I grew up going to Jewish day school. For 12 years, I was constantly exposed to Israelis and encouraged to be an unwavering supporter of Israel. I’m now 21, a college graduate, and can see that the events occurring in the Israel-Palestine region are far more complex than were explained to me. I don’t unconditionally support the government of Israel anymore and can recognize that, in many ways, it’s incredibly problematic. My goal here is to encourage individuals outside of Israel-Palestine to recognize and consider the humanity of individuals in Israel-Palestine in their advocacy related to the regional conflict.
To preface, I’d like to dissociate the theoretical framework of Zionism from the way it’s used in typical political dialogue. Zionism, as a theory, is the belief that Jews as an ethnoreligious people are entitled to a self-determined homeland. This belief is not tied to the land where Israel is currently. You can be a Jew, and a Zionist, and hate the current government of Israel.
First, Israelis are not Israel; Palestinians are not Palestine. It’s an important acknowledgment that a lot of folks have personal attachments to Israel or Palestine. People who grew up in Palestine know people killed by the IDF, and they, as well as their families expanding beyond the region, naturally are emotionally linked to hatred of Israel. In the same regard, an Israeli who tucks their children into bed within a bomb shelter can understandably hate Palestine/Hamas. These individuals are not at fault for the actions of their government. Neither one should blame the other. Too much dialogue around the actions of Israel against Palestine and vice versa focuses on Israelis and Palestinians instead of their governments. Israel and Palestine are countries — they should be talked about that way.
In the diaspora, people will often take the side of those with whom they’re most associated. It’s understandable why an American Jew will side with Israeli families and an American Muslim will take the side of Palestinian ones. It’s critical, though, to remember that neither the American Muslim nor the American Jew is complicit in the actions of Israel or Palestine and, many times, are not wholly aware of what’s really happening.
Second, using language around settler colonialism is misleading. The land dispute in the region predates the bible. Israelis and Palestinians both have legitimate indigenous claims to the land. Thus, it is not possible to colonize it. However, indigenous claims to lands do not guarantee the right to govern them and certainly don’t condone killing those who are not a part of said indigenous group.
Israel’s actions within the West Bank (read: occupation) are inconsistent with the borders given by the partition plan or those drawn in either 1948 or 1967. These actions in the West Bank overwhelmingly harm Palestinians in loss of both rights and life.
Regardless of ancestral claims to the land, Israel’s militant operations within the West Bank are demonstrable violations of human rights. This criticism is not of the people who live in Israel or Jews. It is a criticism of one of the most powerful governments in the world. The Israeli government is involved in the same political games as most developed countries. It should be held to the same standards. Israel has nuclear weapons; it can be scrutinized like other countries with them. I speak out against the acts of Israel in the same way I speak out against the United States — neither making me antisemitic nor anti-American.
This brings me to my third point. Notwithstanding the actions of the Israeli government, boycott is counterproductive. Consider queer Israelis, Israelis of color, and non-Jewish Israelis who are also oppressed (on different scales) by the Israeli government. These people are not served on any level by the boycott of the government of Israel. Boycotting only works to concentrate the level of financial and political support for conservative groups within Israel. In supporting the Palestinian struggle for equality, we should also support the struggles of Israelis oppressed by the same coalition. If Americans who opposed the Trump administration boycotted the election, he would still be president and minorities in the United States would continue to be oppressed by that administration’s policies. The same logic applies to Israel.
Those who oppose the government led by Bibi Netanyahu should not boycott, but instead support politicians and policies in Israel that work towards ending the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of marginalized people in Israel. To achieve the goal of a safe home for everyone, civic engagement is most impactful. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are largely performative and will not move the region towards peace.
Most Israelis and Palestinians want the same thing. They want to be able to walk outside without fear of injury or death. They want to put their children to sleep in bedrooms, not bomb shelters. They want to live in peace.
They want to live in the land of milk and honey, as was promised by their ancestors.