Occupation LOLz – The Full Collection

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My awful sense of humor run amok — and years of frustrated pro-peace, anti-occupation activism — produced my collection of occupation-themed LOL Catz. Here there are all collected from my profile on icanhascheezeburger.com and reposted to Flickr, conveniently showcased in the gallery below:

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Peace out, Jerusalem

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After a week and a half, I’ve reached the end of this journey. My airport shuttle hurtles through Jerusalem neighborhoods, swooping up bleary-eyed 2 am passengers airport-bound. The hills are as black as the night sky, making the highway down from the Jerusalem hills look like a rollercoaster in outer space. House lights on opposite hills become arms of the Milky Way, orbiting past.— By divine providence, the radio is playing— “Streets of New York” by Alicia Keys and I can’t help but smile. Time to go home.

I am reinvigorated, recharged, galvanized anew. Unlike my first visit, I come away not with a feeling of embattled loneliness but crackling excitement. Being a great activist is greatly about being a great storyteller — and I come away with both inspirational yarns and disturbing anecdotes. Doing this work requires finding hope, however small, in the actions of— tzadikim on the ground here. The prognosis is bad, the occupation’s steamroller crushes lives daily, and the politics are ugly. But aside from newfound urgency, I bring back with me new plans, projects and connections that will turn the tide.

Activists on the ground are so utterly bereft of hope. They see their country continue to appropriate Palestinian land day to day, settlements rise despite the freeze, and the Israeli public remain apathetic if not outright hostile. They know they are few in number. But what they can’t see from their individual trenches is the vast community doing this work together. The percolations of a “new left” bubble out and reach our ears in the Diaspora. They are coming out of dormancy, asserting themselves with vehemence despite their limited numbers. And they’re winning small but important victories.

Meanwhile, the increasing number of Diaspora Jews who’ve been to the territories and maybe even made a Palestinian friend slowly but surely reach important— echelons— of communal leadership at home. There is a sleeper effect, waiting. And the sudden advent of J Street has altered the status quo in Congress, still yet to actualize its full potential. And I know of similar J Street projects now budding across the furthest reaches of Diaspora Jewry.

And what the activists on the ground cannot see is themselves: fighting the most important battles, standing up for Jewish-Arab equality, flexing democratic muscle, refusing to lay down the cause even when it is unpopular. They do not see how inspiring they are. They do not know how crucial it is for us out here to see them fighting in there. When the country seems to be striving as hard as possible to scuttle our connection, what saves my belief this country is worth saving? Them. Their laughing in the face of adversity, their 14-hour work days fighting for someone else’s rights. Scrappy, sunburned, impulsive, single-minded.

Out here in Diaspora, we owe them every ounce of matched passion. If they can sacrifice so much, then so can we. The State of Israel is not core to my being nor to my Jewish identity, but its progressive leaders are exemplars of a vision I am chasing for all societies. Their example fuels me. Can we inspire them in turn? Can I? Do they need — as I do — reinforcement by example? It is only fair to give them back what they gave me in spades: a sense of fraternity for those of us who live and breathe this issue.

They are all saying these days that a change will not occur within Israeli society, but must come from another player. The status quo is rooted in all parties — America, Europe, Israel, Palestine — and if but one of them shifted, we could break free. American Jewish communal politics is key and symbolic communities abroad like— JCall are important. Our role is crucial. After the crash of post-Oslo, we are rebuilding, reconvening, reviving.— For what are you waiting for?

New purpose, new projects, new people. These are what I’m bringing home to New York City. I came here and rolled up my sleeves, and as I return home, those sleeves are still up. In more ways that one, it’s time to get back to work.

Peace out, Jerusalem.

(And more after-the-fact posts about my trip coming still. Cross-posted to Jewschool.)

The Fraternity

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There is a special family of Diaspora Jews who have been deeply changed by our time in Israel and the territories to which I belong. It’s a— fraternity of those scorched so deeply by witnessing what goes on there that we now can’t work on any other issue.— The centrality of our Jewishness within addressing not just injustice but our injustice eclipses all other laudable causes.

It comes not from a day or two or meeting one Palestinian or two. I mean those like me who have stood in the rubble of a house demolition and had the (former) residents try to console us for their loss. I mean those like littlerose who was handed responsibility at her job for saving a dying woman’s life by getting her out of Gaza through last-ditch diplomatic appeal, because all legal routes via Israel had failed. I mean those of us who’ve been to Hebron and seen the ghost town of Shuhada Street and worked with the families shuttered in curfew. I mean those of us who regularly crossed checkpoints between the tanned dustbowls of Palestinian villages beneath green oases of settlements permitting Jews only.

We try at times to leave it be, to continue life, to move on, “broaden our horizons,” and yet each exploration fades beneath the burning impossibility of forgetting.— Every interest we have or would work on hence is colored by the question “Is this more important than the issue that already haunts me day and night?”

Athough it is for the same goal, my work in the States is very different than my activist experiences in Israel. At home, I am an organizer: educational events, campaigns, marketing, teaching volunteers, leading meetings, setting agendas, building collective vision, maintaining listservs, web design, copyediting…I work in an entirely Jewish environment, working on programming to reach that community and, in the words of Last Trumpet, wake them up.

This then is the difference: at home I never see the subject of my work, Palestinians who live under occupation. I care for Israelis, but there is no way they suffer most under present situation. Israelis still have freedom of movement, freedom of livelihood, and so many more national rights enjoyed by Jews both Israeli and Diaspora. At home, I never see them. Yet here, I am side-by-side with them. It is an ingredient otherwise wholly missing in my New York life.

My eyes water when I realize how many memories of living and working with Arabs have been boxed up and set aside in my memory. They are largely— unpalatable— in common conversation, too intense for most contexts, and typically saved for rhetorical usage. Only when certain conditions prevail do they come rushing upwards from the basement of my psyche. Or when I found myself three days ago in Ramallah, guiding my compatriots to attend JustVision’s screening of Budrus. (See my post on Jewschool about that amazing experience.)— The memories plague and wreck havoc on our priorities. We feel crazy for caring. We go sane in an insane world. The urgency eats at us and yet the world begs patience.

As with all great passions, we want to talk about it constantly. And yet within our home American Jewish community, it is precisely the issue avoided the most. The hostility to those unable to set aside an unconditional “love” for Israel makes us all look over our shoulder. I am lucky enough to work for a progressive Israel foundation, where my politics are welcome. But for those in any other line of work, the fear is paralyzing.

It is only among the fraternity then that we can feel at home. We are alone even in crowds unless with those who know, who’ve seen, who feel. Having mentored many, I am always at a loss to explain coping methods. You will never lose the rage, I counsel, but you will learn to channel it, store it, call upon it when needed later. You won’t ever be able to speak your mind completely, not unless you’re willing to lose your audience. And there are too many eager to paint you as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist if you charge ahead recklessly.— And some time down the road, you will grow distant enough to lead a normal life. Still active, for sure, but the overwhelming urgency will calm. But it will return in spikes, surges, flashfloods when given the change, albeit further and further between. You’ll never be totally free of it — nor do I think you want to.

My one consolation to them: the fraternity grows. Its membership includes the most motivated, articulate, creative people I know. Meeting them, I love them immediately and they have my solid loyalty. We share a secret covenant with God, beyond our own volition, to serve a greater cause. We are the chosen Chosen. And we grow slowly but steadily.

When I returned to the States in late 2004, there were so few. And I had to build my own communities friendly to my passion. Now there is an explosion of anti-occupation activity in the Jewish community, there are venues for activism as Jews within the community, and the conversation is more open than ever before.

And most importantly, I say, we need your leadership. With a groundswell of progressive organizing, now more than ever we have leadership roles across Jewish communities in America (and the UK, Australia, South Africa) which need capable, passionate leaders who can convey the immediacy, the outrage, the care and love. There is nothing the right-wing can say to first-hand experiences, nothing a weekend warrior activist can do to compete with you, fresh from Israel and burning with indignation.

This cause needs grand leaders. We are lucky to have grand leaders who’ve never even been to Israel. But you are special, chosen, elected, empowered in ways nobody else can be. I need not convince you too hard — I need only suggest, for I know that for you as for me, the passion will guide you inexorably to the right decision. The fraternity welcomes you, loves you, and needs you.

“Are you here for community, or to build an effective lobby?”

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JJ Goldberg asked this question Tuesday morning at a much-reported J Street conference panel with Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Chait. Navelgazing afterwards, it’s clear to see that two conversations were occuring in parallel:

  1. How do we solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
  2. Can I have some “oppressed Jewish left and— happy to be out of the closet” therapy time?

And I don’t blame these people for holding conversation #2 and I don’t blame them for finding their way to the J Street conference. Having done this work for 5+ years and found my own community (built it, actually) I do not need the therapy for myself. But I beleive it is unavoidable as we open up the conversation. People whose political views— never been validated before will absolutely need that space to be excited, thankful, and giddy.

As an aftereffect, people who are ecstatic to be around a more open conversation will need to search their heart and soul for the willpower to belong to an organization. One organization is not a movement — which is why there were 20 official conference sponsors and a plethora which came anyway: Tikkun Magazine, Jewish Voice for Peace, CODE PINK, and others. The conference belonged to an organization, although it was attended by a movement.

Since this was the first conference, there will be plenty of people who come, hear the conversation, and discover that they’re not comfortable coming again. These will be the ardently pro-Palestinian, the one-staters, those who can’t stand the I-love-Israel credential vouching, or those who squirm at speaking as American Jews. And those who stayed away waiting to see the results may stay away for another conference (or two) until J Street has time to prove it will not suddenly endorse Hamas.

I don’t need the therapy anymore, but I benefited from my own community’s giving to reach this point. Overcoming victimhood viz a viz being a political minority took some time, some whining, some chances to buck up, and some finding of places to channel my righteous indignation. We cannot look down on the attendees of JJ Goldberg’s workshop who clearly used the event to work through their own allegiances.

However — I believe it vastly important to channel that relief into productive actions. Thus it irked me a little bit that of the 1200 conference attendees, some 500 went home early and skipped the visits to legislator’s offices on Capital Hill. The lobby visits are the manifestation of political power and every body counted. It is now the task of J Street’s new grassroots field program — formerly Brit Tzedek v’Shalom — to sift through these one-time attendees and find leaders for the local chapters.

So I’m agreeing with JJ Goldberg’s retort to his audience full of whiny, label-haters. I— too rolled my eyes with impatience and disagreement as I listened to them. For those who can’t abide J Street’s parameters (pro-Israel, pro-peace) then there are other organizations for you (see above). But I also defend the role of community in our organization.