I remember traveling to Israel in December 2014 after the Gaza War. During the war, I felt deep despair and hopelessness reading about the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian children and seeing images of bombed out Palestinian hospitals. These feelings accompanied me on my trip. I went seeking Israeli and Palestinian partners that were committed to ending the occupation and to ground myself in a better understanding of what resistance and life were like there.
While I was there, I participated in a seminar where we were led to the beaches bordering Gaza. It was a cloudy, dreary day. I remember walking down the coast with my shoes off, the wind hitting my face, and stirring up the sand beneath me. I moved closer to my friends, thinking about the 1.8 million people who were living within the confined borders of Gaza only a few miles away.
We approached a hill where my group of mostly North American Jews gathered together for a discussion. Facing west, one could see the waves of the Mediterranean crashing onto the beach and then receding back into the ocean. Facing south, the distant barrier separating ourselves from the residents of Gaza. Despite our physical proximity, as tourists we would not be allowed to enter Gaza. Except for the approximately 5000 residents with work permits, they would never be able to reach us on Israeli territory.
While we gathered together, our trip leader began to talk about the war that summer. He discussed how in this place, missiles from Gaza threatened to target and destroy Israeli lives and property. If not for the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile-defense system, some of his family who lived in kibbutzim close to Gaza could have been harmed. Instead, the missiles landed on the beach that we were sitting on.
As the conversation continued, the speaker asked us who we would choose to have solidarity with — the Israeli Jews that had been the targets of missile attacks, or the Palestinians in Gaza sending missiles into Israel. I was shocked. The person leading this discussion had just asked me to make a choice between my Israeli friends and family and the Palestinian residents that had been victims of raids and bombings all summer.
When I think about what occupation means to me, I think about this moment. I think about the question that was posed to me on that beach, that people on either side of this conflict are forced to make every day. And this year marks the 50th year of occupation. Generations of Palestinians and Jews have had to make this choice over and over again. Not only is this dichotomy morally bankrupt, but it is dangerous and threatening to the lives of millions of Palestinians. If we continue to pose this question as a method for defining Jewish solidarity, human lives will continue to be at risk.
The occupation must end now. I don’t want to live in a future where Palestinians and Jews are intentionally separated. I don’t want to continue to participate in Jewish communities that are centered around fear of others. I want to build Jewish communities in the United States and Israel that will resist in solidarity with marginalized and silenced voices. As an expression of my Jewishness and Jewish values, we must seek an end to ongoing occupation.