Later this month an American ship, the Audacity of Hope, will leave Greece on a journey to the Gaza Strip to attempt to break Israel’s blockade. It will join an expected nine other ships flying numerous flags and carrying hundreds of passengers from around the world. I will be one of those passengers.
I am an Israeli Jewish American. I was born in Israel, and I grew up in a very different Jerusalem from the one today. The Jerusalem of my childhood was a smallish city of white-stone neighborhoods nestled in the elbows of hills. Near the center, next to the central post office, the road swerved sharply to the left because straight ahead stood a big wall, and on the other side of it was “them.”
And then, on June 9, 1967, the wall came down. Elsewhere, Israeli troops were still fighting what came to be known as the Six-Day War, but on June 9, as a small crowd stood and watched, demolition crews brought down the barrier wall, and after it, all other buildings that had stood between my Jerusalem and the walls of the Old City, their Jerusalem. A few weeks later a wide road would lead from my Jerusalem to theirs, bearing the victors’ name: Paratroopers Way.
A soldier helped me sneak into the Old City. Snipers were still at large and the city was closed to Israeli civilians. By the Western Wall, a myth to me until then, the Israeli army was already evicting Palestinian residents in the dead of night and demolishing all houses within 1,000 feet. Eventually, the area would turn into the huge open paved space it is today, a place where only last month, on Jerusalem Day, masses of Israeli youths chanted “Muhammad is dead” and “May your villages burn.”
It is a different Jerusalem now. It is not their Jerusalem, for it has been taken from them. Every day the Palestinians of Jerusalem are further strangled by more incursions, by more “housing developments” to cut them off from other Palestinians. In Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood built by Jordan in the 1950s to house refugees, Palestinian families recently have been evicted from their homes at gunpoint based on court-sanctioned documents purporting to show Jewish land ownership in the area dating back some 100 years. But no Palestinian proof of ownership within West Jerusalem has ever prevailed in Israeli courts. Talbieh, Katamon, Baca, until 1948 affluent Palestinian neighborhoods, are today almost exclusively Jewish, with no legal recourse for the Palestinians who recently raised families and lived their lives there.
In his speech on Jerusalem Day, Yitzhak Pindrus, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, assured a cheering crowd of the ongoing commitment to expanding the Jewish neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, as Sheik Jarrah has been renamed.
This is not my Jerusalem. The tens of thousands of jeering youths that swarmed through its streets on Jerusalem Day have taken the city from me as well. That they speak my native tongue is almost impossible for me to believe, for there is nothing about them or about the society that gave birth to them that I recognize.
Did we know in 1967, in 1948, that it would come to this? Some did. Some knew even then that a society built on conquest and dispossession would have to dehumanize the conquered in order to continue to dispossess and oppress them. A 1948 letter to the New York Times signed by Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, among others, foretells much of the future. Martin Buber did not spare David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, his perspective on the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948-49.
But too many others, including members of the U.S. Congress who recently cheered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are determined to not hold the Israeli government responsible or the Israeli-Jewish society culpable.
Let us note that some Israeli Jews do stand up and protest. There are soldiers who refuse to serve, journalists who highlight injustice, and human rights organizations, activist groups, information centers. In a sense, all of us seeking justice have been on a virtual boat to Gaza all these decades. We have been trying to break through the Israeli blockade, in its many incarnations. We wish to say to the Palestinians that, yes, there are people in Israel who know that any viable future for the Middle East must be based on a just peace — not the forced imposition spelled out by Netanyahu to Congress — or else we are all doomed. We want it known that the soldier is not the only face of Israeli Jews. There are those who say to the government of Israel, “You do not represent us.” We say to the people of the United States in general and to American Jews in particular that yes, you do have an alternative. You can support peace. A true peace.
Hagit Borer moved from Israel to the United States to study in 1977. She became an American citizen in 1992 and is currently a professor of linguistics at USC.