I’m just returning back from J-Street U’s West Coast conference here at Occidental College, and feel reminded of the struggles that lay ahead of the two-state movement in Israel and Palestine, as well as hopeful. J Street University is a Jewish based organization that provides an alternative for youth who are pro-Israel, but also want justice for the Palestinian people. The organization is growing massively every year as the human rights abuses in Palestine are becoming more transparent, pushing Jewish youth to break apart from the rigid pro-Israel and anti-Palestine establishment. These youth are spreading a message that it is possible to advocate for an independent Palestinian state while still being pro-Israel.
Something common among all the J Street leaders at today’s conference was their personal struggle to break apart from the politically correct position that one cannot be pro-Israel without being anti-Palestine. At one point in their lives they too were against a two state solution and wished for a Greater Israel. But at some point in their lives, they decided to better educate themselves on the issue and tune out what their family, friends, and community were teaching them about Israel. The people here today are independent thinkers and brave for swimming against the current. As youth are becoming more educated on the issue thanks to organizations like J-Street and OneVoice, there is more pressure on the US and Israeli government to move toward the negotiation table. Being pro-Palestine and pro-Israel simultaneously is no longer a phenomenon, it’s beginning to be the norm. What I learned today is the importance to truly being pro two state solution is to be an actual advocate for both the states, Israel and Palestine.
As I listened to many of these students’ stories today in the conference, I heard a perspective that I suspect most people like me–Middle Eastern and Muslim, will never hear. It’s the stories about a strong connection to a country that many of these youth have never stepped foot in which many of us can relate to. It humanizes the Israel that’s image has otherwise been tainted by the Netanyahu government and orthodox Jewish communities. These youth have grown up with an Israel in their lives. They have grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles who live there. They visit every summer. It has indirectly become their second homeland outside the United States. What drives many of these youth is the “PTSD” of the Holocaust. As one Rabbi at the conference today explained, the Holocaust has had a generational impact on Jews around the world. Even though one has not lived through it, they feel the pain of the past. Iranians feel the same thing when they celebrate Ashura to mourn the martyrdom of Hussein. Christians are the same with the Christ of Jesus. These historical still shape how we act and think today. Even though these youth have not experienced the Holocaust themselves, they can still feel the pain.
The difference between this generation and the older generation is that they are channeling their pain and anger differently. They refuse to participate in what many regard as a second Holocaust, that of the Palestinian people. They see the plight of the Palestinian people as resembling their own diaspora; the Nakba as a smaller-scale ethnic cleansing. The treatment of Israeli Arabs as second class citizens. These youth refuse to support the injustice against the Palestinians because they see the history of the Jewish people reflected in them. They aren’t alone. A majority of Jews in the US support a two state solution.
If we were having this conversation in the earlier half of the 20th century, then my position would be entirely different. But we’re not having that discussion today when we talk about a two state solution. Just as these Jewish student leaders refuse to do to the Palestinian people what the Nazis did to them, we should not allow to do to Israelis what the Israelis did to the Palestinian people 63 years ago. I advocate for a two state solution not only because I want to see the Palestinians live freely, but also because I care for the Israeli people. As one Rabbi said to describe Palestinians, there are decent people out there willing to be your ally. The same goes for Israelis. Today I met those decent people willing to be our allies.
It’s important that we continue to listen to voices we normally don’t hear. Throughout high school my perspective on the conflict was shaped by my Palestinian and Iranian friends, but I never engaged in that much dialogue with my Jewish classmates on the issue. Now at Occidental, I predominantly work with Jewish students to advocate for peace. I have always been “pro-peace”, but now I feel a responsibility to be pro-Israel as well. The connection I feel with Iran is the same my friends feel with Israel. Albeit Iran was not created on another people’s land, what has been done has been done and we need to move forward. We can’t forget, but we can begin to forgive. That’s what the peace process is all about.