A letter to the liberal Zionist who told me to go fuck myself last night

To my fellow Jew, 

My heart is heavy. Heavy with the pain of never fully being heard. Heavy with thoughts of the present—ongoing death, destruction, demolitions and despair.  Heavy with the sadness that comes from the conflation of violence and nonviolence. So deeply and achingly heavy.           

Last night, we both showed up at the monthly meeting of the Berkeley Human Welfare and Community Action Commission at which a resolution was being voted on that considered divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  

The turnout was staggering, wouldn’t you agree? I arrived early and stood at the back, already overwhelmed by the tense conversations taking place all around me—conversations that you were holding. Some wore stickers that said “Support Berkeley, Vote No” while others held signs that said “I Support Divestment.” You were of the former; I was of the latter. Slowly, my fellow divestment activists showed up to stand with me, and within their bubble of bodies, I felt safe.

Photo via Young Jewish Voice for Peace - Bay Area 
Photo via Young Jewish Voice for Peace – Bay Area 

 I have to tell you, it has been a long internal struggle coming to stand with the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I was like you once. I believed in a two-state solution, too. I actually did not even know there were other kinds of “solutions.”  

But then I moved to Israel. I studied with Israelis and Palestinians. I engaged in dialogue that tore at my very identity. I transgressed the green line. I bore witness to violence committed against friends and strangers. I was treated violently by the very mechanism that exists to protect me: the Israeli Defense Forces. I saw firsthand the state of Israel’s use of Jewish bodies as weapons and tools for annexation and expulsion. I came to understand that both the Holocaust and the Nakba* are true. I came to see that both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are true. And I came to see that they are not actually what is driving this so-called “conflict.” No, they are simply tools. What is driving the “conflict” is land, power and control. Israel has all three of these things presently. Palestine has none. 

Yet even in my nuanced understanding of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism that came from years of studying, living and working in the region, I caught your hasbara like a cold—your voice telling me that this movement was an unwarranted and harsh attack on the existence of the State of Israel and all the people residing within it. On a theoretical and intellectual level, I had arrived in a place where I felt modern day Zionism to be the antithesis of democracy, as its intention is to create an ethnically pure state. But I still could not bring myself to support BDS. For, as you told me it should, it felt violent to do so. 

But I continued to educate myself. I pushed past your voice and listened to the voice inside me telling me that this movement is just—that this movement is, really, the only way. And that is when I finally understood BDS as it is: a call. A call for help and support from a people who are suffering. A call that asks us to take nonviolent direct action with our wallets, tax dollars and stock portfolios, targeting corporations that benefit from the exploitation and oppression of people. It is not violent. It does not seek to destroy the nation of Israel. It seeks to fight for the rights of all whom are marginalized within and without Israeli society by creating a universal standard for human rights that should apply to all—the right to live, to move, to build, to speak, to grow, to dance, to gather, to protest, and to pray free from violence. 

So that is why I showed up last night—to exercise my freedom to engage in nonviolent political action and protest. To support a call issued by Palestinian civil society in which they make an ask of the international community for action they believe to be in their best interest. So when you claim that BDS is not in the best interest of Palestinians, what grounds do you have?  Who has the right to judge what is “right” or “better” for Palestinians but Palestinians? 

You called me many things last night. A jihadist. A terrorist. An anti-Semite. A self-hating Jew. A liar. You called me these things because what I am doing does not make sense to you. You know what you stand for. You stand for Israel, your homeland, the only place where the Jewish people have self-determined. You are standing against your continued victimization. You feel that you and the Jewish people have a lot to lose from BDS. You feel that I have a lot to lose. Why would I stand for something that seemingly takes this all away? What could I possibly gain from standing up for BDS? 

I do not make sense to you, so I, as your signs and rhetoric accused, must be lying—lying about the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people. But, let me ask, what motive do I have to lie? I spent the entire night getting publically shamed by you. Getting told to go fuck myself. Do you think I’m there simply for the thrill of the argument? That I find your derogatory comments masochistically masturbatory? That I have a vendetta against you and all the Jewish people and seek your—my–destruction? Please, tell me, what motive do I have to lie?  

You were there to protect something: to protect a system and a state that protects you. I was there to protect something, too. I was there to protect the notion that all human beings—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, class, color, gender, sexuality and ability—deserve the right to live. You were there to protect you and your own—a noble act if not at the expense of other peoples. But the fact is that this mechanism you have created to protect yourself harms and has been harming others for 67 years. The thing that I’m protecting serves us all—including you. Without a universal application of human rights and human dignity, no state or military power can keep us safe. Without a universal application of human rights, we are all at risk of holocaust. We are all at risk of nakba.[1]

So, I ask you, please join me. Please join me in the protection of the Palestinian people. In the protection of the Bedouin. The Druze. The refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. The Muslims. The Christians. And, please—please— join me in the protection of the Jews. All Jews, of every color, ethnicity, religiosity and political opinion. As Omar Barghouti, the founder of the BDS movement, said at a lecture I attended of his in Portland, the BDS movement is not intended to serve the Palestinian people alone; it is intended to serve the cause of justice worldwide. The intention of BDS is the delegitimization of occupation and apartheid, not of the State of Israel. It stands for a region and a world in which all people have equal access to life, liberty and land, Palestinian and Israeli—Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

At the end of Apartheid, South Africa did not fall. It simply became a state in which racial discrimination was no longer enshrined in law. Similarly, an end to apartheid and settler-colonialist policies in Israel does not mean an end to Israel; it means an end to apartheid and settler-colonialism. An end to these oppressive policies only means an end to Israel if Israel’s oppressor-identity has become so entrenched that it could not exist otherwise. I would like to think that is not true. I would like to think that a state that claims to represent my people could not exist only as an oppressor. But if Israel can exist only as an oppressor, I would rather see the state’s dissolution than continued occupation, oppression and apartheid at my hand. It’s too painful, and it may just be lethal to my—to the Jewish—soul.  

With gratitude for your receptivity and your existence, 

Faryn Borella

[1] In Arabic, the word for catastrophe, as well as the term used to refer to the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948.

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