WATCH: A new brand of Jewish nonviolence in Palestine

What happens when dozens of Jewish American activists come to Palestine to practice civil disobedience alongside Palestinians struggling against the occupation?

In the summer of 2016, dozens of Jews from the U.S. and other countries came to Palestine, at the request of Palestinian activists, to use nonviolence, civil disobedience, and their privilege as Jews to help oppose the Israeli occupation. Under the banner of “Occupation is not my Judaism,” the activists helped rebuild homes demolished by the Israeli army, facilitated an entire displaced Palestinian village’s return to to its former homes, and put their bodies on the line to challenge the Israeli military regime of segregation and settlement in Hebron.

+972 Magazine joined the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV) to see what they were doing, what drove them to stand side-by-side with the Palestinian people, and what they think they can accomplish by leveraging their privilege as American Jews in doing so. How would the Israeli army react to dozens of American Jews practicing civil disobedience, willing to be arrested alongside Palestinian activists in the West Bank?

Video by Lia Tarachansky and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man:

“It’s been very easy for many of us in the liberal or progressive Zionist world to rationalize away that Israel is really an oppressor, that it is literally oppressing another people,” Rabbi Brant Rosen, a member of the CJNV delegation told +972. “This [direct action] isn’t working in a soup kitchen. This is in service of a larger goal of ending the infrastructural oppression of the occupation.”

Part of the advantage of being a self-identified Jewish group, explained CJNV executive director Ilana Sumka is its members’ ability to influence their diaspora Jewish communities back home. “The more the American Jewish community can shift its understanding about why it’s so urgent for the occupation to end,” Sumka said. “I think that will have a ripple effect in the broader American political spectrum.”

For many of the CJNV members with whom +972 spoke, that strategy is inextricably linked to personal Jewish identity. “My activism comes from a sense that there’s a strong [Jewish] imperative and obligation to treat other people well, that there are specific ways in which we have to treat the other people with whom we live — I think it’s very clear in the Torah,” explained CJNV member and Princeton student Maya Rosen. “The way that our traditions and texts have been co-opted by a specific political agenda makes me very angry. Creating separate legal systems seems to be very much against what the Torah would command.”

Read more on the group’s direct actions in the West Bank:
Jewish, Palestinian activists try to build a cinema in Hebron
Palestinians of Susya return to village they were expelled from