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Palestine is the genocide that we as Jewish people can halt

We cannot allow the moral soul of Judaism to perish with our collective silence on Israel's genocidal war on Palestinians in Gaza
A sit-down protest in solidarity with Palestinians is held in Brighton railway station, UK, on 8 November 2023 ( Middle East Eye/Joe Gill)

I sit down to write this - a love letter for my treasured Jewish people - as a genocide unfolds on my screen. 

This letter pours from my heart to yours. It is a call to action to rise in solidarity with Palestine. I have such deep tenderness for us, our history, and the proud traditions we have preserved through centuries of unspeakable injustice.

Like some of you, I grew up attending synagogue in a progressive American Jewish community. Celebrating and supporting Israel was part of what it meant to be culturally and religiously Jewish. 

When I first came to understand what was actually happening in the occupied Palestinian territories, I was 18 and enrolled in my first year of college. A Jewish peer told me about the abuse Israel commits in our name. 

I’m not proud to admit that the fact she was Jewish is likely the only reason I listened: I was taught by my community that only Jewish people can truly understand how important Israel is for our safety and wellbeing. Looking back, I wish I had believed Palestinians sooner. 

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Palestinians are the authorities on their own freedom struggle. But the indoctrination and fear instilled in me as a Jewish child was too strong to overcome, until the bubble of Zionism burst.

When I first came to learn about the extent of Israel’s ongoing brutality against the Palestinian people, I struggled to believe it. My Jewish elders taught me about justice, human rights and the Jewish moral mandate to cultivate social change and “repair the world” (tikkun olam). 

How is it possible that my own people could omit the truth about Israeli apartheid and occupation? I was taught that Israel was founded on an empty plot of land, not that Zionist terrorist squads raided villages, killing 15,000 Palestinians and forcibly displacing 750,000 more in the Nakba. Like me, did they just not know? 

Zionist fallacy

The line that “everyone who criticises Israel is antisemitic” felt increasingly flimsy in the face of a mounting list of war crimes committed by Israel. If everything taught to me about Israel wasn’t true, what else was a lie? 

And what would this mean for participation in the Jewish community going forward, given that virtually all of my Jewish peers are still tacitly or actively invested in the fallacy of Zionist nationalism?

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Once the denial faded, the rage set in. We have been lied to by people we trusted; deceived so that we would cheer on an apartheid state that abuses children and tortures mercilessly in our name. Jewish youth, including myself, have been implicated in a 75-year, ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people. 

There have been tremendous, unfathomable human rights abuses committed under the guise of protecting Jewish livelihood - when in reality, a settler’s quiet peace is made possible only by continued Palestinian repression. There is no safety for anyone under occupation.

No one told me that the birth of Israel required the death of Palestinians, an ethnic cleansing conveniently swept under the rug

We were taught that Israel represented a whisper of refuge carved out for Jews after the Holocaust - something precious that we must protect at all costs. It was “the only nation for Jewish people”, our homeland, our birthright: Israel. 

We were taught intrinsic entitlement over a piece of land on the other side of the earth. Israel was a second, optional home for us - but the story conveniently omitted that Palestine is the one and only home for Palestinians, who have tended to the land for generations. 

Israel still denies Palestinians visitation rights and the inalienable right to return home, but as a Jewish person born in California, I can visit whenever I want, and Israel will even pay me to move there and live on stolen Palestinian land. 

I wasn’t taught that Israel is funded to the teeth by the US, functioning as a strategic western imperial outpost for natural resource extraction, weapons testing, US police training, and more. No one told me that the birth of Israel required the death of Palestinians, an ethnic cleansing conveniently swept under the rug so that Jewish people could have something shiny and clean; that it was a militarised nation founded on piles of scorched Palestinian bodies, a Jewish homeland built on mass indigenous graves.

Decolonial freedom struggle

The story of Israel is not new. It is deeply familiar to colonised peoples the world over. It perpetuates the same white supremacist, colonial lie that settlers arriving to Turtle Island (North America) told themselves to justify the genocide of indigenous peoples: that in the name of progress, modernity and democracy, the coloniser must demolish, kill and destroy. 

Under this lie, the coloniser must pillage the land as manifest destiny, from “sea to shining sea”, and violently execute as many of the “savage native terrorists” as possible to expand territorial gains and build safe homes for settler families. 

Palestine is not engaged in a holy war; it is a decolonial freedom struggle. Palestinians did not choose Jewish people to colonise their land, and they have a moral and legal right to resist occupation, regardless of who the occupier is. Jewish safety is a non-starter, so long as the violent occupation of Palestine persists. Our liberation is bound together as one.

A Palestinian boy rides his bicycle past the rubble of a building after Israeli air strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 22 November 2023 (AFP)
A Palestinian boy rides his bicycle past the rubble of a building after Israeli air strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 22 November 2023 (AFP)

We are at an unprecedented moment in history. A genocide is unfolding before our eyes, as bodies pile up in mass graves outside of bombed hospitals and refugee camps. A global solidarity movement for Palestine has pierced through the veil of western comfort - a jailbreak from the prison of blockade. 

And as the US-backed Israeli military continues to rain down bombs on the besieged people of Gaza, many of my fellow Jewish people are sitting back and watching, or actively cheering it on.

With our silence, Jewish people globally are co-signing this genocide. Many have calculated that it’s “too complicated”, with the threat of being alienated from friends, family and colleagues. We don’t want to risk anything real. 

Delusional asymmetry

But Palestinian families are being murdered while they sleep, brutalised with burning white phosphorous, sniped in hospital maternity wards, starved and made to suffer from dehydration and a lack of clean water, and forced on death marches. They are pulling dead, bloodied children from the dusty ruins of bombed rubble. 

And yet, my Jewish peers in the West say they are the ones who fear genocide. This delusional asymmetry must end so that we can point resources and attention towards those who face an actual threat of extinction in this completely preventable massacre of human dignity.

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The call from Palestinians at this moment is clear: ceasefire now. End the siege on Gaza and the illegal occupation. Respect the right of return. Palestinians are asking us to bear witness to their genocide, pressure our representatives for an immediate ceasefire, and boycott those profiting from the illegal occupation. Every day without a ceasefire, the death toll increases and Israel wipes more lineages from the public record.

Palestine is the genocide that Jewish people can halt. We couldn’t intervene to stop millions of our ancestors from perishing in death camps, but we can and must stop this genocide from continuing one more day. Let us not squander our urgent, sacred duty by exploiting Jewish suffering as a shield and cudgel for violence against Palestinians.

If you consider yourself a Jewish person of conscience, understand that there is no moral or legal justification for this massacre. The time to speak is now. Palestinians can’t wait for history to redeem them, because the air strikes continue to beat down as I write this letter of love and rage to you, my Jewish kin. 

We cannot allow the moral soul of Judaism to perish with the sound of our collective silence on genocide. Let our voices be a prayer for our Jewish ancestors and a blessing for our descendants to say once and for all: never again.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Amanda Gelender is a Jewish American anti-zionist writer based in The Netherlands. She has been part of the Palestinian solidarity movement since 2006. She tweets @agelender.
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