OpEd published in New London Connecticut Day, 12-30-2007

Background: The people of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, CT, under the leadership of The Reverend David W. Good, have been committed to the cause of justice for the people of Palestine and Israel for a number of years, organizing the "Tree of Life" conference every year since 2005 as well as an annual pilgrimage to Israel-Palestine. The Conference, which has featured activists and writers from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities committed to justice for all inhabitants of the region, has attracted a broad following in the community, but also opposition from some in the Jewish establishment in the New London CT area. Recently, a controversy erupted over the appearance of a group of young Palestinian dancers from Bethlehem who were invited to the most recent Tree of Life Conference. During their visit, the dancers performed at a number of local schools but were barred from further performances in one school system after complaints' from a Jewish student's family and subsequent opposition from the local Jewish Federation. A scathing and distortion-filled OpEd piece about the dancers written by a member of the Jewish community was then printed by the local daily, The New London Day. The Rev. Good and other members of the community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were appalled by the tone of and outright falsifications in the piece, which among other things accused The Rev. Good and his church of anti-Israel bias, refusal to accept the existence of Israel, and delivering an "offensive message of hate." They met with the editors of The Day, who in response agreed to publish an OpEd article by Mark Braverman, a Jewish American who has been involved with the Tree of Life Conference for the last two years and has spoken out in favor of interfaith dialogue on the issue of Israel and Palestine.

Palestine Is Being Destroyed

By Mark Braverman

The New London Day, New London, CT

I am the grandson of a fifth-generation Palestinian Jew. My grandfather, born in the Old City of Jerusalem, emigrated to the United States early in the last century. I am a proud Jew, loyal to my tradition and to my people. Zionism was as much a part of my religious upbringing as praying in the synagogue and observing the Jewish holidays. But I am strongly opposed to the policies of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people, policies supported by the U.S. and by many of my fellow Jews here in the United States.

In letters and columns published in The Day, some of my fellow Jews have criticized the efforts of The Rev. David Good and the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme to bring a measure of justice and sanity to the situation in Israel and Palestine. I understand the fear that motivates this opposition and know it well.

I have been honored and blessed to have played a small part in the work of the Rev. Good and his congregation over the past several years. I first met them in 2006 while traveling throughout New England with three women — two Palestinians and an Israeli — speaking to groups, including this congregation, about their work for peace between Israel and Palestinian people. I heard this fear and this anger often from Jews in our audiences. I heard it from a college student planning to emigrate to Israel, who, in tears, protested that we must have it wrong about Israel — how could we smash her dream?

I heard it from the many Jews who demanded, indeed pleaded for a “balanced” picture, who wanted “equal time” for consideration of the violence from Palestinians that presumably creates the basis for Israeli retaliation in its various forms.

But the situation is not balanced.

Palestine is being destroyed. Israel has all the power. The Palestinian people — a good, patient people — are being ground into the dirt, their leaders killed, imprisoned or exiled, their young people impoverished and robbed of a future. Any possibility for nonviolent protest is made all but impossible by a brutal military occupation.

We are doing wrong. We have blood on our hands. Yes, there have been Palestinians who have perpetrated acts of violence. But we must look to the cause.

Before I visited the West Bank in 2006, I too looked for a balanced discourse. Where was the acknowledgment that the 1948 War was a war of self-defense, a war to prevent yet another extermination? Didn't they reject the 1947 United Nations partition plan? Is not the occupation, although lamentably abusive of human rights, necessary for creating defensible borders and national security?

I now see that responsibility for denial and the distortion lies equally, if not more, with us. The 1948 War, although it undoubtedly protected the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine from hostile Arab armies, was part of a larger plan to displace the Palestinians and claim the entire land for a Jewish State. Israel's policies post-1967 are a clear continuation of this plan. Israel is not a partner for peace. This reality is surfacing, slowly, inexorably.

I urge my fellow Jews to go, as I have, and see the Separation Wall — not the sanitized Israeli section, but the real story of the Wall, reaching deep into the West Bank to grab huge chunks of territory and separating Palestinians from Palestinians and farmers from their land. Ask yourselves, when you see it, if you think the wall is for security. Visit the checkpoints and feel the shame and disgust that are the only emotions one can feel for the baseless humiliation and oppression being perpetrated in our name.

Go and see the villages being destroyed and the land taken to build a system of Bantustans for Palestinians and to erect neighborhoods and towns for American Jews who believe that we have the right to do this. Meet Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and understand Israel's campaign to drive out the non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem who have lived there for generations. Meet the Israeli women of Machsom Watch and members of New Profile, who are all struggling to preserve a shred of moral conscience in Israel.

These brave Israeli Jews are our present-day Shomrei Yisrael, the Guardians of Israel.  Jews outside of Israel who seek to suppress criticism of Israel and to block dialogue with the Palestinians are not friends of Israel. Non-Jewish Americans who allow themselves to cooperate with this muzzling of free speech and denial of injustice are complicit in this madness.

Accepting responsibility for the injustice done to the Palestinian people will not destroy Israel. On the contrary — it will save Israel. My roots go deep in the Holy Land. So do those of my Palestinian brothers and sisters. If we Jews cannot learn to share this land with the Palestinians, we will never have the secure homeland we desire.

Mark Braverman is a clinical psychologist living in Bethesda, Md. He recently spoke at the “Tree of Life Conference on Israel and Palestine” held in Old Lyme.  He is the Executive Director of Friends of Tent of Nations North America www.fotonna.org.  

Mark Braverman can be contacted at m_braverman@yahoo.com and at info@fotonna.org.

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