists and permanent team members have been physically attacked and injured, to the point of hospitalization, by illegal, some even according to Israeli law, Israeli settlers who act with complete impunity. As pacifists we cannot fight back, even to defend ourselves directly. We have also had members imprisoned in Israel for acts of pacifism. And in recent years, when there was a spate of bombings on a certain bus route in Jerusalem by the actions of Palestinian terrorists, we had people in our organization who put the word out in the streets of the west bank, that our people would be on those buses on those routes, so should there be any bombings our people would also be killed. That pattern of bombing ended. I am not suggesting that our group stopped or even help stop the bombings. What I am saying is that there are those rare people who are willing to put their lives, on the line, for others, any others, who are threatened by violence.
      Thank God, I have never been placed in that position of being tested, with my own well-being so clearly on the line, as others, but, if I were ever placed, God forbid, in that situation, even if it was young Sammy who was being “dehumanizes” and threatened, I hope then that I would have the courage to protect and defend him.
      The most profound moment, in my life, happened during a 4 hour attack from Jewish settlers against a nonviolent Palestinian village complete with guns and bombs and the IDF. It happened when the Palestines were trying to replace their olive trees that were several hundreds of years old, on their own Palestinian land, but the settlers would not allow it. I broke down in sobs, not because of fears for my safety, but rather out of the sheer and wanton cruelty and inhumanity I was made to witness and which I know to be the relentless daily occurrence of life in the West Bank. My eyes caught the eyes of a handsome young soldier, who may not have even wanted to be there. I said, “it’s sad for everyone”. Sarcastically he said, “sad?” I repeated, “yes, it’s sad for everyone”. More sarcasm, “for everyone?” I said it a third time. He said, “is it sad for me?” I replied, “yes, it’s sad for you. No one should have to live this way. Everyone should be studying or working or raising a family and not living like this.”
      I watched an angry young man become a soft young boy in front of my very eyes.
      For the next hour or so, his and my eyes met. We said, interchangeably and several times, “todah” and/or “thank you”.
      I have few regrets in my life. One is that I didn’t ask his name (not that he could or would or should tell me) but I didn’t tell him mine. It’s a small world. And there is Facebook. And I pray to God, he is well.
      Peace and blessings,
      Twilla Welch

  5. As a Christian, all I can say is thanks to you, Twillia, I know that Jesus is alive and walks through this earth through people like youl

  6. The foregoing dialogues clearly express the remarkably different sentiments one finds between the school of supporters of Israeli oppression in disputed if not alien territory, and the sentiments of those – including good Jews – who try to discern the truth and to seek peace between these neighbours. I think that the world is finally awakening to the abusive conduct of the powerful Israeli will and force over its neighbouring territorities, and that this truth will lead to a better situation for all perties in that area, with the legacy of the vicious illegal activities of the State of Israel becoming a notable black mark in the history of humanity.

    • Yes, we will allow the Chinas Sudans and Russias of the world to dictate while the have their own baggage. yes, using the world as a moral compass is shallow.
      40,000 slaughtered in Syria thus far. Amazing how obsessions blinds one to real oppression.

  7. Thank you Jim, Twilla and Charles, You all sum up beautifully the sentiments I was expressing in my reflection. It’s important that voices with different perspectives on this issue be heard, and I appreciate this forum where such perspectives can be voiced. Sometimes it can be difficult to listen deeply to those who confront or attack, but those voices need to be heard, too; our common humanity calls us to do at least that, to make the effort to understand feelings and values that may or may not be our own. I appreciate your point of view, too, Sammy, and your strong remarks that show how much you care about Israel’s safety and the threats it faces. I, too, long for the day when Israelis can be safe, and when Palestinians can also be safe, when violence no longer is an option for settling anyone’s wrongdoing, and when courage no longer is about putting one’s life on the line, but rather about setting aside one’s judgments and listening with compassion.

    • The threat it faces comes form a Hamas that does not accept Israel;’s existence and and Hisbollah/iran rot the north, It is difficult to make painful decisions regarding concessions when when there are those who want your destruction. you seem to fail to mention those threats.
      There are ask those who have written response on this forum who want israel juts to go away. I have yet to se them condemned.

  8. Ada is the spiritual descendant of Stella Goldschlag, ” the Jew hunter” who gave Jews up to the gestopo.And she fits in with guys lik Phil ( hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss. We’ve always had Jes that take pleasure in the deaths of other Jews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *