On September 18, Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa came to speak in my Peace and Conflicts Studies class titled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” This class exposes its students to every perspective under the sun surrounding the conflict, inviting speakers from all backgrounds and professions from Dani Dayan –– Consul General of Israel in New York –– to an expert in archeology in the Israel/Palestine region to relate their perspectives. When Abulhawa came to our class, she eloquently described the ways in which the conflict has touched her life and gave us her opinions on various issues. She opened the floor to questions when she was done speaking.
This past Friday, November 1, Abulhawa arrived at Tel Aviv airport on her way to the Palestinian Literature Festival that was being held in Palestine. This event is co-sponsored by the British Council. Upon her arrival in the airport, Israeli security officers detained Abulhawa for approximately 32 hours and eventually decided to deport her back to the United States.
I claim that it is fundamentally unjust to treat people in this way; Israel’s actions with respect to Palestinians are, in particular, antithetical to the teachings of Judaism and to the lessons extracted from our people’s history.
Abulhawa’s case is not unique; this refusal of entry to individuals of Palestinian descent for no reason other than their ethnicity is far from an isolated incident. In fact, barring Palestinians from moving into and out of their homeland is fundamentally entrenched into the Israeli state’s policies. Palestinians residing in Gaza, which is often referred to as an open air prison, are rarely granted exit visas, and those in the West Bank receive them arbitrarily. Furthermore, Palestinians living in the occupied territories are not permitted to leave the area through Tel Aviv airport. Residents of the West Bank must travel through Jordan and Palestinian Gazans must go through Egypt. In both cases, Palestinians must pass multiple Israeli checkpoints where their laptops are analyzed and they are subjected to extensive strip searching, questioning, and overall scrutiny.
My questions is as follows: How can a state claiming to be a democratic state with liberties and freedoms for all, a state built on the premise of functioning as a safe haven from persecution can engage in the project of forcing out a group of people based on their ethnicity, their religion? As Jews, we should be the first people to recognize that this kind of behavior and these patterns of oppression are unjust and must be combatted.
Another speaker who came to our class was professor Eve Spangler, who told our class that her Judaism is antithetical to Zionism, a sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more. I believe that Israel’s actions, different laws for different types of people, occupation, humiliation of Palestinians, and blatant disregard for international human rights law go against everything for which Judaism stands.
I would also like to make it clear that I do not condemn Israel’s decision to detain Abulhawa –– along with the other discriminatory and abusive actions the government performs –– in spite of my Judaism; I condemn them because of it. It is my people’s history of persecution that renders my understanding of Israel’s current oppressive actions towards people of other races and religions increasingly salient, exposing them as blatantly and unequivocally wrong.
I write these words looking through the lense of globally, historically entrenched antisemitism. As a people, Jews know ethnically-based discrimination and should therefore be the first to advocate against it. It is for this reason that I believe antisemitism has more in common with Zionism than it does with anti-Zionism. Zionism and antisemitism are both born out of the ideology of white supremacy and advocate for monolithic societal composition. Such ideology perpetuates the very things Jews and other minority groups have feared for centuries.
I am Jewish, and I am a writer. Israel would welcome me with open arms and even offer cost-free opportunities for me to enter their country. And yet, a celebrated author whose parents are refugees of the 1967 war is barred from returning to her homeland. This, I believe to be absurd.