William Ruhm (Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts)
As our delegation traveled around East Jerusalem, my heart repeatedly sank with grief.
My heart sank with grief as we learned of Israel’s repeated expulsions of the Palestinian population from their homes and neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem, to make space for new Jewish neighborhoods and settlements beyond the internationally recognized Green Line. Israel, we learned, has driven Palestinian residents out of their communities through a meticulous combination of outright house demolitions, through denial of building permits (94% of Palestinian applications for building permits in Jerusalem are rejected), and by positioning the wall in such a way as to make travel within the Jerusalem area so arduous, costly, time-consuming for Palestinians that they will simply choose to move east of the wall and out of the city.
We learned that Israel uses intimidation and criminalization of non-violent protest to chill Palestinians into silence (unsuccessfully, of course).
We learned that Israel media outlets misrepresent and/or simply do not cover the Palestinian people’s constant struggle against these crimes, ensuring most of the Israeli population remains pitted against them.
I felt my heart sinking with grief for the Palestinian residents and former residents of this land, who endure and have endured such injustice for so long. However, I realized that the grief I felt stemmed also from my recognition that the horrifying reality I saw around me was, in so many ways, not so different from the conditions that exist right now in predominantly Black and Brown communities across America.
Boston Massachusetts, my hometown, is one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States. My father, who himself lived in Boston back in the 1980s, once told me that a Bostonian real estate agent asked him directly and without remorse "do you want me to show your property to Black people." I do not know to what extent such blatant and unapologetic racism continues today, in conversations amongst Bostonian home buyers, sellers, leaders, and renters conducted behind closed doors.
I do know that the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) recently passed a rezoning plan, "Plan JP/ROX" (referring to the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury) over the expressed wishes of the mostly Black and Brown community members who will be most impacted by the plan. Plan JP/ROX will increase the amount of land available for new residential properties in neighborhoods sought out by predominantly white, middle/upper class newcomers in what has become a red hot market for high-end homes. Plan JP/ROX's weak affordability requirements for new developments ensure that an enormous proportion of current Black and Brown residents who have lived in these neighborhoods for decades and who have put their hearts and souls into building up supportive communities will soon be priced out.
The actions Israel takes to displace Palestinians from their land are often (although not always) more direct and more extreme than those Americans use to displace Black and Brown people from their communities. (It should be emphasized, of course, that Israel’s actions are by no means more extreme than America’s dispossession of land tended by our own continents many indigenous nations.) It strikes me, however, that the intention and the impact that drives displacement is largely the same in Israel as in America: One group of people want land, so they drive those living on the land away.
And the parallels between the United States and Israel go beyond displacement. From the intense patriotism conveyed by the Israeli flags staked into nearly every building and landmark imaginable, to the immediate, outspoken contempt an Israeli passerby expressed for our Palestinian tour guide. From the pervasive and ostentatious militarism on display by the IDF Soldiers and surveillance cameras that saturate the Old City, to the towering wall positioned well beyond the internationally recognized Green Line, dividing Palestinians from their own families, friends, and places of work.
In all of these respects, what I saw in Jerusalem struck me not because I have never seen anything like it before but because I have seen it my whole life.
I saw in Israel a grotesque hyperbole of my own country, a concaved reflection of what American is today, and a warning of what America may more fully become in the not-so distant future.
And I held in my mind throughout our tour that we, the American people, help pay for the Israeli military.
I held in my mind that we, the American people, send our police commissioners to Israel to learn how to carry out upon Americans the violence that the Israeli military has honed and refined through decades everyday operations on Palestinian land.
And I held in my mind that effective resistance is urgently important, even when the personal cost is high, because survival and justice is never guaranteed.