From Extend:


Judy Roth, an Extend board member, is a mental health practitioner committed to the need for reckoning with historical and current calamities. Below she shares her reflection on a visit to Israel-Palestine earlier this summer. 

I walk with my kids in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on a Friday afternoon soon after I arrive. We hear the siren signaling the start of Shabbat. Small groups of Jews cascade in the area, while Palestinian shopkeepers back out of their way to make room for the continuous stream in religious garb. We walk out through the Jaffa Gate, now walking upstream, as more crowds descend. It is otherworldly and in so many ways surreal. A tourist entering Mamila or the Jaffa Gate could be confused by the balloons, performances, and site-seeing train to the Kotel. It is a Jewish Disney World of sorts, a world of mass consumerism that obfuscates. I stop in to see the Armenian potters and try to read their faces. 
“This is a very distorted and problematic and beautiful and violent and familiar place/land,” my daughter writes. Impossible to wrap your brain around and make sense of. Bubbles inside bubbles.

I travel to the Jordan Valley with Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a long-time human rights veteran, who suggests otherwise. Bedouin shepherds who fear taking their own children out to the fields to learn to be shepherds because the Isaeli settler violence is too dangerous. Their children have panic attacks when they hear the Jewish settlers’ ATVs coming near the outpost of Maalei Ahuvia, a “hilltop” settlement that is illegal under Israeli, as well as, international law. The settlers can make up stories, a shepherd says, and send the army to their home in the middle of the night. They beat up his 15-year-old cousin. Are the hilltop youth the face of what Israel will become? They are its present and future, my son says. Where is the army? The Israeli government does not have the guts to take them on, Rabbi Ascherman says. He calls the police, and indeed they do come: An officer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, talks to the Jewish settler shepherds, walking down into the fields to telling them to move their sheep off land owned by Palestinians. Using farming as a means to illegally seize land is a form of theft, where there has been so much theft already.

In the Jordan Valley with long-time human rights activist, Rabbi Arik Ascherman.
For many years, I have spent time in these places, like many American Jewish activists who are not from here but not-not-from-here either, having family roots, relatives, friends, and colleagues. Much of what I have learned has been from conversations with local Palestinians and Jewish activists, mental health practitioners, clergy, and from my children, now adults. But there has been a change since my last visit in 2019, before the pandemic. Activists are now engaged in “protective presencing,” encouraging Jews from abroad to help. They are working to force Jewish communities to reckon with Zionism in all its iterations by seeing the horrendous realities on the ground. Once upon a time, this psychological reckoning took time: So many of us had been socialized and inducted into a Judaism that defended Zionism at all costs. Shedding that identification and moving towards something new was existentially challenging. But today, we are socializing and educating ourselves in new ways and coming to grips with the impact of Zionism is less of a betrayal and thus, less isolating psychically. There are many emergent and alternative communities to join. But is it changing the reality for the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley anywhere near quickly enough? And where should we stand? And should we all stand in the same place?
A Jewish American activist now living in Israel shares that one day it might not make sense for American Jews to come here to stand in solidarity. The best solidarity would be in not coming. His words linger as an email from a senior Israeli Jewish colleague, who has been involved in human rights issues since the 1980’s, suggests otherwise. Thank you for coming, he writes, for continuing to be in conversation about how political violence impacts families. For many Israeli colleagues, the deepest frustration and desperation stems from the apathy they sense in their own communities toward the realities around them.
I think about what my colleague Efrat Even-Tzur recently shared. She is a brilliant psychologist who years ago wrote about the repression of the Nakba and its ghosts that waft throughout Jewish Israeli society. She had argued that this is a neurotic process whereby people avoid what is painful to see. But now she says this is not neurotic,and maybe never was. This is about delusions of grandeur. And I think about the roads near the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are littered with billboards encouraging Jewish Israelis to move to golden communities. 
Another friend, the spouse of a long-time activist says, it’s just more and deeper layers of denial that have set in. I am not sure if it is denial. Overt racism is acknowledged, normalized, accepted, and encouraged—just like it is in large parts of the US today. So is the idea that some lives are deemed “less-than”––and as a result their rights can be manipulated and taken away. We are not talking about cognitive dissonance. There is no dissonance. A colleague in Palestine says she knows Israelis don’t care at all about her. But my god, she says, they should be curious about how their attitudes have twisted their souls. She doesn’t even mention the exhaustion from fending off mean-spirited, dehumanizing projections and demeaning assumptions about her capacities that have skewed interactions with Jewish Israelis all these many years. Like in the US, we are talking about a process in which compassion, equality, and justice are meant for only some and the rest be damned.
A friend in Ramallah calls as I write. “Are you on your way?” Not yet, I say. I have been dehydrated for the last few days. “Hallas,” she says. “I am calling you a taxi.” And so I stop writing and am reminded that something is over. It was over a long time ago, my son reminds me. Yes, it was, and I am deeply grateful to the nonviolent activists and mentors working the back slopes here, who grasp the endgame and its dangers.

In Solidarity,