During the High Holidays, Jews chant Ashamnu, the confession of our sins. We beat our chests and ask God for forgiveness, for we have been hypocritical, we have turned away from the truth, we have stolen, we have lied. We are responsible for our own wrongdoings, but collectively we are also responsible for the ills of our society. Many synagogues add specific contemporary sins to the traditional list – gun violence, global warming, poverty – but few synagogues, at this time of year or any other, admit the American Jewish institutional community’s role in upholding Israel’s military occupation, though we have had nearly 50 years to admit, atone, and change.
We have been hypocritical in supporting equality at home but injustice in Israel/Palestine. Growing up, I learned of Jews marching for civil rights for black communities in the American South, standing with Cesar Chavez and the Filipino and Chicano farm workers’ boycott, and working to end apartheid in South Africa. I was never told that Israel maintains a separate system of military law over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who are subject to separate courts and prisons with a nearly 100% conviction rate. When I learned how Israel “rescued” Ethiopian and Yemeni Jews, I was never told of the deep racial hierarchies present within Jewish Israeli society.
We have turned away from the truth. Instead of reckoning with the Nakba, the expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from their homes when the state of Israel was created in 1948, we have ignored Palestinians’ stories and painted them as liars. With stiff necks, we keep our eyes looking away from the separation wall that cuts Palestinian farmers off from their land, from discriminatory laws like the Citizenship Law that separates Palestinian parents from their children and lovers from each other. We turn away from the thousands killed in Gaza and justify their deaths. We turn away from the daily violence occupation visits upon millions.
We have stolen, not only by supporting settlements built on private Palestinian land with money our Federations send over the Green Line and by giving money to the Jewish National Fund which funds visitor centers in settlements, but also by stealing our American Jewish youth’s futures. I have watched friends from childhood, some Israelis drafted and some Americans who voluntarily joined the IDF, sent to raid homes in Hebron in the middle of the night or attack schools in Gaza.
We have lied, consciously and unconsciously, to American Jewish youth about the occupation. When I first went to Israel with my youth group, at the age of 17, I knew nothing about it. I didn’t meet a Palestinian for the first time until I was 20 and living on a college campus. At age 22, I visited Israel-Palestine again, this time visiting Palestinian villages deprived of water in the West Bank, walking through checkpoints, and seeing the Israeli army harass people going about their ordinary lives. This summer, when I lived for two months in East Jerusalem, it was again impossible to ignore the injustices inflicted upon my Palestinian neighbors, when young Jews like me were only a kilometer or two away living in freedom. The occupation is a daily nightmare for Palestinians.
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for us to repent, to practice teshuvah. The first step, acknowledgement of our community’s support for the occupation, must be done together. However, acknowledgement of wrongdoing is not enough. We must also pledge to do better. As we enter a new year, I call on all American Jewish institutions to stop their support of the occupation, and all Jews in my community to come together to pressure our institutions to align with our values of freedom and dignity for all. Will you heed that call?
Gabi Kirk is a member of IfNotNow Bay Area, a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and gain freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians. IfNotNow has chapters in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area, Washington D.C, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.