This is the transcript of a talk given in Atlanta in January, 2003 by Ora
Wise, daughter of an American rabbi, born in Jerusalem, and an undergrad at Ohio State Univ.
Wise was part of a US Truth Tour mounted by the Palestine Solidarity Movement.
I first saw the underbelly of Israel when I was 18-years-old. Walking down a dusty path between shacks fashioned out of corrugated metal and government-issued shipping crates, on a barren hill not 500 meters from Jerusalem's largest city dump. At that time my glorified perception of Israel did not include even the production of waste, I realized that this was a reservation. My Bedouin friends, I came to understand, were living the uprooted, down-trodden lives of the Roma, the Lakota, the Aboriginees, the Mayans.
My parents never taught me to extend my concept of social justice to include Palestinians. My parents, my schools, my newspapers, never encouraged me to hold Israel accountable for its acts of aggression. I was raised to think critically about how white people had gained control over land and resources, but the process by which Israel became a state, expanded its borders, enlarged its municipalities, maintained its economic security, was rendered invisible to me. Thus, it was a revelation -- a shattering exposure -- they did not expect that day, that I walked down that road and realized its place in history.
And now I am angry. When I was younger, a budding revolutionary searching for heroes, what I was presented with were novels about the Zionist underground fighters and the Israeli secret service. I devoured the images of strong Jews with guns in their hands and fierce hearts.
But now I have found different stories. The stories of those who have been virtually erased from my history, this non-Zionist past. I have found it no thanks to my parents or my Hebrew school teachers, I have rediscovered that. I insist on recalling the Jewish trade unionists all over Eastern Europe, the Jewish anarchists in Russia, the Arab-Jewish writers and thinkers of social change, the Jewish women fighting fascism in the forests of France and Poland. I insist on breaking my chains. Yes, you too are imprisoned by the occupation.
Fighting for Palestinian liberation is, in essence, struggling towards my own emancipation. This is now my mantra. I am now in touch with and seeking to listen to and celebrate the millions of Arab-Jews whose very existence is erased by this false dichotomy we presume of Jew vs Arab. I am now in touch with and seeking to learn from the Palestinians whose olive trees embody the history of that land I feel this undeniable connection to.
Actually, let's talk about that connection. This is a shout out to all my fellow so-called self-hating, brainwashed Jews, who, like me, have been accused of abandoning our people! Yes, I feel connected to the hills of Jerusalem the shores of the Mediterranean the stone archways the closeness of the desert the clamor of the souk, but I feel no need to own it. In fact, I feel the need to preserve it and what I see is Israeli attempts at being Western destroying the aesthetics of cities, I see by-pass roads and super-highways tearing through precious small amounts of nature, I see the water line of the Sea of Galilee sinking lower and lower, I see the customs and culture of Arab-Jews and Palestinians suppressed and redressed for our pleasure. And I ain't saying that anyone else, anywhere else, is doing any better -- unfortunately this is a global trend. But please, stop idealizing our dear homeland.
And what about self-hatred? I'll tell you about self-hatred; I'll tell you a story of Arab-Jews coerced into dropping their native tongues and changing their names upon entry to this new country claiming to embrace all of our Jewish brothers and sisters and then exploiting them in the fields and settling them in "border towns" forming buffer zones for Ashkenazi Jews not willing to face the danger of their own colonial process. I will tell you a story of Polish and Russian Jews desperately seeking to escape their histories of oppression by subjugating others and rejecting all things religious for land and power.
I'll tell you a story of Israel's best friends, the Christian Right and their support of American Jewish Zionists, their funding of Jewish settlement in, their lobbying for Israel so that ultimately, when Armageddon comes, two thirds of Jews will die and the other third convert.
Let me tell you a story of us funding illegal settlements on stolen land, bulldozers crushing homes, soldiers patrolling towns imprisoning women and children in their homes, men naked and blindfolded in the street, children are shot in the head and while pregnant women are detained at checkpoints. And then us asking: "why can't there be peace?". And us mourning 29 dead at a seder in Natanya, 23 dead in Tel Aviv... All the Palestinians killed before and after erased from memory. In fact, not even permitted into our memory.
Now you tell me who is participating in the betrayal of our people, in the destruction of our glorious state? I am working to end the occupation. But this is not an argument for preserving the moral integrity of the Jewish state by finally ending the occupation. Israel was never any more noble or moral than any other colonial project or nation-state.
I am not committed to a Jewish state at all costs. There, I said it, you can say it too. I am committed to direct democracy; people participating in the decisions that affect their lives. I am committed to justice, peace and freedom. I am committed to resisting all forms of oppression. I am committed to reclaiming the diversity of my Jewish heritage pre-"narrowly prescribed Zionist identity" as I am committed to the preservation of Palestinian culture and traditions (not to mention livelihoods, villages, homes, and schools). And I don't believe that states basing rights based on religions or ethnic identity lend themselves to any of the above.