From Discovery to Life Changing Journey: A Jewish Man's Story from the Heart of Palestine
By: Ned Rosch/Arab America Contributing Writer
Palestine and my journey of discovering: the most Jewish thing I can do is to proudly support the Palestinian struggle for justice!
Indian writer Arundhati Roy explained, “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.”
For a brief but remarkable week and a half, I had the amazing privilege of being part of a health delegation to Gaza in November 2014. To be there just two months after Israel’s murderous 2014 war on the people of Gaza was to catch a glimpse—through the painful stories I heard and the overwhelming destruction I witnessed—of the grotesque horror of those 51 devastating days. The bombed-out structures were everywhere. The grief; pervasive. The trauma; intense.
I saw haunting skeletons of homes, people living in bombed-out buildings and mosques, hospitals, and factories reduced to rubble. In heavily destroyed civilian neighborhoods, Palestinian people were living in makeshift structures of cardboard and blankets, surrounded by utter devastation. The impact of witnessing families squatting next to what was everything they had owned and what in a matter of seconds had been absolutely wiped out took my breath away, as did a large busted-up slab of concrete with names spray-painted on it of family members buried under the mounds of debris, a woman sitting on the rubble staring vacantly off into the distance, and a wedding party celebrating amid ravaged buildings.
Imad, a nurse who works full-time and had not been paid for over a year, invited me to meet his family. When asked how they survive with no income, Imad shrugged his shoulders and pensively posed the question, “What can we do?”
While walking through an area that was heavily bombed by the Israelis, I was approached by a man who offered me a large manuscript covered with the dust of blown-up neighborhoods. He motioned for me to follow him across the street to a huge mound of debris. As we climbed up the pile, avoiding broken glass, twisted rebar, and busted up concrete, he pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of quite an attractive and well-maintained home—his home. He explained that we were standing on that home and that absolutely everything had been destroyed except for the manuscript, his doctoral dissertation, a literary critique of the works of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
This professor, who had lost it all, was insisting that I take at least part of what remained of a life. Possibly, this professor was saying that in spite of all the destruction the Israelis could unleash at will, there was one thing they could never destroy: ideas—not only about Pound and Eliot but also about the restoration of justice to a people who have suffered unimaginable brutality, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing.
It’s difficult to make sense of how the occupation and siege of Gaza, which is slowly but very steadily crushing the life of over two million people, can be happening in today’s day and age. Imad’s question, “What can we do?”, always echoes in my head. Some of what I can do is clear: a stronger commitment to, as Arundhati Roy says, speaking out and to doing my part to grow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), a principled non-violent response led by the Palestinian people. My commitment is further to assert the Palestinian struggle more broadly and more intersectionally.
In Gaza, I left behind friends and a piece of my heart—a heart that was broken many years earlier by the conflict between what I had been raised to believe about Israel and what I had come to learn was its darker reality.
Years ago, I sincerely believed I was being more than open-minded when I tried to hold to the conviction that there were two legitimate and distinctly different narratives—one Jewish and one Palestinian; two fundamentally irreconcilable claims to the same piece of land, and that was why the conflict was so unresolvable. But what was really unresolvable was the battle that thunderously raged in my head and even more vigorously in my heart. I had become a progressive on every issue, but when it came to Palestine, I was extraordinarily torn up. Named after a Holocaust victim, how could I contribute to undermining the Jewish struggle to reconstruct a post-Holocaust decimated people and the state of Israel that had so recently come into existence?
With time, my dual narrative world began to significantly fray at the edges, and eventually completely unravel. Probably the crushing blow came when a Palestinian friend asked me why so many Jews have such a hard time recognizing the urgency of incorporating the Palestinian experience into the Jewish understanding of history. He challenged me to see not two separate conflicting narratives, but one history of what actually happened. That challenge took me on one of the deepest and most rewarding journeys of my life: the struggle to fundamentally reconcile my politics around Israel-Palestine with my core values, and ultimately understanding, in the essence of my being, that my true liberation as a Jewish person is now forever intrinsically bound up with the authentic liberation of the Palestinian people. Zionism imprisons not only Palestinian bodies but Jewish minds as well.
The breakthrough for me was the ultimate realization that in supporting the Palestinian struggle I was upholding Judaism’s highest values and reclaiming them for myself in a profoundly meaningful way. For years I despaired that the intersection of the ethical teachings of Judaism with the political ideology of Zionism might be a windfall for Zionism but would likely lead to the spiritual death of the faith. I am now more convinced than ever that the essential work of reclaiming Judaism from Zionism, through proudly standing as allies with the Palestinian struggle has the potential to unleash a deeply reflective, profoundly ethical and long-overdue reimagining of what it means to be Jewish. In solidarity, in a struggle, with humility and hope, we turn the page to our next chapter.
About the author:
Raised in an observant Jewish family that strongly identified with Zionism, and named after a great-
uncle killed in the Holocaust, Ned Rosch grew up with a deep connection to Israel where he worked on a
kibbutz and studied at the Hebrew University. As he developed friendships with Palestinians, he became
increasingly conflicted about his Zionist upbringing and his growing understanding of the Nakba.
He ultimately came to understand that tribal loyalty must never trump a commitment to justice, and now stands in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and a belief that his own liberation as a Jew will never be complete until there is justice for Palestine.
Learn more about his story here: https://www.interlinkbooks.com/product/reclaiming-judaism-from-zionism