Time for Jewish political leaders to act against annexation

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Palestinian demonstrators argue with Israeli forces during a protest against Jewish settlements and Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, in the Palestinian town of Asira ash-Shamaliya July 10, 2020. (Photo by Raneen Sawafta/REUTERS)

By Zev Rose

Special to WJW

I grew up steeped in the Montgomery County Jewish community. At Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Congregation Har Shalom and Camp Ramah, I was taught to love Israel — and those same institutions also imbued in me a firm commitment, grounded in Jewish values, to speak loudly against injustice.

I recently returned from 10 months living in Israel/Palestine where I committed myself to better understanding, and at times directly resisting, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In the South Hebron Hills, I met and volunteered alongside committed Palestinian activists who courageously practice non-violence to protect their families and communites from the daily violence they face at the hands of radical settlers and the Israeli military.

One Friday last October, I traveled from Tel Aviv to Al-Tuwani, a small town in the South Hebron Hills, to clear rubble from a family’s home, demolished by the Israeli military. When we arrived, a Palestinian activist in the region told us that the Israeli military had already demolished the home three times in the previous six months – one of hundreds of homes demolished by the Israeli military in the area in the past year.

On that occasion and many others, I saw firsthand the daily toll that the occupation takes on innocent Palestinians trying to live safe, healthy and meaningful lives. I witnessed the ways in which the Israeli government supports and enables settler expansion and violence, and I learned about the ongoing, systematic efforts to dispossess innocent Palestinians of their land. Finally, I encounter the Israeli military’s use of “security” to justify violations of human rights, like travel bans, unprovoked beatings and arrests of minors.

The scope and intensity of the Israeli military’s abuses, and the strategic growth of settlements, have increased over the past decade, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership — and the far right’s radical dream is now the next step: formal annexation. Netanyahu’s plan to annex large parts of the West Bank formalizes what the Israeli government has been working toward for decades: permanent Israeli control over Palestinian land and total dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people.

American politicians and Jewish communal leaders have expressed their opposition to Israel’s human rights abuses and the most recent annexation plans — but what they fail to recognize is that de facto annexation already exists, and that American tax dollars are funding the growth and entrenchment of a cruel and dangerously efficient system of occupation and expropriation.

Countless strongly worded statements and backroom conversations between American Jewish leaders, American politicians and Israeli politicians have not stopped Israel from violating Palestinian human rights and international law. And even as those leaders have criticized Israel’s actions, they’ve continued to protect billions of dollars in unconditional military funding, enabling the actions to continue.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our leaders have the power to halt the abuses unfolding on the ground — if they choose to use it. It requires putting conditions on the military funding we give to Israel, a response that a range of Democratic politicians — from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — are now courageously proposing. But these proposals sorely lack Jewish leadership, especially in the House.

Like many young Jews, I am unwilling to accept a status quo where politicians pay lip service to a two-state solution while passively allowing a one-state reality to deepen on the ground.

Now that I am back home in Maryland, I am looking for Jewish leaders in my community — who have championed progressive values for as long as I can remember — to step up in this moment. They have a special responsibility to uphold the Jewish value of tikkun olam and counter Jewish Israel hawks like Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) who, for too long, have said that unconditional support for Israel is the best way to keep Jews safe.

Political leaders, and Jewish political leaders in particular, must lead in this historic moment by fighting back against annexation and supporting proposals to condition military funding to Israel on upholding human rights. They must respond, urgently — not with empty words, but with real action.

Zev Rose is a member of IfNotNow, a former Dorot Fellow, and a proud member of the Montgomery County Jewish community. He has a master’s degree in international development from American University.

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