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50 Years of Occupation: Six Days of Jewish Nonviolence

Center for Jewish Nonviolence
Jerusalem, Israel
Leadership team

Ilana Sumka; Brussels. Founder & Director

Ashley Bohrer; New York. Senior Campaign Organizer

Isaac Kates Rose; Jerusalem. Palestinian Partners Liaison

A. Daniel Roth; Tel Aviv. Israeli Partners Liaison

Shlomo Roth; Toronto. Campaign Organizer

Alice Mishkin; Ann Arbor. Leadership Development Consultant

Moriel Rothman-Zecher; Jerusalem. Strategic Planning

Erez Bleicher; Chicago. Delegation Leader

Oriel Eisner; Denver. Jewish Educator

Prize category
National/International
Operational
1 – 3 years
Target audience
20s & 30s, Adults, Baby Boomers, College Students, Educators, Jewish Professionals
Categories
Advocacy, Coexistence, Community Building, Experiential Learning, Israel, Jewish Education, Social Justice, Spirituality, Text Study

We are Diaspora Jews partnering with Israeli and Palestinian nonviolent activists for a future of peace, justice and shared humanity for Israelis and Palestinians. It’s been fifty years since the Six Day War. Israelis and Palestinians are unable to resolve their conflict diplomatically, resulting in periodic terror attacks on Israel and generations of dispossession and statelessness for Palestinians. Israel's aspiration to be a state of Jewish values can never be realized in the context of military occupation. Just as the Torah’s Yovel challenges us to redistribute land in the fiftieth year, so too must we end Israel’s 50-year military rule.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Jewish Nonviolence is not yet as well known as Dr. King’s Christian influenced nonviolence, or Ghandi’s Hindu influenced nonviolence, but Jewish tradition is rich with examples of nonviolence, from the Torah to today.

Shifra and Puah may be among the earliest examples of noncooperation with unjust laws by refusing to obey Pharoah’s orders to discriminate against and slay Hebrew children. Today, laws in the occupied territories discriminate against people because of their ethnicity or religion. This system of separate and unequal does not uphold Jewish value of kavod ha-briot, human dignity, considered among the most important of Jewish values. Just as Shifra and Puah did not comply with Pharoah’s unjust decree, we will not comply with discriminatory, unjust laws.

Our tradition tells us that Honi Ha Magel drew a circle around himself to protest the unjust lack of rain, effectively saying to HaKadosh Baruchu: “I shall not be moved.” Part of our work is engaging in community development projects that support Palestinians’ right to live in their home communities in the West Bank, not to be moved or pushed out by illegally built settlements. Many of us have done Habitat for Humanity builds with our synagogues, or volunteered on global service-learning programs with American Jewish World Service, building schools and community centers in Nicaragua and Senegal. In July 2016, we volunteered as Diaspora Jews to build a community cinema in Hebron as a joint project between Palestinians and Israelis. Unfortunately, extremist settlers who didn’t like to see Jews and Palestinians working together complained about us to the Israeli army and police, and we were told we had to stop our volunteer project. In keeping with Honi Ha Magel’s tradition of steadfastness and the call for tzedek, we said to the authorities: we shall not be moved.

Perhaps most famously, in the twentieth century Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that he was praying with his legs when he marched in Selma with Dr. King in the civil rights movement. Dr. King famously said, “no one is free until we are all free.” The call for solidarity runs deep in Jewish tradition. It is the unspoken answer to Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Jewish people call upon the global community to support our right to freedom, to dignity and to equality, rightly so. Equality for us means equality for everyone.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

In an era in which young Jews are told they are unwelcome in Hillel because of their commitment to Palestinian human rights, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence affirms that supporting equal rights is in fact a deeply Jewish value. In an era in which there is literally an online blacklist, as reported in The Forward, of Jews and others who support Palestinian human rights, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence creates space in the public sphere to encourage robust and diverse debate in the spirit of “machkloket l’shem shemayim.”

In just over a year, we have brought 98 Diaspora Jews, predominantly from the US but from Europe and Australia as well, to Israel and the West Bank on three different Jewish Nonviolence delegations. Our participants join in direct, hands-on Jewish nonviolence campaigns: replanting trees on a farm where the Israeli army uprooted hundreds of fruit trees; harvesting olives with a community subject to harassment by extremist settlers; and a joint Jewish-Palestinian local cinema building project. As one participant described:

“The Center for Jewish Nonviolence trip clarified how nonviolence activism is not only a successful strategy for confronting structural oppression but also a framework for practicing both Jewish values and solidarity.”

In each of our delegations, we incorporate workshops that address how we, as Jews in the Diaspora, relate to Israel. Facilitated workshops include an emphasis on Jewish identity, turning points in our relationship to Israel, and navigating the complex identity as Jewish social justice activists working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition to our international delegations, we have hosted a monthly webinar series on Jewish Nonviolence taught by rabbis and leading Jewish activists. Topics have included “Strikes: A Traditional Mode of Jewish Nonviolence” and “Signal to Noise: Cognitive Dissonance, Nonviolence and Invisibility in Israel/Palestine.” The online platform allows for diverse participation, from the East Coast to the West Coast in the US, as well as from Europe and Israel.

After each delegation, our participants bring their experiences in Israel and the West Bank directly back to their home communities by writing extensively for their local synagogues, newspapers and blogs. We also organize public speaking engagements around the country, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, New York and Boston, directly impacting hundreds of people, many of whom may be learning about Jewish nonviolence for the first time.

Our work has been covered extensively in the Jewish press, including articles in the Forward, the JTA, the Jerusalem Post, and an extremely popular piece in the English language edition of Haaretz by Peter Beinart, who personally joined us in the summer of 2016. Our media on Jewish nonviolence reaches thousands of readers in the American Jewish community.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

After participating in our programs, our participants come out stronger in their commitment to pursuing Jewish social justice and more committed to working for a future for Israelis and Palestinians that exemplifies the Jewish value of B’tselem Elohim.

“Participating in this delegation was renewing and rooting. It allowed me to live my values as a Jew alongside other Jews from all over the world while listening deeply and acting in love and solidarity with the Palestinians who welcomed me into their homes and their struggle. This has been one of the most important experiences of my life.” - Participant evaluation; July 2016

“In working with CJNV this summer, I gained a deep and nuanced understanding of the situation on the ground in the Occupied Territories. I participated in inspiring nonviolent activism led by Palestinian and Israeli organizers working each and every day to end an unjust and untenable situation. And I came away with an even stronger motivation to bring what I learned and saw back to the United States, to educate my home Jewish communities about struggles that are too often ignored.” - Participant evaluation, July 2016

“It was extremely meaningful to learn from Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activists challenging the everyday injustice and humiliation of the occupation about how we, as American Jews, can support them in their efforts, from our local communities and in the region. The act of the group planting trees on Daoud Nasser's Farm where the IDF had destroyed trees, was a simple way of expressing so much: an acknowledgement of the injustices Palestinians suffer daily under occupation; a message of support and hope from American Jews for Palestinian self-determination.” Tree Replanting Delegation, - Participant evaluation, February 2015

It’s not just our Jewish participants who are moved by our campaigns. We work closely with Palestinian nonviolent leaders, many of whom have only met Jewish soldiers and Jewish settlers and are meeting Jewish peace activists for the first time through our joint campaigns:

“My name is Murad Amro. I'm from Youth Against Settlements, I'm a nonviolent human rights defender. I'm so glad our friends are here from US, from different places, especially the Jewish groups. We appreciate your support for the Palestinians and for peace. This is something that we will never forget. We will teach it to the next generation: that there are so many good Jewish friends in the world. They are supporting peace, they are against racism, against the Occupation... So thank you for coming. You are welcome, all … Thank you so much. Peace to all of you.”
- Murad Amro, Palestinian partner, Hebron, July 2016

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

We grew up singing “Lo yisa goy el goy herev, lo yimaldu od milchama,” Nation shall not lift up sword against nation and neither shall they know war anymore.

The most powerful moment we’ve ever sung that song was in Hebron, singing with Jews from the US and around the world, while standing next to young Israeli soldiers who have only known war for their entire lives. “Lo yisa goy el goy herev.” The words of this song are not meant to be an elusive fantasy. “Im tirzu, ein zo agada.” If we will it, it will not be a dream.