It’s Time for the Palestinians to Come Home

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, as Palestinians in Gaza continue to protest for their rights for over six weeks in mass demonstrations, and as the U.S. is opening its embassy in Jerusalem, JVP shares a collection of opinion pieces and commentaries by its members and leaders. This post is by JVP member Dorothy M. Zellner


Surprising as it is to people who know me personally, I have admiration for many rabbis, although I am a dedicated atheist. These rabbis, a bridge for the people, carry with them all the legends, all the arguments, the necessary ethics and morality. They study. We may disagree with them, but they give us a context to remember. They tell us stories. My favorite is:

The Rabbi explains that a stork is not kosher, despite the fact that it satisfies the rules for what usually makes birds kosher, and is altogether sweet and peaceful and very nice to other storks. But the Rabbi explains that this is exactly the problem: the stork cares only for its own kind. That makes it an unkosher animal.

I ask you to consider this.

I thought about it when I read the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz a few weeks ago. The figures are atrocious. As of April 24, according to the paper (which quoted the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have killed 40 Palestinians and wounded 5,511 in protests at the Gaza-Israel border since March 30. I repeat, 5,511 wounded! (Of the wounded, 454 were minors.)

The overwhelming majority of those killed and injured were civilians, and the overwhelming majority of them were peaceful. These were not accidental deaths or collateral damage. The IDF admitted it: they tweeted, “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.” The Guardian (UK) reported that “the tweet was later deleted.”

These figures are unendurable.

For decades we have been running away from several essential truths:

Fact one: There is such a thing as the “Nakba,” catastrophe in Arabic, and it concerns the 750,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced to leave their homes in 1947-1949 following the creation of the state of Israel. It happened. We all have to acknowledge that it happened and that it is real.

Fact two: UN Resolution 194, passed by a big majority in December, 1948, gave Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, if they wished to do so. This right has never materialized. Instead, it been subsumed in complex diplomatic language regarding final negotiations, negotiations that have not happened for 70 years. (I don’t care whether Palestinians left because someone told them to or whether they decided their lives were in danger or whether some of them thought it was a good time to take a vacation. They still had the right to go back to their homes, just as you do.)

Fact three: There are actually people in Israel who do believe that it is time for Palestinians to come home. There’s even a Jewish Israeli organization, Zochrot (the female form of the Hebrew word for “remembering”), that tries to educate the Israeli public about this, and leads tours into villages that were once Palestinian and forests where trees obscure village ruins. They do things like host conferences where architects and city planners explain how, in fact, Palestinians can actually come back. Go to their website (Zochrot.org) and you will see that they think what imperils the Jewish people is not the return of the Palestinian people but rather the policies of their own state.

As an activist in the Israel/Palestine movement, over the years I’ve had many discussions/furious or hysterical arguments with people who strenuously disagree with the facts that I’ve just presented. They want the Palestinians to “get used to it,” to stop being “pawns” by “deliberately refusing” to live elsewhere permanently. Some of these encounters are remarkably similar to those I had decades ago with other angry people, this time in the Southern civil rights movement, who simply could not believe that Black people were unhappy on their own and not because some “outside agitator” had “stirred them up.”

Not only did the Nakba happen, it’s still going on. Life in Gaza is a catastrophe. Electricity and water are severely curtailed; the health system is breaking down; unemployment is rampant. Some people can stand on the soil of Gaza and see the homes they used to occupy, in Ashkelon and other towns. They have braved life and limb for something quite simple: they want to go home.

There’s another rabbinical story that I am fond of:

The rabbi asked his students: “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”

[The students made many suggestions, all of which were refused by the rabbi, who then said,]

“It is then,” said the wise teacher, “when you can look into the face of another human being and you have enough light in you to recognize your brother or your sister. Until then it is night, and darkness is still with us.”

[from the book “Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith” by Henri Nouwen with Michael J Christensen and Rebecca J Laird (HarperCollins 2006).]

How long can this go on? It’s time to step away from the darkness. We need to take the unpopular but soul-saving actions that demonstrate we care not only for our own kind.

It’s time for the Palestinians to come home.

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For a discussion about kosher animals and birds, see: https://www.ou.org/torah/parsha/parsha-from-ou/the-stork-and-what-its-name-means-for-us/

For facts and figures in this article, see: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/40-dead-5-511-wounded-un-figures-on-casualties-in-gaza-mass-protests-1.6030556 and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/31/weary-angry-gazans-bury-dead-after-deadly-border-conflict



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