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Americans waiting to evacuate Israel by sea hope for safety and respite

HAIFA (JTA) — Before boarding a ship departing from Israel, Ariela Keshet explained that she has attended three funerals this week — two for soldiers killed in Israel’s war with Hamas, and one for a victim of the terror group’s massacre at an outdoor music festival.

Now, she is welcoming the chance to leave for Cyprus, where the family will take refuge before returning to their home in the Golan Heights, close to Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. 

“It has been stressful, especially for people who have lived here before with rockets,” she said, explaining that in 2006, during Israel’s war with Lebanon, she lived in Tzfat — another northern city close to the border.  “It was traumatic — I’d rather not relive that,” she said. 

But Keshet added that “within one family, you can have all of those different levels of concern” — and hers is no exception. 

“I don’t want to go. I think it is wrong to leave our country and my brother agrees with me,” her daughter, Emunah, 14, protested as the family prepared to board.

The family was among hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian Americans, along with other U.S. citizens who happened to be in Israel when Hamas attacked, to wait in line for hours to board a boat evacuating U.S. citizens and their family members from the embattled country as it prepares to ramp up its war with Hamas in Gaza.

The U.S. embassy announced the rare step late of Saturday, instructing Americans to get to the Haifa port by 9 a.m. Monday with a maximum of one piece of luggage, a carry-on and no pets. Passengers had to promise to pay back the as-yet-undetermined cost of the trip and where they went from Cyprus after the roughly 12-hour journey would be up to them.

The boat left at 3 p.m., six hours after citizens were asked to arrive at the port.

In line at the Haifa port’s terminal, a mix of English, Hebrew, Arabic and Russian could be overheard. For Kristen, Sandy and Debby, three American Christians caught in Israel at the wrong time, the trip to Cyprus is an “unexpected adventure” to conclude an unforgettable vacation. “We are praying for peace and the safety for everyone living here,” said Kristen, who is from Arizona and declined to give her last name.

Roughly 500,000 American citizens live in Israel, and the crowd at the port represented only a tiny fraction of that. Many are choosing to stay and join in the effort to support the war and the people and communities affected by Hamas’ attack, which has transformed Israel into a country of volunteers.

Cheryl Rosenberg, 31, for example, told JTA that she did not consider leaving because she felt loyal to Israel during a time of crisis. (She also noted that the embassy didn’t say how much the trip would cost.) “This is our home and I don’t want to run away,” she said. “I want to do what I can to help.”

American citizens wait to evacuate Israel via the Haifa Port, Oct. 16, 2023. (Eliyahu Freedman)

Scott, a 25-year-old Christian Palestinian-American from Minnesota who also declined to share his last name, arrived at the Haifa port at 1 a.m. after abruptly leaving Bethlehem in the West Bank, where he has studied Arabic for the past few months. 

“The streets are empty in Bethlehem and the main road is blocked off. The Arabic program moved online but most of the students left the program,” he said. “Everyone in the West Bank is treating it like the weather. If you are hit by a snowstorm, you go to the store and prepare for the worst, but nobody has control over the weather.”

While the United States has offered pathways for its citizens to leave Israel and Palestinian areas, and has sent aid to Israel, Scott said he thought Palestinians are not being sufficiently protected and criticized the United States’ approach to the conflict.

“They said they want to bring in these big boats to deter any violence,” he said, referring to aircraft carriers the United States has moved to the eastern Mediterranean as a warning to nearby countries not to get involved in the war. “But what about the violence in Gaza? Is one more important than the other?”

That criticism did not stop Scott from striking up a friendship with Tony Wolf, 30, an Israeli-American pharmacist from the central city of Kfar Saba who arrived an hour later than him. 

“When a Palestinian and a Jewish person meet, we are friends with a similar culture. We have no problems when politics are aside,” Wolf said, adding that he needs “to clear out” his mind. He said he was traumatized by the death of “a lot of my friends who were killed in the army and party and rescue missions.”

For some passengers, the journey was fraught with emotional pain. Alan Cohen, a 56-year-old Israeli-American English teacher who grew up in Israel and served in its military, said the war was the last straw before making the painful decision to “leave behind all my possessions” and leave the country “heartbroken and regretting it.” 

“Everything here [was] extremely difficult and frustrating” even prior to the war, Cohen said, adding, “If the war was not happening I would be leaving anyways.”

Cohen said that he has had difficulty obtaining a pension in Israel and plans to teach at a Hebrew school in Massachusetts, where he will “tell the truth about Israel” and the challenges new immigrants face.

“If anybody wants to make aliyah and come here, I say don’t,” he said, using the Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Israel. “I really do not know if I will come back or not. Come back to what?”

The post Americans waiting to evacuate Israel by sea hope for safety and respite appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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How ‘decolonization’ became the latest flashpoint in the discourse over Israel

(JTA) — Attend or watch footage of a campus pro-Palestinian demonstration these days and you are likely to see someone carrying a sign reading “Decolonization is not a metaphor.”  Almost immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, George Washington University Students for Justice in Palestine put out a statement praising the terrorists, declaring “Decolonization is NOT a metaphor.”

 As a political slogan, it may not pack the same punch as “Free Palestine” or “From the river to the sea.” But to activists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, the charge that Israel is a “settler colonial” state and calls to “decolonize” Palestine are becoming an increasingly potent part of the toxic, perhaps unbridgeable, discourse. 

Two nearly simultaneous events inspired me to take a dive into the meaning of the slogan. The first was a news release from the American Jewish Committee announcing that, in light of the “terrifying increase” of antisemitism since Hamas’ Oc7. 7 attack against Israel, it was adding new terms to its online “Translate Hate glossary of antisemitic terms. Among those terms, alongside “from the river to the sea,” is “settler colonialist.” “Those who oppose the State of Israel as a Jewish state,” writes AJC, use the term the charge that Israel “engages in ethnic cleansing by displacing and dispossessing a native or pre-existing population.” It goes on to explain why the term is “categorically false.” 

 More on that in a moment. The second event was a webinar in memory of Hayim Katsman, 32, the Israeli ethnographer and peace activist killed when Hamas infiltrated his kibbutz. The webinar was the launch of a new book of scholarly essays, “Settler Indigeneity in the West Bank,” that features an essay by Katsman. Like many of the other Jewish and Israeli contributors to the book, Katsman appears to have been quite comfortable applying “colonialist” to describe Israel’s national enterprise, in whole or in part. 

In the book’s introduction, its editors, Rachel Z. Feldman and Ian McGonigle, explain why. They acknowledge the argument — put forth by AJC and others — that unlike the Europeans who colonized Africa, the Americas and Asia, Jews had a longstanding connection to and presence in the Land of Israel, and that the “early Zionist settlers did not have a home empire.” (Or, as AJC puts it, “unlike European settler colonialists who settled colonies to enrich their motherlands, and who maintained a connection to their home countries to which they could return if they so wished, Jews who came to Mandatory Palestine had no motherland in Europe to enrich.”)

However, write Feldman and McGonigle, aspects of political Zionism certainly resemble colonialism. “If we read Hertzl, if we read Jabotinsky, they’re speaking about a colonizing project,” Feldman said at the book launch, referring to two of political Zionism’s founding fathers. “And, unfortunately, they were subject to the modalities of European thought that … looked at Palestinians as primitive people who could not possibly have a sovereign imagination of their own.”

But “colonialism” doesn’t tell the whole story of Israel, Feldman, assistant professor of religion at Dartmouth, told me on Friday. “I think that’s where things can slide into antisemitism, when this just sort of blanket equation is made between Zionism and all European colonial projects. It would be missing the fact that Israel is the historic ancestral homeland of the Jews,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that Jews haven’t acted in ways that are settler colonial.”

Ignoring those power dynamics — or, as many Palestinains and their supporters tend to do, denying any Jewish connection to the land — “will never get us closer to peace and reconciliation,” Feldman continued. “This debate about who is more native is a fundamentally flawed debate and it leads to dehumanization of either Israelis or Palestinians. Both people are in this land together, and that is the absolute basis of any future kind of reconciliation.” 

“Reconciliation” is barely on the minds of those who quote “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” the 2012 paper by American academics Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang that poularized the phrase. The two argued that “decolonization” means exactly what it says: “repatriating land to sovereign Native tribes and nations, abolition of slavery in its contemporary forms, and the dismantling of the imperial metropole” – that is, the colonizing “homeland.” It is not a handy bit of jargon for improving our societies and schools or fighting racism or “easing” an occupation, they write. 

The paper only mentions “Palestine” once, in a roll call of colonialist malefactors that includes Australia, the United States and apartheid South Africa, but it became a touchstone for radical movements that felt the widespread rhetoric of anti-colonialism had lost its bite

George Washington University Students for Justice in Palestine, since suspended by the administration, takes the phrase to its logical, violent extreme, calling the Hamas attack a “tangible, material event in which the colonized rise up against the colonizer and regain control of their lives.” 

Another pro-Palestiniang group, Decolonize This Place, calls for “direct action and [is] driven by the belief that all colonized and oppressed people have the right to take back their land, to realize self-determination, and to win their liberation by any means necessary.” The day after the Hamas attack , it said on Instagram: “[T]he heroic Palestinian resistance and the people’s steadfastness continue, while settler colonial Israel, the US, and the ‘international community’ ignore that Israel is the violence.”

Israeli ethnographer and peace activist Hayim Katsman was murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7. (Courtesy Hannah Katsman)

“Softer” versions of decolonization call for divesting from countries and institutions that support colonialism. Corinna Mullin, who teaches international relations at the University of Tunis in Tunisia and recently at CUNY’s John Jay College, used the “not a metaphor” phrase during a Nov. 17 Labor for Palestine teach-in in support of the boycott of organizations with “links to Zionism.” “We need to materially decolonize these institutions so that they no longer are serving the causes of oppression and exploitation, but instead are in the service of liberation,” she said.

Those who wave the “not a metaphor” sign at rallies may embrace all or none of these interpretations. AJC insists that the “settler colonialist” label is, however it is used, a slur. And when it is “used to say Jews do not have the right to national self-determination or to deny Israel’s right to exist,” it explains in the glossary, “that is antisemitism.” The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore writes that the “decolonizing narrative is much worse than a study in double standards; it dehumanizes an entire nation and excuses, even celebrates, the murder of innocent civilians.”

In his chapter for the “Settler Indigeneity” volume, about religious Jews living in the Negev, Katsman appears to agree with scholars who describe Israel’s efforts to “‘Judaize’ Palestinian space” as colonialism in effect, if not intent. But he doesn’t reject Israel, only those Jewish ideologues who want to erase the Green Line separating pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank. He bewails “the growing acceptance [among Jews] of a one-state reality between the river and the sea.” 

That seems of a piece with the scholarship and activism for which he was known. His mother, the American-born Orthodox feminist activist Hannah Katsman, told Haaretz that he came to Kibbutz Holit after the army to help revive the desert outpost. Although he studied in the United States, he was determined to return home. Among other things, he took part in solidarity shifts to protect Palestinian communities harassed by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

His dissertation, about political trends in Religious Zionism, was dedicated to “all life forms that exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

“He was determined to understand the political rise to power of Israel’s religious right wing, which he viewed as a serious obstacle to the establishment of a just and lasting peace,” Feldman said in her opening remarks at the book launch. She also quoted Katsman, whom she got to know over the years, saying that he worked to create a world where “Israelis and Palestinians both are able to live full lives as equals under the law.” 

Since his death at the hands of Hamas, Katsman has been held up as a counterpoint to the zero-sum nihilism represented by his murderers. Perhaps he should also be seen as a symbol of the possibility of two peoples sharing a land without either one trying to expel, dominate or colonize the other.

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Treasure Trove: How some sheet music in the Theresienstadt Ghetto became a symbol of hope

In 1941, the Nazis established the Theresienstadt Ghetto outside Prague. By the war’s end, 33,000 people died there and another 88,000 stayed there for months or years before being deported to extermination camps. Despite the tremendous overcrowding and very difficult conditions, the prisoners in Theresienstadt maintained a rich cultural life with lectures and performances. The […]

The post Treasure Trove: How some sheet music in the Theresienstadt Ghetto became a symbol of hope appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Protester Sets Self on Fire Outside Israeli Consulate in Atlanta

Illustrative. Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate outside AIPAC President Michael Tuchin’s vacation home in Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2023. Photo: Screenshot

i24 NewsA protester was in critical condition on Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also wounded.

A Palestinian flag found at the scene was part of the protest, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference. He added that investigators did not believe there was any connection to terrorism and none of the consular staff was ever in danger.

JUST IN: A pro-Palestine protester is in critical condition after they set themselves on fire in “political protest” outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Atlanta.

The protester was reportedly draped in a Palestine flag.

The protester has severe burns and unfortunately, a…

— Collin Rugg (@CollinRugg) December 1, 2023

“We do not see any threat here,” he said. “We believe it was an act of extreme political protest that occurred.” Everyone inside the consulate building was said to be safe.

Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consul General of Israel to the southeastern U.S., said: “We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building. It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way.”

“The sanctity of life is our highest value. Our prayers are with the security officer who was injured while trying to prevent this tragic act. We are grateful to the city of Atlanta’s law enforcement and first responders for all they do to ensure safety.”

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