By Deb Kraus
Malchuyot is about majesty, kingship, power.
Because this past year I finally visited Israel and Palestine, I can’t think about power without thinking about the abuse of power. We don’t usually tackle this problem from the Bimah and while I know what I’m about to say is pretty mainstream in our core community, I am aware that some visitors may be shocked by my candor. But Marge Piercy challenged us in a poem last night, “where have I spoken out? Who have I tried to move?” And the message I picked last night from theblessing box said, “may my words
So here goes:
Our group went to several Palestinian communities where power, on the part of the Israeli government, and the soldiers and settlers they support, has been institutionalized:
Ir David (city of David) is a national archeological site in disputed territory that appears to exist solely to document the presence of ancient Jews, so as to lay claim to the area. 18 year-old soldiers stand around in their crisp brown uniforms chatting with each other uzi’s strapped to their belts. In Silwan, which is where Ir David continues to expand, Palestinians are being thrown out of their homes, and to add insult to injury, they are expected to pay to have their homes demolished.
On another day, we picked olives near Bethlehem with a Palestinian family whose home has been destroyed not once, not twice but four separate times. We used our power as Jewish Americans to prevent them from being bullied during the harvest.
But the situation which was the eeriest to me happened when we visited Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust Museum. We were stunned to realize how many of the same tactics were used by both regimes. For example, people’s homes are routinely broken into in the middle of the night and those detained have no due process. Palestinians can’t travel without going through slow , crowded checkpoints and out-of-the-way airports. It is illegal for our guide, a Palestinian Christian, to live with her husband, an Arab Israeli. Palestinians have few rights and no voice, and constantly live in fear that their basic needs will be taken away, if in fact, they ever could count on them at all.
I know what collective trauma can do to a people, and I want to emphasize that I get “never again,” truly I do. But in this case the new Israelis made the calculation that military strength and personal intimidation, humiliation, were the ways to insure “never again.” And over time. this results in those 18 year-old soldiers I mentioned already, acting like this is normal. And it results in settlers, some now in their third and fourth generation, militantly believing that this land, which is clearly within Palestine, is indisputably theirs.
And so the oppressed became the oppressors. Most ironically, of course, this has not resulted in peace or security for anyone.
I knew about all this, of course. I’m a good progressive Jew. But to see the many facets of this was mind-numbing. And as an American Jew, this happens in my name. In all our names.
Sheila Weinberg, who we just quoted in her prayer for peace in the Mideast, was our trip leader along with her husband Maynard. One day she pondered, “Jews never had power before. And you never know how you’ll deal with power until you have it.” This was after visiting Hebron, where settlers daily rain garbage and human waste down on Palestinian merchants… just meters away from where Abraham—Ibrahim—is buried.
While the Mideast is not simple, the overall message is: Power is so easily misused.
So as we rise and prostrate ourselves for the Grand Aleynu, let us think about our relationship to our power and privilege and vow to become more aware of it. And to stand up for the powerless, in our groups but also beyond them. Do what you can, when you can, even if just so Marge Piercy’s words don’t sting as much next year. For awareness is always the first step towards change.