A courageous rabbi shares his journey to Palestinian solidarity
Rabbi Brant Rosen speaks at Drake University on April 29, 2013. More photos from Rabbi Rosen's talk are available here.Photo: AFSC / Jon Krieg
“The news out of Israel and Gaza today makes me sick to my stomach,” wrote Rabbi Brant Rosen in his December 28, 2008 blog. “No more rationalizations. What Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza is an outrage.”
The AFSC-Middle East Peace Education Project recently partnered with the newly formed Drake Middle East Peace and Prosperity Alliance and eight co-sponsoring community groups to bring Rabbi Rosen to Des Moines for a public forum at Drake University. (Photos from the event are available here. Rabbi Rosens answers to Iowans' questions are here.)
With over 100 people in attendance, Rabbi Rosen shared his journey from “liberal Zionist to Palestinian solidarity activist.” Having grown up in a family with a strong Jewish identity and having spent vacations in Israel and his early adult years on a kibbutz, his path was a slow and difficult one.
As is true of many liberal Zionists, Rosen was troubled early on by some aspects of the founding of the state of Israel and the subsequent occupation. “Little voices,” as he called them, nagged him in the middle of the night demanding answers about the creation of an exclusively Jewish state in a part of the world that was very diverse; the forced expulsion of Palestinians to make way for the new Jewish state; and Israel’s policy directions based on what’s called the “demographic threat” – that is, the population growth of the Palestinian people.
Rosen comforted himself with assurances that it would be better when the two states were established. The phrase “It’s complicated” became his mantra, and he stored his questions away in a “lock box” in his head, hoping never to have to open it.
“My resolve began to chip away in 2006 with Israel’s war on Lebanon, and the siege on Gaza,” Rosen said. Israel’s 2008 Cast Lead assault on Gaza, which he called “both crushing and brutal,” was the final straw for him.
Rosen no longer finds hope in the two-state solution, saying “That window has closed” due to Israel’s settlements construction and the forced displacement of Palestinians from areas that had been set aside for the Palestinian state. Letting go of the two-state “illusion” opens a space for serious thinking about new possibilities that include equal rights for all who share the land.
Up until now, Israel has not had to get serious about solutions. “It does what it does because it can,” Rosen said. Nobody, certainly not the US, has held it to account.
The emergence of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign coming from within the Palestinian nonviolence movement offers new hope. “Such nonviolent resistance is a time-honored way that oppressed people have resisted their oppression – whether it be the Montgomery bus boycott or South Africa’s BDS,” Rosen said. “The question for us in the US is—will we answer that call?”
Rosen is a congregational rabbi in Evanston, Illinois, a co-founder and co-chair of the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, a regular blogger at Shalom Rav (www.rabbibrant.com), and the author of the recently released book Wrestling in the Daylight - A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity.
Further thoughts and resources
While Rabbi Brant Rosen courageously works for a just peace in Israel-Palestine, the US Congress and the Obama administration continue their biased support for Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation. Following the 2008-09 and the November 2012 Israeli assaults on the sieged Gaza, Congress passed Orwellian resolutions affirming “Israel’s right to defend itself.” In April 2013 President Obama proposed increasing annual US military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $4.1 billion.
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