Guest post by Lex Rofes

If you had asked me “what’s a military occupation,” when I was growing up, I probably would have simplistically answered, “A soldier. Or maybe a doctor who takes care of the wounded.” In short, I would have thought you were asking “What are the different occupations — i.e. jobs — that members of the military do each day?”

I had no idea what it meant for a nation to “occupy” someone else’s territory. At school, we never talked about that. And at my Hebrew school, or Jewish camp, or Jewish youth group? Certainly not.

If you had told me that Israel was “occupying” the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem, I actually would not have understood, on a basic level — as p’shat, we might say in Jewish text study — what you were communicating to me.

The fact that I didn’t know what an occupation was until I reached college is deeply sad. The fact that none of my classmates, or cabin-mates, or youth group buddies, could have defined the term either is nothing short of tragic. When I finally did learn about the occupation, I was angry and resentful towards a set of Jewish institutions that, actively or passively, obscured this devastating reality from me for my entire childhood.

Israel has held Palestinians under its control without granting them basic freedom and dignity for five full decades. A “temporary” reality that emerged in the wake of the Six-Day War has continued its destructive existence for 50 years. “Temporary” is not a word I use to define twice the length of my lifetime thus far. “Ephemeral” is not a word I use to describe half a century.

It is long past time for American Jews and all human beings to reckon with the horrifying reality that is the occupation. Palestinians in the West Bank are treated as subjects, under military law, while Israelis in the same location are treated as citizens, subject to civilian law. The latter are eligible to vote in Israeli elections — the former are not, despite the fact that they face the consequences of those elections with every uprooted olive tree, every checkpoint, and every home demolition.

For too long, we have sat idly by as the Palestinian people are oppressed by a government that claims to represent all Jews around the world. But I will not be spoken for by a set of right-wing Israeli leaders who use the concepts of Jewish safety to brutalize millions of people. Instead of being spoken for, I will speak out. Against the devastation that is fifty years of occupation.

I must act now because I cannot watch this for fifty more years. The occupation needs to end.