Twenty years ago, I was arrested in the West Bank.
I was participating in a rally against the Israeli government’s celebration of settlements, specifically Hebron, as part of Israel’s 50th birthday festivities. I was on my junior year abroad, studying at the University of Haifa and volunteering in a domestic violence shelter. I was a feminist, Zionist, deeply connected Jew, and the arrest and its aftermath cut through all of my assumptions, shaking me to my core.
I remember stepping out of the bus and into a hostile protest like none I had ever seen. A policeman and a member of Knesset stood nose-to-nose, screaming. Religiously observant Jews shouted insults as they passed us on the road. A woman yelled at my friends and me: “I just visited Auschwitz. That is your place.”
Some people sat down in a corner of the intersection as nonviolent protest. They were arrested. Police were rough. My friend was arrested, and as I instinctively ran toward him, the police grabbed me, too. They stretched my arms in opposite directions, pulling so hard that they damaged my sternum.
I had come to the protest with Peace Now, but in detention I met dozens of protesters, ranging from liberal Zionist to anarchist, all Jewish Israeli citizens, from teenage to elderly. It was hot — a hamsin, a heat wave — and the police gave us water. They interrogated me several times, repeatedly escorting me from the holding cell to another trailer.
As we walked, I saw a man on his knees, blindfolded, hands restrained behind his back. I could tell by his clothing that he was Palestinian. Each time I went between the air-conditioned trailers, he was there, in the same position.
He was left in the heat, with painful restraints and eyes covered, for hours. Seeing him held that way haunted me.
A few days later I saw a news report about a demonstration in East Jerusalem. A Palestinian protester had been killed, shot by Israeli troops.
Then it hit me. At the West Bank demonstration, the police hadn’t even used sticks on us, a Jewish crowd. I hadn’t feared death for one second. I took for granted that Jewish blood, bones and lives were precious to the Israeli state. I had read about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but being arrested awakened me to a difference I could feel on my own body.
Twenty years have passed. I wonder about the man I saw detained. Has he survived the occupation for another 20 years? Did he have children, and have they already faced the horrors of a brutal system that denies them their fundamental rights, while granting me — and all Jews — extra rights secured by their suffering?
Over these years, I have continued to deconstruct and reconstruct my connections to the places and people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, both personally and professionally. As a sociologist, I have researched how Israelis and American Jews wrestle with the obligations posed by a state that privileges Jews above all others. I’ve joined and initiated opportunities to study, act and lay claim to a wide range of Jewish values, traditions and identities.
Along the way, I’ve heard countless stories from people who have had moments just like mine: turning points after which things don’t look the same, and we find ourselves implicated in contradictions that challenge our core understandings of Israel and Jewishness.
On this Yom HaAtzmaut, I want to ask: What are you celebrating with intentionality, and what do you try to suppress in order to celebrate? What might you do to honor your connections to all the people in the place that is both Jewish and Palestinian?