By Lawrence Lefcort
As most middle-class Canadian Jews, I was raised supporting Israel. I loved Israel, from the moment I stepped onto her sacred ground, as a fifteen-year-old on a high school summer trip. I remember driving on a bus driving through the Negev desert, my whole being vibrating as I looked out over the landscape. I felt a deep connection to the land, almost inexplicable, but entirely real. This was the Jewish homeland.
I am a Jew who believes in the health and vitality of the State of Israel and in the importance of having a just, open, and democratic Jewish state. This essay is not written to blame one side or the other in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but rather to highlight each side’s responsibility in continuing to fuel it. Any form of attack or aggression on innocent civilians is rejected and abhorred, whether by non-state or state actors, whether by the Israeli army or by Palestinian or Israeli extremists. As human beings, we have the responsibility to honestly confront grievous acts done on both sides.
The fallout from my recent trip to Palestine in August 2009 has been great. It continues to impact me in deeper and deeper ways. The more I learn about what’s really going on in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the more I see first hand the suffering of innocent Palestinians, the more I am forced to ask myself: What is being done in my name?
I am concerned about the future of the State of Israel. I worry how decades of militarization of Israeli society impacts present generations and how it will impact future generations. I shudder at the costs of more than forty years of occupation – material, psychological, emotional and karmic.
Throughout my life, I had complete faith in the integrity and vision of the Israeli government to do what was best for Israel, its citizens and for Jews in the Diaspora. But now I am not so sure. Since my trip to Palestine, I have been asking myself how I could have been so blind to the suffering of so many innocent Palestinians? I knew about it, but I didn’t want to look at it. I justified away its existence. How is it that an entire population has been allowed to suffer for so many decades? Since my trip, I have been thinking that everything I’ve ever learned about Palestine and Palestinians was wrong.
I always cringed at the people who compared the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories to what happened in the Nazi camps in Europe. I could not and would not believe that the Israeli army (who considers itself the most “moral” army in the world) would ever act in such a way. As a Jew, to even consider that possibility, would shatter my whole image of what it means to be a Jew. It would destroy the very fabric of my existence: the faith I have in the humanitarian integrity of my fellow Jews.
However, as I have learned through trips to the occupied Palestinian territories over the last three years, we have not acted at all like Jews. The systematic destruction of Palestinian homes and the displacement of thousands of innocent lives continue unabated. We are acting like aggressors in a land that is not ours.
I now understand why I did not want to look at this conflict for so many years. Why I turned away from it, shut it off. It was because I was afraid to face the reality of what is really going on. I was afraid to confront the hidden truth about the suffering of the majority of innocent Palestinians. Something that is grossly under reported in the world media.
Through my travels in the Palestinian territories, it is my conclusion that the majority of Palestinians very much want peace with their Jewish neighbours, despite the hardship they have had to endure for over forty years of occupation. Palestinians, like Jews, value friendship and love, and care for their families. We are more alike than we are different. And this is something that goes against the images we generally have of Palestinians in the West.
I want to be clear and say that in no way am I condoning the acts of Palestinian or Israeli extremists who preach hatred and violence. But we must understand that these forces represent a small minority of the population and that they rear their ugly heads mainly because the Israeli army has literally stifled any outlet or means for Palestinians to peacefully and non-violently voice their opposition the occupation.
Through my travels into the West Bank, I have witnessed a severe imbalance of power in this “conflict”, skewed heavily on the side of Israel. I witnessed how the Israeli government is literally “choking off” the normal functioning of Palestinian society through a maze of laws, military orders, planning procedures, limitations on movement, unrelenting bureaucracy, settlements and infrastructure . I witnessed acts by the Israeli government that in many international circles are being defined as war crimes.
I write this out of deep concern for the future of Israel. I worry about the seeds of violence and aggression that Israel is sowing today, in order to achieve goals of expansion and control. Seeds sown that if not stopped, stand to come back and haunt us in the future. What would our grandparents and great-grandparents, who had to endure the horrors of the holocaust, think of how we are treating an entire population under our occupation? How would we be judged by them?
 “Obstacles to Peace: A Re-Framing of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”, Jeff Halper, ICAHD Publishing, p.48