Israeli Woman Says Divestment Is Part of Her Jewish Identity

“No one should have their money in this. Espe­cially not a church.”

An inter­view by (Rev.) Patrick David Heery of Elisha Baskin (pic­tured above), an Israeli young woman and mem­ber of Jew­ish Voice for Peace, on the topic of divest­ment in the occu­pa­tion of Palestine
 
Source: http://justiceunbound.org/action-alerts/action-news/israeli-woman-says-divestment-is-part-of-her-jewish-identity/ (Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice)
 

Palestinian children find their toys in the rubble of demolished home

Pales­tin­ian chil­dren find their toys in the rub­ble of their demol­ished home

Her name is Elisha Baskin. She is Israeli. She is Jew­ish. And she sup­ports divestment—divestment in com­pa­nies sup­port­ing the occu­pa­tion of Palestine.

Born in west Jerusalem two years before the first Intifada broke out, Elisha has lived what most of us have merely read about. Elisha lived through the Gulf War and the sec­ond Intifada in 2000, when, she says, “Jerusalem was lit­er­ally exploding.”

Elisha’s Story:
Chal­leng­ing Dom­i­nant Nar­ra­tives

And yet her life has also been dis­tinct from the nar­ra­tive so often told by U.S. media. Elisha’s par­ents inten­tion­ally encour­aged her to become friends with Pales­tini­ans. While she wit­nessed first­hand the fear and vio­lence to which many Israelis were sub­jected, she also saw the occu­pa­tion, the demo­li­tion of homes, the uproot­ing of olive trees, and the humil­i­at­ing deten­tion of Palestinians.

“That was the envi­ron­ment of my youth,” she said. It was an envi­ron­ment of vio­lence, but also of friend­ship, on both sides, and the inevitable ten­sion that devel­ops when you love too many peo­ple, too much.

In the eleventh grade, Elisha went to Poland to visit the con­cen­tra­tion camps of the Holo­caust, the Shoah. And it was there, sur­rounded by the awful con­se­quences of nation­al­ism and mil­i­ta­rized fear, that Elisha decided she could not, in good con­science, serve in the Israeli mil­i­tary. It was the height of the sec­ond Intifada, and Elisha was already being recruited to serve in the army by accom­pa­ny­ing wounded sol­diers and their fam­i­lies. She found her­self in a dilemma: she wanted to care for these fam­i­lies and wounded sol­diers, but, she asked her­self, “How do I sup­port them when I don’t think they should be there in the first place?”

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“I’ve seen peo­ple sleep on the ruins of their own homes, with toys and fur­ni­ture crushed under the rub­ble, and then sent bills to pay for the demo­li­tion of their homes.”
___________________________________________

It wasn’t that she sud­denly equated Israel with Germany—far from it. Rather, hav­ing seen the suf­fer­ing and vio­lence endured by her peo­ple, she felt a new sense of sol­i­dar­ity with the Palestinians.

And in that sol­i­dar­ity, Elisha went before the con­sci­en­tious objec­tion com­mit­tee of the army. “I thought I was going to prison,” Elisha said, as she explained that few peo­ple were granted CO sta­tus. But the com­mit­tee heard her case, as she told them, “I want to serve soci­ety; I want to serve, but in a civic, non-military way.” In what Elisha describes as a stroke of luck, the com­mit­tee granted her CO sta­tus. She became the first per­son in Israel to have a rec­og­nized civil ser­vice posi­tion with Amnesty International.

It was only two years ago that Elisha came to the United States in order to pur­sue grad­u­ate work at Bran­deis Uni­ver­sity. There, she became involved with Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine and Jew­ish Voice for Peace (JVP). Elisha speaks of JVP with remark­able love, as if it was less of an orga­ni­za­tion and more of a fam­ily. “I had never felt,” Elisha says, “like I had much of a home in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity,” but that all changed with JVP, where she dis­cov­ered justice-committed, often young, Jew­ish women and men refus­ing to tote the line on Israel’s state policies.

Jewish Voice for Peace members with Presbyterians at GA

Jew­ish Voice for Peace mem­bers with Pres­by­te­ri­ans at GA

The Rea­sons for Divest­ment:
A Jew­ish Legacy

Now, she and other Jew­ish Voice for Peace advo­cates, many of them young adults, have come to the Pres­by­ter­ian Church (U.S.A.) 220th Gen­eral Assem­bly to sup­port over­tures for divest­ment.

She empha­sizes that her opin­ions are just that: opin­ions. They do not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent the offi­cial posi­tions of JVP, though JVP has come out in favor of selec­tive divestment.

When I asked Elisha why she sup­ported divest­ment, she said, “Since this con­flict has erupted, all avenues for res­o­lu­tion have been exhausted. I see divest­ment as a last resort, and it is a non­vi­o­lent resort, for we have seen that vio­lence fails.” For Elisha, this is pri­mar­ily about allow­ing the oppressed to deter­mine for them­selves the agenda for lib­er­a­tion: “We are being called upon by the peo­ple in the strug­gle, and it’s not my place to define the bound­aries of their lib­er­a­tion.” This is no ran­dom cause: “It has been asked upon us.” She voiced frus­tra­tion as she explained, “I have seen, far too many times, peo­ple [par­tic­u­larly in the West] tell Pales­tini­ans that they know what is best for them… The Pales­tin­ian voices are heard, we hear them, and this [divest­ment] is what they are say­ing. I’m done with the patron­iz­ing colo­nial approach in which we tell peo­ple how to lib­er­ate them­selves.” It’s time, she says, we shut up and listen.

If we lis­ten, we will hear a thought­fully strate­gic call from Pales­tini­ans for divest­ment that is both selec­tive (i.e., does not endorse a blan­ket boy­cott of Israel) and accom­pa­nied by spe­cific guidelines.

___________________________________________

And it was there, in the con­cen­tra­tion camps of Poland, sur­rounded by the awful con­se­quences of nation­al­ism and mil­i­ta­rized fear, that Elisha decided she could not, in good con­science,
serve in the Israeli mil­i­tary.

___________________________________________

For Elisha, though, this is also per­sonal: “I’ve seen peo­ple sleep on the ruins of their own homes, with toys and fur­ni­ture crushed under the rub­ble, and then sent bills to pay for the demo­li­tion of their homes.” Puni­tive mea­sures like these are com­mon in east Jerusalem, where, she says, it is nearly impos­si­ble to obtain a hous­ing per­mit, and so, on the slight­est provo­ca­tion, such as the addi­tion of a bal­cony to a house, homes are ordered destroyed.

She has seen olive trees ripped from the ground and planted along round­abouts in Israel—trees that, she explains, are as sig­nif­i­cant to farm­ers as the roofs over their heads. They rep­re­sent more than income, more even than the dif­fer­ence between hav­ing food and going hun­gry; they are, quite lit­er­ally, “their last roots, the roots that con­nect them to their land.”

“No one,” Elisha says, “should have their money in this. Espe­cially not a church.” These demo­li­tions, deten­tions, and other activ­i­ties are not hid­den. They hap­pen in broad day­light for every­one to see. For Elisha, “it is clear; these [bull­doz­ers] are weapons. And this is done in the name of my secu­rity. This does not rep­re­sent my secu­rity needs.”

Nor does it rep­re­sent, for Elisha, the Jew­ish faith. “The his­tory of the Jew­ish peo­ple,” Elisha says with con­vic­tion, “is one of oppres­sion. We know what it is like to be the minor­ity, to be vul­ner­a­ble.” More­over, it is a his­tory of “sol­i­dar­ity with the for­eigner and the other,” evi­dent in the sig­nif­i­cant roles played by Jews in the labor move­ment and the Civil Rights Move­ment in the United States. To be Jew­ish is to stand with the oppressed and, she adds, “to be crit­i­cal and ask questions.”

So when Elisha hears peo­ple claim that divest­ment will impede inter­faith rela­tions, she is appalled. What kind of rela­tion­ship, she asks, is built on silence and an inabil­ity to dis­cuss and even dis­agree on impor­tant mat­ters? What kind of rela­tion­ship, she asks, is built on the threat of the dis­so­lu­tion of friend­ship? Wouldn’t the more pow­er­ful rela­tion­ship, she con­tin­ues, be one founded upon a mutual com­mit­ment to jus­tice and sol­i­dar­ity with the oppressed? JVP’s rela­tion­ship with the Pres­by­ter­ian Church is a tes­ta­ment to that very point. And the rela­tion­ship, she says, between some estab­lished Jew­ish author­i­ties and Chris­t­ian fundamentalists/Zionists is a tes­ta­ment to how wrongly inter­faith rela­tions can go.

___________________________________________

“The Pales­tin­ian voices are heard, we hear them, and this [divest­ment] is what they are say­ing. I’m done with the patron­iz­ing colo­nial approach in which we tell peo­ple
how to lib­er­ate them­selves.

___________________________________________

Her point, in part, is that the Jew­ish com­mu­nity is divided on this sub­ject. There are many, not even just two, posi­tions within her com­mu­nity. And it is, she believes, “anti-Semitic to say that all Jews have a sin­gle opin­ion on divest­ment. It is an assump­tion that all Jews have a sin­gle and inher­ent trait.”

None of this is to ques­tion the real­ity of the fears expe­ri­enced by Israelis and other Jews through­out the world. What Elisha offers, rather, is a plea for an end to dissonance—the dis­so­nance between the scrip­tural man­date to seek jus­tice and the Chris­t­ian refusal to divest; the dis­so­nance between the Pales­tin­ian expe­ri­ence of exilic suf­fer­ing and an edu­ca­tion that often dimin­ishes, or even cov­ers up, a sim­i­lar Jew­ish expe­ri­ence; and the dis­so­nance between Jew­ish his­tory and the polit­i­cal choices many Jews are cur­rently making.

Here, for Elisha, is hope. It’s not that the suf­fer­ings are equal or iden­ti­cal, she says, but they are both real—Israeli and Pales­tin­ian: “If we can just learn our his­to­ries, we will begin to come closer.” But—and this is why divest­ment as a means to end Israeli oppres­sion of Pales­tini­ans is so essential—this mutual story-telling, this dia­logue of his­tory and expe­ri­ence, can­not hap­pen fully until peo­ple have equal seats at the table, until it is no longer a con­ver­sa­tion between occu­pier and occu­pied, but a con­ver­sa­tion between res­i­dents of a com­mon, mutu­ally sacred land.

Source: http://justiceunbound.org/action-alerts/action-news/israeli-woman-says-divestment-is-part-of-her-jewish-identity/ (Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice)

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