Several Canadians were among a delegation of Diaspora Jews who clashed with Israeli police while practising tactics of non-violent resistance July 15 in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron, in the West Bank.
Native Torontonians Daniel Roth and Isaac Rose Kates – both of whom grew up in the Toronto chapter of the socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair and now reside in Israel – were part of a group of roughly 45 Jews from North America and other countries who went to the West Bank July 10.
They were there to engage in a 10-day campaign called “Occupation is not our Judaism,” organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV).
On July 15, the CJNV delegation joined with Palestinian activist group Youth Against Settlements (YAS) and the Israel-based group All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective to spend the day clearing out a former Palestinian metal factory.
The plan was to begin the process of turning it into the city’s first Palestinian movie theatre in decades.
Roth, a 35-year-old educator and journalist who lives in Tel Aviv and co-founded All That’s Left, said the group began the work of removing debris from the property, which, according to JTA is owned by a Palestinian man, YAS member Jawad Abu Aisha, and was declared a closed military zone at the beginning of the second intifadah in 2001.
Although the order was lifted in 2008, Aisha says he’s been kept from reclaiming the factory by Israeli military and Jewish settler harassment.
“The settlers [from the nearby settlement Ramat Yeshai] put pressure on the military, who says it’s not allowed for us to be here,” Abu Aisha told The CJN.
Roth said that after several hours, “there were Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers on police on various side of the property.”
After police told the activists to vacate the property, a number of them sat on the ground and refused to leave.
Kates, 25, told The CJN, “As Diaspora Jews, we want a just future for all Israelis and Palestinians… we’re incredibly well-positioned to speak out against the violent injustices done against the Palestinian people.”
Roth said the police pushed the activists off the property and detained six of them who have dual Israeli citizenship.
He noted that “someone in our group said they overheard a higher up [in the police] saying, ‘This is a group of American Jews. They have lots of cameras. Treat them well.’”
The Israeli citizens were taken to the police station in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, where they were detained for about seven hours.
The Jewish activists who were not detained marched to the police station singing “anthems from the labour organizing world and the civil rights movement and songs from our own Jewish tradition, like Lo Yisa Goy,” Kates said.
Among those marching were American Jewish journalist Peter Beinart and Amna Farooqi, the Muslim president of J Street U, the campus arm of the left-wing, pro-Israel group J Street, JTA reported.
Roth’s wife, Karen Isaacs, who holds both Canadian and Israeli citizenship, was among the Jewish activists detained.
Isaacs shared her account of the day’s experience in a detailed post on her Facebook page.
She noted that she and her fellow Jewish activists were put in an air-conditioned room and brought food, but they witnessed “three young soldiers [come] in with a Palestinian man blindfolded and with his hands tied together with a zip tie.”
Abu Aisha said a number of the Palestinian activists from YAS went back to a community centre the group uses as a space to gather. After some time, he said, Israeli police came and said, “’This is also a military zone,’” then detained about seven of them for two or three hours before leaving.
“We have nothing against the Jews… The problem is between the Palestinians and the settlers,” Abu Aisha said.
The CJNV was formed a few years ago with a mission to, according to its website, “cultivat[e] a practice of Jewish nonviolence in support of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.”
The group says it works closely with Palestinian and Israeli individuals and groups who “share our vision of using non-violence to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation and a future based on equality and shared humanity.”
Roth stressed that people affiliated with CJNV come from a variety of backgrounds, political traditions and outlooks, and the group doesn’t hold a precise idea of what a political solution will look like.
“We have different opinions on the best way to build equality, but everyone agrees that equality is non-negotiable,” said Roth.
Jews from the Diaspora play an important role in working to end the occupation, he stressed.
“Ending the occupation is probably the biggest thing we need to do now, as a people. It’s the greatest threat to Israel and to the Palestinians. It is incumbent upon anyone who says they care about this place and the people who call it home to take responsibility for ending the injustice here.”