These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Two Days in Bethlehem

Posted on January 3, 2014 by Alanna Kleinman

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From my blog:

One week ago I spent two days in Bethlehem with a group of 15 American Jews, on a trip run by Encounter (

Lonnie KleinmanImmediately after the trip, I knew I had to write about it. I won’t pretend that I can accurately convey my experience in words, or share everything with you. I must highlight that my experience is my own- I can not speak to the feelings or thoughts of the other participants. I will say I want to try and share how I felt, what I thought, and how the experience has impacted me. I want to share with you. I hope my experience inspires something inside you; after going on Encounter, I think it is one of the most important things a person can do while visiting or living in Israel. I urge you to leave my words behind and experience for yourself.

Over the course of two days, we heard from a host of speakers. The first speaker set the tone for powerful stories of pain, violence, and perseverance. Ali spoke to us about being raised educated by a system that taught him to be angry. He admitted to taking part in the first intifada, to being angry and hurt and wanting everyone else to know. In prison, he entered an education system in which he learned Hebrew and English, and studied non-violence. Ali was eventually released an continued to practice non-violence. After being shot in the leg by a settler, and learning that his brother was shot in the head at a checkpoint, without reason, a group of bereaved Israeli families reached out to him. Though Ali’s story is quite moving, his compassion took my breath away. He spoke of learning about the vast history of victimization that has come to define the Jewish narrative, that Jewish fear is the biggest threat to Palestinians. Fear is what drives victimization of the other, and the way to fight fear is not with violence.

Ali’s words really struck me because I know that fear intimately. That fear told me from a young age that when we say “never again,” the hidden message is that there will be those that try again, but we have to be strong enough to stop it. My narrative, my history, teaches me never to trust the other. But without trust, our future is filled with pain and with fear and with uncertainty. Without trust, we become the oppressors.

A few different speakers touched upon this fear, they noted that the Jewish people want a place to feel the majority, to be in control of life. I struggle with this. It’s a meaningful desire and a beautiful one, but at its core this want excludes everyone else, it creates something insular and untrusting. I’m not sure where to go from here, but I think admitting fear and opening up is an important first step.

Later that day, we heard from a panel that consisted of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, a student living in Hebron, and a social worker from Gaza. These three speakers shed light on the complexities of issues at play in each person’s life, regardless of place. All the speakers touched upon the limits to every day life: movement is severely restricted by checkpoints all throughout the territory, and “floating checkpoints” can show up at any moment. Permits are needed to go anywhere outside the West Bank, and are not easy to secure. The wall, the fence, whatever it is, separates Palestinians from Palestinians and severely restricts movement throughout the West Bank. Water rations haven’t changed since 1967, and new wells can’t be dug. I won’t attempt to factually depict life, or all the limits placed on it. The very point is that there are limits. And the people living with these limits live ten minutes away from me, in land controlled by the state of Israel.

Later that night, we were joined by Palestinian youth leaders and our host families to play some games. After the games, we went into small group sessions.

I heard from young girls, who described their experience of seeing any solder as feeling as if their lives was in danger, of being terrified. I was struck by the contrast between their association with Israeli solders and my own: I see a uniform and I feel safe, I feel proud. How can the same person, wearing the same uniform mean such different things for us?

We went around the circle and I shared that I live and study in Jerusalem and immediately, the man sitting next to me asked me:

“Do you have any Palestinian friends?
Do you interact with anyone in east Jerusalem?”

I wasn’t sure what to respond. I was a bit embarrassed. When I said no, that I don’t interact with Palestinians in my world, he turned to me and said:
“Now you have Palestinian friends.”

I think this interaction sums up my journey: frustration at myself for totally naivety and isolation from the narratives of Palestinians, disillusionment of the reality of these populations, and hope for a future inextricably bound together.

There’s so much more I can share with you, but for now, I think I’ll stop here. Immediately after my experience on Encounter, I felt as if the air had been sucked out of me. I was angry and my anger drove me to tell myself I could never actively choose to become a citizen of a state that behaved this way, I could never make Aliyah. The truth is, I think that’s the easy way out. I think it’s okay to be angry but turning my back because something hurts too much helps no one, including myself. We should feel the freedom to be critical of our own, to be guiding of our own, not just accept and justify what takes place.

From the moment I was born, Israeli citizenship was waiting for me. I hate this fact. I hate that without even wanting it, I can have an Israeli passport while millions of Palestinians, born in this land, do not know that right. I hate that I can move freely as I please all throughout the country, without a second thought.

I love that I am profoundly aware of my status in this place. My privilege causes me guilt, and pain, but it’s something extraordinary that I never want to take for granted.

I also love that from the moment I was born, there was an Israeli passport waiting for me. I love that this is my Jewish state. But I’m ashamed and deeply saddened by the way my Jewish state acts towards the other. There is a startling disconnect between Jewish morals and the very real actions of a Jewish state.

My hope for the future is that fear ceases to be a catalyst of action.