Magazine article Tikkun

Some Hard Truths: A Personal Reflection

Magazine article Tikkun

Some Hard Truths: A Personal Reflection

Article excerpt

IN 1969, DAVID BEN GURION, THE FIRST PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL, VISITED CAPE TOWN. HE was by far the most important Israeli visitor to our small town. I remember his visit vividly. He met with the leaders of the Zionist youth groups. At that meeting he was asked by one of the counselors whether any Palestinians were expelled from Israel during the War of Independence. He responded passionately and angrily that no Palestinians were expelled in 1948 and that the Zionist leadership encouraged them to stay. They chose to leave because the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem told them that they would get two houses once they had driven the Jews into the sea. This was his version of the history of 1948 and I believed him.

I was then a young idealistic Zionist, committed to going on aliyah to Israel, to participate in the grand Zionist vision of building a society based on Jewish socialist values. All those in the room that day, madrichim (counselors) of the various Zionist youth movements, were committed to building a society in Israel that would be the antithesis of the Apartheid society in which we had been raised. Our shared dream was of a country where we, as Jews who had been victimized for so many years, would show the world how to wield power justly and with compassion. As Haim Weizman, the first President of Israel said, the Jewish state would be judged by how it treated the Palestinians. I was confident then that we would pass the test. It was inconceivable to me that Israel, the land where we would create a safe space for our people after so many years of suffering, would cause suffering to another people.

I grieve that this is exactly what has happened in Israel, especially over the past forty years of Occupation. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting with Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Shovrim Shtika, a courageous group of Israeli soldiers who tell of the realities of Occupation: realities that most Israelis and American Jews do not know, and more importantly, are determined not to know. Yehuda spoke of his confusion and pain serving Israel as a soldier in Hebron, guarding the lives of settlers who often provoke and attack Palestinians. He could not respond to prevent the aggression, because his mission was just to protect the Jews, not the Palestinian residents. His personal story of how he and the soldiers of his company committed acts of violence on a daily basis was shocking. These acts, he explained, are the inevitable reality of any Occupation where an army rules over 2 million people. Yet he also acknowledged his own personal responsibility, his own teshuva (repentance) for acts he routinely committed that caused suffering. All that the soldiers who founded Shovrim Shtika want is for the leaders and people of Israel to acknowledge what its soldiers are asked to do, and have to do, on their behalf on the West Bank.

I thought back to that meeting earlier in my life with Ben Gurion. I now know that the story he told about the history of 1948 is far more complicated than he admitted then, and that some Palestinians were expelled. Yehuda's sad story highlights how far Israel has strayed from our idealistic vision. While it is true that Israel has become a vibrant cultural center for the Jewish people and has provided a secure home for Jews from many different countries, it is also true that over the past forty years, the moral core of the Jewish state has been corrupted by the Occupation.

While the stark way in which Yehuda described his experience was shocking, I have seen some of the realities of the West Bank, on visits to Israel to support the work of my colleagues in Rabbis for Human Rights and other groups dedicated to maintaining the moral vision of Israel. …

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