As a Jewish American reading a recent AP article “Condoleezza Rice clings to Mideast peace hopes,” I was struck by the Secretary of State’s condemnation of Israel’s illegal settlements even as the U.S. simultaneously continues to send the Jewish state more than $10 million a day. Our tax dollars are used to build and maintain the very institutions that we condemn… Are we not the source of certain obstacles to peace that we wish to remove?
Israeli settlements are Jewish-only towns built in Palestinian areas, which means that the farmers and families who own that land—mainly Christian and Muslim Palestinians—are not allowed to live there because they’re not Jewish. I, on the other hand, could move there next month if I wanted to.
Israel offers generous subsidies to its Jewish citizens to move onto this Palestinian land using U.S. tax dollars, yet the American citizens footing the bill often have no idea. I myself grew up viewing Israel as a peace-seeking democracy plagued by anti-Semitic neighbors. I thought anyone who thought otherwise was brainwashed—that is, until I went and saw things with my own eyes.
When I first visited the West Bank in 2003, I found a system of ethnic segregation: separate roads for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. I found Palestinian Christians denied Israeli permits to live in their own homes because of their religion. I found a welcoming, nonviolent, and educated people being drained of their human dignity by a concrete barrier twice the size of the Berlin Wall. Far from separating Israelis from Palestinians, Israel’s Separation Barrier weaves through Palestinian villages separating children from their schools, farmers from their olive trees, and families from their water sources, hospitals, and each other.
Everything I witnessed was being done in my name as a Jewish person and with my tax dollars as an American. This I cannot accept. My safety will not—and should not—ever come from denying that safety to others. As President Jimmy Carter explains in his recent book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, Israel’s policies actually endanger Jews and Americans, rather than protecting them. How does paying Israeli citizens to move onto land belonging to the “enemy” make them safer? Separating everyday people from their livelihoods and education does not combat terror—it breeds it.
Not surprisingly, according to Israel’s Peace Now polls the majority of Israelis oppose their government’s settlement expansion and other human right abuses. Where is the comparable dissent in the United States? Is it truly in America’s best interest to incense the entire Muslim and Arab worlds as they watch their brothers and sisters in Palestine displaced or worse with U.S. bulldozers and bombs on the nightly news?
Some Palestinians have responded with violence against Israeli civilians, something I staunchly oppose. But violence against Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike must be condemned. Last year 13 Israeli civilians and soldiers were killed by Palestinians in the conflict—each one a great loss. During that same period of time, 373 Palestinians—most of them civilians—were killed by Israeli forces, many with U.S. weapons. We heard about every Israeli casualty, yet most Palestinian deaths went unmentioned.
Debate common in Israel is stifled and demonized as anti-Semitic in the United States. This name-calling is illogical. Occupation and ethnic discrimination have nothing to do with Judaism; likewise, speaking out about such injustice is not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, it’s in line with a tradition of social justice that has been the pride of Jews for centuries. Israel has violated more UN resolutions than any other country in the history of the United Nations (more than Iraq or Iran, for example). Any country guilty of law violations should be held accountable, including Israel (and the U.S. for that matter). There is nothing anti-Semitic about that.