The Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda (CPA) is a justice advocacy organization which is made up of representatives from all of the major civil rights/human rights/peace and jusice organizations, plus concerned people of conscience. It is convened by the revered Dr. Joseph E. Lowery. (Dr. Lowery was not present on the day i was there, he had attended the Presidential debate and had not yet returned to Atlanta)
I am honored to be here today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this distinguished gathering for a few moments. I was pleased to read in your mission that you wish to: “Help create a more informed and active electorate.”
Sadly, on the issue of Israel Palestine, an issue for which Americans pay $3 billion every year, Americans are the least informed people in the world. I am an Israeli Jew, born and raised in Jerusalem. My grandfather was a Zionist leader and his signature rests upon the declaration of independence of the state of Israel. My father, was a young officer in the war of 1948, a war that we Israelis call “the war of independence” and a general in the war of 1967, two wars that defined the Middle East as we know it today.
However, though most people in my country and here in the US choose to ignore it, the Land of Israel also has another name. Besides Israeli Jews like myself there is another nation that lives on that land, indeed they were there long before my grandparents, and the grandparents of most Israelis had immigrated to Israel. These people call our war of independence, The Nakba – the catastrophe. They call our victory of 1967 The Naqsa, the disaster. The call Israel Palestine, and they are the Palestinian people.
In my book, The General’s Son, I describe what its like to grow up in a patriotic home of Zionist Jews in Israel. But the book has a second part, “journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” that describe my journey into that other part of my country, a part about which I never learned, a part that most people want to believe does not exist.
I would like to share with you today what it was that drove me, a privileged Israeli Jew to discover Palestine and to give you a glimpse of what I found. For me this journey began when on Sept 4, 1997, two young Palestinians decided to blow themselves up in downtown Jerusalem at a time when my niece, my sister’s 13 year old daughter, Smadar was there shopping with her friends. The two Palestinians detonated, killed themselves and took our lovely Smadar with them.
Well, in Israel when Palestinians kill the granddaughter of a famous general it is big news. My sister’s apt in Jerusalem was filled with mourners and with reporters. And when my sister came out to greet everyone she was immediately asked: What do think about revenge? She paused for a moment and said “No real mother would want to see this horror happen to another mother.”
“Whom do you see as responsible?” she was asked. Again she paused, “these two young men were driven to such despair and hopelessness that they took their own lives and the lives of innocent civilians, including my little girl. They were driven to this despair by the brutal Israeli occupation, by the cruel oppression that we, Israel had placed upon them. When we take away people’s dignity, and their homes and land, when we deny them water, incarcerate their fathers and brothers, kill their young children and give them no hope, this is what happens, innocents pay the price. I hold the state of Israel responsible for my daughter’s death.”
My sister’s words set me on a path, I was driven by her words to begin a life of exploration and activism, and this life brings me to you here today.
I know that for many African Americans supporting Israel is part of their sense of gratitude for the fact that Jewish people stood with the African American community during their struggle to achieve civil rights and fight Jim Crowe in the this country. I know that many African Americans appreciate the fact that Jews supported Dr. King and also supported Nelson Mandela in his fight to end racism in South Africa. But those Jews, and the people who govern the state of Israel are not the same people.
From the very beginning, from November 29, 1947 when the united nations partitioned the Palestine and created Israel, and to this day, Israel is engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing with the goal of driving Palestinians out of their homes and off their land. Israeli forces wiped an entire country off the map, forcibly exiled its people, colonized it and made it their own. Today, 65 years after Israel was established, the state of Israel is no more a democracy that this country was during Jim Crowe. Israel incarcerates Thousands of Palestinians in violation of international law, not because they are criminals and not for violent resistance, but as political prisoners. No one needs to tell you, leaders of the African American community what it’s like when fathers and brothers are incarcerated because of their nationality or the color of their skin.
In Israel there is one law for Israeli Jews like my self and different laws that govern the lives of Palestinians. Some would call it apartheid, but the great humanitarian Bishop Desmund Tutu says that the situation in Palestine is far worse than what blacks in apartheid South Africa had to endure. Israelis receive more water than Palestinians, when Israel builds homes and highways, shopping malls and industry on Palestinians land, it is for Israelis like my self, while Palestinians are excluded and disenfranchised, left homeless and destitute. Yet, contrary to what is commonly reported, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s oppression and violent ethnic cleansing has been non violent. Palestinians carry the names of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on their lips with admiration and they attempt the fight off the yoke of Israeli oppression through non-violent means.
Palestine was an Arab country for 1500 years and I am here today, the son of Jewish colonizers and oppressors, here to report to you that Israel does not represent the fine Jewish men and women who marched with Dr. King, it represents Jim Crowe and racism against which Dr. King and many of you fought, and to a large degree still fight to this day. The prevalence of racism in Israel is such that it is far beyond the scope of this short presentation, but I want to present to you, indeed to beg of you to join me, and others like me in an effort to bring peace and justice to Israelis and Palestinians alike through justice and equal rights.
When the great writer Alice Walker, who I am sure you know, honored me by writing the forward to my book, she said she found it to be “one of the most hopeful books she ever read on the issue of Israel and Palestine.” I know that the fate of Jewish people is close to your heart, both because of your faith and because you know what Jews had to go through in racist Europe. But I think you will agree that oppression, ethnic cleansing, violence and denying children water, rights and freedom is not the answer.
No, the answer to peace in Palestine and Israel, which are two names for the same country, lies in the establishment of a real democracy with equal rights. This means the transformation of the Jewish state to a state of all of its people. While many in this country and indeed around the world believe in the right of Jews to have their own state, we must realize that when half of the population is not Jewish, a Jewish state cannot exist unless it is oppressive and racist. And it saddens me to tell you that this is precisely what Israel has become, racist and oppressive. 5.5 million Palestinians and 6.5 million Israeli Jews share the land but only Israeli Jews have a say, have rights, and enjoy freedom. Palestinians live under the shadows of the Israeli security system, which considers them as threat not because of their criminal record, not because of past crimes, not for any reason other than, they are Palestinian.
I will end my remarks by thanking you once again for letting me address you today, and to beg you to hold Israel accountable. To join me in the struggle for justice and equal rights for all people who live in the holy land. I must quote from the words the great Dr. King and say, “We cannot walk alone!” So I want you to join me and others who like you care about justice and human rights I call on you so that, once again in the words of Dr. King:
“We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, and Muslims will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!