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Violence Done in Our Name

This is the fourth in a series of essays by feminists responding to the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians

I was born in Jerusalem, and my family has been here for over 10 generations. I feel deeply connected to the beauty and history of this land. Seeing another round of violence unfold from Jerusalem, where I live these days, I now understand that Jewish people cannot sugarcoat the state-sanctioned violence we’re witnessing anymore. It is so important for us to name it.

I see this as ethnic cleansing committed by the State of Israel towards Palestinians. For far too long, US Jewish institutions and communities have ignored or denied oppression of the Palestinian people.

In the last few days, the violence of the Israeli government manifested itself by ordering the displacement of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem where they have been living since 1956. While the Israel Supreme Court has delayed ruling on the evictions, Israeli police suppressed peaceful protests with force, injuring over 300 Palestinians. They attacked Muslims praying in the Jerusalem mosque Al Aqsa – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, throwing smoke grenades, stun grenades and rubberized steel bullets during one of the holiest times of the year for Muslims – the last week of Ramadan–in response to stone-throwing. And then the IDF bombed Gaza, with more deaths reported all week.

With our consent or not, this violence is done in the name of Judaism–in the name of my religion. For me, Judaism is a sacred tradition, teaching me how to connect to God, spirituality and community. The Jewish rituals and values I practice cultivate in me a sense of justice, truth and peace. Displacing and oppressing others is antithetical to my Jewishness. 

Perhaps it would be more convenient and comfortable to not see, and hold onto an idealized version of Israel. This narrative that Israel is a moral state is taught in Hebrew schools, camps, and Jewish institutions. I am one of many younger Jews who has watched the reality on the ground contradict what I was taught. In Jewish circles, to push back on this narrative and disagree with this, you can be silenced and sometimes even ridiculed. But we must understand that this choice to turn away from the truth on the ground is upholding racism and perpetuating cycles of violence. Justice—and Jewish tradition—demand of us that we be courageous to see the truth of suffering. And Jews around the world still hold to the idea the idea that today’s Israeli government is a democratic moral regime. 

Right-wing settlers who desire to ethnically cleanse Palestinians openly advocate for the “Judaization of Jerusalem.” Organizations like Nahalat Shimon International and Ateret Cohanim openly preach Jewish supremacy and terrorize Palestinians daily in East Jerusalem. These organizations are US-funded and backed by the Israeli police, the IDF and the Israeli government. 

My heart hurts from this ongoing murder and racial oppression. This level of cruelty & brutality cannot continue.

American Jewish progressives often wax poetic about the values of freedom, social justice and liberation found in Judaism, especially when we are fighting on domestic issues. But somehow when it comes to Palestine, we turn away. We know this in our own hearts. We deny the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people. We preach about ending white supremacy in the United States, but deflect, deny and deter examining Israel’s racist policies. 

We have grown accustomed to desensitizing our hearts – not feeling, not seeing, not believing the truth of the pervasive injustice committed by the State of Israel. When Hamas retaliates, we hide behind their violence and evil to brush away the violence committed in our names.

One of the manifestations of intergenerational trauma is an obsession with our own narrative and struggle. Our traumas hide the pain of others. We shut down from the harsh realities of violence committed in our names. We fail to see the ways we oppress because we are fixated on our own historical oppression. But we cannot allow for this anymore. Every one of us must do our part to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Whatever form of power you have, now is the time to use it. 

I write this from Jerusalem, where tensions are high and the situation is unstable. Palestinians belong to this land too. This truth cannot be undone by any bulldozers or displacement. There are moments in history that ask of us – do we have the courage to stand up for justice? Or will we be one of the many enabling the ongoing vicious cycles of pain and trauma? This is a moment for us to rise to the challenge of facing truth, pursuing justice and ending the erasure of Palestinian experience.

Hadar Cohen is a multimedia artist, educator and healer. She is the founder of Feminism All Night. To learn more about her work visit hadarcohen.me.