My mother fled Berlin with her mother and grandparents when she was 16 years old. Her father, my grandfather, died at Auschwitz. My mother raised myself and my two brothers to be fiercely proud of being Jewish. She also encouraged us to be vigilant for the possibility of fascism coming to the United States, and to oppose discrimination against any minority.
When I was 16 my friends and I leafleted our suburban town on Memorial Day, opposing the war in Vietnam. The year was 1967. We were criticized in our town’s newspaper for being "unpatriotic" and for "dishonoring" the troops.
Today, at age 68, I find myself in a similar situation. I am deeply concerned and shocked by the treatment of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation. Yet I find myself active in a Jewish community, the Havurah, which strongly discourages any real and meaningful dialogue on the subject. Those of us who strongly oppose Israeli policies find our voices stifled or marginalized.
In the larger society, also, it is extremely difficult to speak out. Barack Obama spoke out as a state legislator in Illinois. He was silent as a presidential candidate. Any politician in the U.S. who opposes the occupation is almost certain to be defeated. Professors have been fired who attempt to give even an objective review of the subject by including the Palestinian perspective. Jewish community centers have had their funding cut after hosting speakers who speak out in support of Palestinian rights.
In Israel there is a group called Breaking the Silence. It is made up of more than 1,000 former Israel soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza. They have given sworn testimonies which are fact-checked and verified. They are sharing the atrocities that have been committed and the oppression the people in the West Bank and Gaza face on a daily basis.
It takes great courage for an Israeli soldier to speak out against the occupation. I remember well so many American soldiers who had the courage to speak out against the war in Vietnam. The Israeli government has been actively attempting to discredit the organization. Recently, the president of Israel refused to meet with a German minister who met with Breaking the Silence.
On Saturday, June 3, Jewish Voices for Peace will be on the Plaza, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Palestine. We will feature an art exhibit and hand out information about the occupation.
We invite you to come down to the Plaza with an open mind. The photos on display feature the people of the West Bank. They were taken by a Jewish photographer, Maurice Jacobson.
Our fliers will share a lot of information you may not know. The American press covers very little about what daily life is really like for the Palestinian people under the occupation.
We are not "against" Israel. On the contrary, we want Israel to exist as a thriving democracy that respects and protects all its people. A nation that brutalizes and traumatizes an entire people cannot long exist as a democracy. For those of us in Jewish Voices for Peace, the time is long past due for Breaking the Silence.
— Avram Sacks lives in Ashland.