An Eloquent Response to My Last Post
Following my last post on Jonathan Kuttab’s memoir, The Truth Shall Set You Free, I received this message from friend and blog reader Ilene Lerner, who I know from progressive civic activities in my community. I asked if I could share her comments and her name, and she said that would be fine:
The day the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution to implement the partition of Palestine, I was 5. I was too young to have been told about the Holocaust, although I knew something terrible had happened because I could feel the pain in my grandparents’ and great aunts’ voices when they let slip a word about the “Old Country.” I had no idea where the “Old Country” was and I often wondered why my grandparents never called it by name. I was in my 20’s when I learned that my grandmother had come from Lviv, Poland now a part of Ukraine.
The evening of November 29, 1947, I was standing in the small kitchen of my Aunt Ada and Uncle Sam’s home in Bensonhurst, New York, with them, my mother, my step-father, my Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Joe. The grown-ups were intently listening to the news being broadcast on the radio sitting atop my aunt’s refrigerator. I was squished up against “the frig” and could feel the cold entering my body as each delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations cast their vote yes or no on the resolution to partition Palestine. My relatives maintained silence on each no and screamed with joy at every yes. At the time, I was told delegates were voting on whether or not to establish the state of Israel. Excitement mounted with each yes vote and when the resolution passed, my relatives erupted into cheers and tears. I asked why they were all so happy and I was told that now all the homeless Jews in Europe would now have a country and a home to go to. It seemed like a wonderful thing to me at the time.
I became aware that there were people who had been displaced to make room for the Jews was when some young Palestinian representatives visited my fourth grade class in Levittown, Long Island, New York. These young people told us kids how the Palestinians had lost their homes in an armed struggle following the U.N. decree. I was befuddled. I did not comment or ask any questions, but other students, who were Jewish, claimed that the land the Palestinians had called home was rightfully the property of the Jewish people according to the Old Testament. I was surprised when the Palestinians did not accept this claim, believing the land that had been their home for thousands of years was theirs by right and had been stolen from them. We had the Bible, but they had the Koran as their historical authority. Now I realized that there was another side to this issue, another history and I felt troubled, not knowing what to believe or whom to support. Where could Righteousness be found in this situation?
In the years that followed I became interested in American history. My step-father, Bernie, took me with him to the library every two weeks and suggested serious books for me to read. I soon found my own way to books about the Indigenous peoples of the United States and learned the shameful story of how they had been mistreated, how many had been massacred, so that Europeans might confiscate their homelands. Then I moved into reading about the enslavement of Africans, the indenture of the Irish. At 13 I was given The Diary of Anne Frank to read and I learned about the Holocaust. Watching movies about the Holocaust informed me of just how badly the Jewish people had been treated by the Nazis and other Fascists; millions, including members of my own family died in concentration camps, in our case Auschwitz. I was assembling pieces of history in an attempt to understand why the world was the way it was, why there was so much injustice, why people inflicted so much pain on each other and most of all how people could be so cruel, even to babies, children and old people.
In 1967 the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab countries got my attention. This was the war that resulted in the seizing of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. The more I learned, the more I began to view the Palestinians sympathetically, as I did Indigenous people, Blacks, Jews.
I never visited or desired to visit Israel because I could not tolerate the way the Palestinians were being treated by Israel! I hated to see my people doing to others what had been done to us throughout our long history. I witnessed the Gaza being turned into the world’s largest open air prison. I saw young and old Palestinians being arrested, shot, killed, imprisoned in Israeli jails. I saw Israel evicting Palestinians from their ancestral homes in the West Bank so that Jewish settlers could move in. However, I noted with joy that many Israelis stood and still stand with the people of Gaza and want the violence and persecution to end.
In my young adulthood I realized I did not know anyone who thought as I did, or maybe I did, but they too were afraid to voice their views. Instead, I kept my opinions to myself, fearing the wrath of my relatives and the Jewish community who might see me as a self-hating Jew, even an antisemite. Today the threats are the same, I may find myself disliked, hated, threatened, but at my age I have lost the fear that previously held me back from speaking my truth.
The day after Hamas raided Israel, committing atrocities, killing over one thousand Jews of all ages, kidnapping 227 Israelis, a friend greeted me and then immediately followed it by announcing that, she wouldn’t care if Israel killed every man, woman and child in Gaza. I held up my hand, palm forward, like a policeman directing traffic, for her to stop! I told her never to say such a thing to me again! “
Two days later she started to repeat this to me, but I knew what was coming and I emphatically told her, “STOP! You are hurting me!”
My friend looked stunned and puzzled.
“Think about it !” I urged her. How would you feel if the government came to your home and told you to leave it forever because Ukranian refugees needed a place to live?
“What if you were Palestinian? Can you put yourself in their place for a minute? What if a member of your family were mistreated, imprisoned or killed by the Police because they were peacefully protesting? What if your daughter or son were killed just because they were Palestinian and someone felt threatened by them or just wanted to harm them because they hate all Arab people or Muslims, or assume they are all terrorists? Ibelieve the government of Israel wants to drive out the Palestinians and take the Gaza. I want a Cease Fire now and humanitarian aid to replace the rockets and bombs! I want the killing to end! We are being forced to watch a genocide in process every day! I can’t stand it! How can you?
My friend paused, looked at me with incomprehension, and after a few moments asked, “How can you, a Jew, feel this way?”
“Because I am a Jew!” I replied.