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Kehilla in the West Bank: The Palpable Reality of Occupation: A Report Back

by Rabbi David J. Cooper

On Monday, February 17, Rabbi David, Jim Haber and Becca Heisler will report about their experiences together this last December and January in the Occupied Territory as part of a delegation of the Center for Jewish NonViolence.

Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary my first trip to Israel/Palestine in 1967, I joined with other diaspora Jews to work with Palestinians engaged in nonviolent resistance to the Occupation. This was also the anniversary of the beginning of the Occupation which began after the Six Day War in June. I was there as a teenager later that summer.

I joined with the Center for Jewish NonViolence at that time and was part of the large team to establish the Sumud Freedom to aid in the resurrection of Sarura, a village in the South Hebron Hills that years before had been shut down by the Israeli Military Authority. On this New Year’s Eve 2020 I was able to party at Sarura which has been inhabited continuously since our efforts in 2017. [For my article in the J Weekly about this in 2017 see ]

I had to come back again this year. In my Yom Kippur sermon this year, I referred to my work with the CJNV as an aspect of my “atonement.”

After spending the last Shabbat of 2019 in Jerusalem, I joined with this year’s CJNV delegation on December 30 to cross through the barrier and take on assignments to be of service in efforts by Palestinian villagers in their nonviolent resistance to the Occupation. In the nine days I was there, I was sent to the villages of Um al Khair, and At Tuwani, as well as two Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem: Isawiya and Silwan. Out of the 42 of us in the delegation, three of us came from Kehilla: me, Jim Haber and Becca Heisler.

At our report-back on the 17th, we will describe at greater length about our efforts with Palestinian villagers to reclaim a spring which had been historically their water source but from which they have been excluded for over 18 years by settlers on an Israeli outpost with the support of the Israeli military.

What I need to share with you now, however briefly, is that when you are there, the word “occupation” is not an abstract concept, or something about which you develop an academic analysis. It becomes a palpable reality. Real people experiencing an on-going deprivation of resources while a few feet away they see that illegal Jewish settlements and outposts (even illegal under Israeli law) are receiving all the resources they need to settle in and become a permanent reality. While you are there you can feel how surrounded the local villagers feel and how they experience the occupation as not only a settling of Israelis into their territory, but also as a project to remove them from the lands that have been historically their won.

For me, as a proud Jew, it is a most profound disappointment to see this effort being done as a project in the name of the Jewish people. As I have said before, I believe the occupation and the other suppressions of Palestinian people is the greatest ethical issue facing the Jewish people in our generation.

I want to say that there is so much I love about the culture of Israel – and at this point Israeli civilization will persist and I am glad that it will. And I also love so much about Palestinian civilization as well, and the possible destruction of that civilization by Israel is a tragedy that must not happen in my name.

Becca, Jim and I will describe our activities and insights and will introduce you to some of our Palestinian and Israeli partners through our photographs. We will share about how you can join in the CJNV’s delegations. We will also be open to discussion about the Trump plan that is leading to greater annexation of Palestinian territory.

Come hear our report back 7pm on Monday, February 17 at Kehilla.



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The Weekly, Kehilla’s newsletter, is released every Thursday.