Guest post by LEE-ALISON SIBLEY
Back in the 1960s when Hollywood was making a number of movies based on biblical stories, they came out with Orson Welles as King Saul in “David and Goliath.” I was a little kid when I saw this movie, but I remember identifying with little David who yes, played beautifully on his harp, and used his slingshot with divine accuracy. I also remember the monster Goliath – he was huge and ugly and represented the Philistines, our enemies. I cheered in my head and my heart for David to defeat the monster and he did, so that I could feel the good guys won and God was indeed on our side, the side of the Israelites.
Like any idealistic Jew, though not religious, I went to Israel to work on a kibbutz in the summer of 1971. I was in the south, near Eilat and the border with Jordan. Young and naïve, I was friendly with everyone I met — the Sabras of Israel, the Christians in Bethlehem, and Arabs in Gaza. In Gaza? Yes, I was there with a British fellow from the kibbutz who was picking up some cane furniture he had ordered. I wasn’t supposed to be there, of course, and when an Israeli army jeep spotted me, my friend was in big trouble. “Get her out of here immediately!” was the order he shouted. I guess it had something to do with my appearance and that there were no other women on the street at that time. Like I said, I was friendly with everyone – my parents did not raise me to hate, they raised me to love. The Israelis tried to make me feel guilty for not staying in Israel, but I kept saying, “I’m an American, my home is the U.S.A.” Still, I certainly supported Israel and every person I met there had lost someone, a family member or a friend in a war and I felt very sad for them and angry that they lived with the constant threat of attack.
In 1973 I was in New York City in graduate school when some of my Israeli friends came by my apartment to say “good-bye” as they were going home to fight in the Yom Kippur War. At the time there is no doubt that my loyalties were with Israel and I wished them well and prayed for their safety. Little David, go and defend yourself again.
That was then.
At what point did Israel lose the moral high ground for me? Perhaps it was not just one thing, one event, but a number of events one after another. And I have to say as well that many Israelis want peace with the Palestinians and support a Palestinian state –I have friends in Israel who have long worked for the rights of Palestinians and oppose the Israeli Government’s actions, but their voices are too often drowned out by a government that does not listen to them. The results? The Wall. The Settlements. The subjugation of the Palestinian people for many years. The deadly force used on civilians in the name of defense.
The Israeli West Bank barrier is a 430 mile wall to keep out Palestinians from Israel, to limit their movements within the occupied territories and to further the reality that the land which was once theirs is no longer. After all, what is a wall but something to separate people. I was distraught when the wall was built and thought that this was just another way to keep two peoples apart and to prevent peace from happening, and that is what it is doing.
But the settlements, perhaps more than any other single element pushed me to stop my support of Israel. I didn’t really focus on this problem until the numbers of settlers started to swell enormously. At the time of the Oslo accords in 1993 there were 110,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and 146,000 living in East Jerusalem. By 2013 those numbers had increased to 350,000 in the West Bank and 300,000 in East Jerusalem. That means that more and more Palestinian land has been confiscated to allow for the increase in the Israeli population. The Israeli Government helps subsidize the housing, education and business development in the settlements and encourages the reality of having more Jews within its borders since it always feared that the higher birth rate among Arab families would unbalance the politics of the Jewish state. The settlers are often right-wing religious fanatics with large families who vote for policies that do not support peace for Israel and the Palestinians.
For too many years now the Palestinian people have been an oppressed people living without basic human rights. They often do not have access to adequate health care, education, sanitation, legal services or water. They go through roadblocks, gates, checkpoints and all kinds of restrictions on a daily basis. They are under constant scrutiny and can be detained without a clear reason why. Palestinians are not given the respect human beings should be given and this has gone on for years and years. This treatment by the Israelis has turned moderate Palestinians into radicals and I believe resulted in the election of Hamas in Gaza.
Finally, we come to the recent use of deadly force in the name of defence. Yes, of course Israel has the right to defend itself when attacked. But does this recent attack look like defence? To me and to most of the world it looks like aggression, vastly disproportionate and indiscriminate. Perhaps it was Hamas’ intent to provoke David into becoming Goliath and if so it appears they are winning. The carnage the IDF has inflicted on Gaza has lost the Israelis globally any good will they once had. Except for the USA, no one stands with them any longer. It is past the time, Israel, to remember who David was and to be the boy with the harp, not the monster Goliath. I am a Jew and my heart is broken – you, Israel, broke it.
[Lee Alison Sibley is a teacher and a performing artist and the author of the book, ‘Jordan’s Jewish Drama Queen.’]