Zionists near the Gaza border on March 7, 2024

Protesters from the Tsav 9, or known as Order 9, march towards the border crossing checkpoint with the goal of blocking aid shipments from getting into the Gaza, in Kerem Shalom, Israel, Thursday, March 7, 2024.

(Photo: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Atonement for My Zionist Upbringing

Learning and facing the truth about the ideology and history of Zionism was a painful process.

As Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his genocidal campaign across Gaza, anti-war student demonstrators across the United States have dramatically intensified pressure for peace. Armed with nothing more than tents and sleeping bags, they have demanded their educational institutions divest in the Israeli war machine. While some school administrators have listened to their concerns by changing their investment policies to align with the values of their students, most are responding violently. Militarized forces have been sent in to brutally silence those exercising their First Amendment rights. As of right now, almost 3,000 demonstrators have been arrested, with Netanyahu and some members of the U.S. House and Senate calling for harsher, more violent crackdowns.

As a Jew, I’m in awe of young people from all backgrounds uniting in defiance of Israel’s massacre of Palestine. It’s inspiring to see so many young anti-Zionist Jews stand in the face of incredible pressure with such moral clarity. I also watch on with a slight amount of guilt in my heart. It is not easy for me to reconcile that at their age, I was a cheerleader for the very ethnostate responsible for what’s unfolding today.

I hope others like me, who were raised to believe that our survival relies on Israel’s might, realize the threat it now poses to our collective humanity.

Growing up, Zionism was a deep part of my identity. I was raised Jewish in an insulated Jewish community. In elementary school, I went to the Jewish Community Center for after-school programs, as well as summer camp. When I was in junior high school, we would have two or three Bar and Bat Mitzvahs every weekend. As far back as I can remember, my extended family has always been deeply committed to the idea of a Jewish homeland. We were raised to believe that if there were no Israel, Jews would not be safe in the world.

This was reaffirmed when I was 16 and I participated in the JNF-sponsored, Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. I spent the summer of 1987 living in a college dormitory in Hod Hasharon, learning about what I thought was actual history. I have come to realize that much of what we learned was part of a Zionist mythology created in 1948. I had fallen in love with what I thought was my Jewish homeland, but is actually Palestine.

When I look back, the signs of a Zionist military state are clear. I was there the summer before the first intifada, and the walls and separate roads had not yet been constructed. While there were no obvious signs of apartheid, we were still often escorted by armed guards. I cannot believe that we were being taken to places wherein assault rifles were necessary for our protection. We were shuttled around the West Bank in areas that I now know was and still is occupied land. We were taken to plant trees in East Jerusalem. As a mother, all I can see is that we were unarmed teenagers being used as “human shields” and tools of ethnic cleansing.

It was in the early 2000s, during the second intifada, when I started seeing the increased violence against Palestinians, as well as more obvious signs of apartheid. I was aware that Israel was continuing to build settlements in the occupied territory, despite being in violation of international law. It was also around this time that I learned about the Palestinian-born BDS movement. Soon thereafter, I noticed several states in the U.S. were enacting anti-BDS legislation, which I believe violates our First Amendment rights.

It has taken me about 15 years to reach my level of outrage at the state of Israel. Even as recently as 2019, I still hoped for a two-state solution. But it has been made abundantly clear by Zionists that they will not abide a Palestinian state. Our world has watched as Netanyahu’s far-right regime inflicts inexplicable horror on the Palestinian people. Bombing of hospitals and schools. Mass graves. Executions. Historically, these acts of violence are so heinous that international bodies developed conventions to keep us from making the same mistakes. Yet, with the tragedy unfolding in front of us, most of our leaders are turning a blind eye. If this is their twisted version of truth, I've decided to take them at their word.

Learning and facing the truth about the ideology and history of Zionism was a painful process. It required me to unpack formative years of my childhood — memories of youthful joy, laughter, and excitement — and reframe them in the context of truth. I’ve had to re-examine the foundations that run through many generations of my family and come to an understanding that they’re at odds with the fundamental truth of humanity and peace that I hold dear.

I have accepted that I will spend the rest of my life making up for being a useful idiot. It is an exceptionally small cross to bear. I hope others like me, who were raised to believe that our survival relies on Israel’s might, realize the threat it now poses to our collective humanity. We must be clear in the truth that a genocide is unfolding and Israel is responsible.

As young people propel the liberation movement forward by confronting their institutions, we must also do the same. My atonement, now and in the future, is using my voice to fight for the freedom of Palestinians and their right to live in the land they call home.

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