I am sitting outside the Youth Against Settlements center watching Jewish children head down the hill for Shabbat morning services. I have been in Palestine/Israel for around 3 ½ weeks now and am now in Hebron. Hebron is the most severely occupied city in the West Bank. There are soldiers and checkpoints everywhere throughout the old city, intimidating and restricting Palestinian freedom of movement. I have been here for less than a week and so far I have witnessed numerous night raids on entire Palestinian neighborhood for the purpose of “mapping” – acquainting soldiers with the neighborhood layout of families and making a show of power, numerous arrests of young children where access to their parents and information about where they were being taken was denied, tear gassing of a girls school so severe that the young children had to receive oxygen, and more. Yesterday around 50 Palestinian youth were injured with live bullets at a weekly demonstration. The week before I arrived the center for the nonviolent organization, Youth Against Settlements, was raided by the army; Palestinians and international activists were held hostage for over 24 hours and around $15,000 of the equipment they use to for education and to document human rights abuses was destroyed. The soldiers are bad here, but the settlers are worse. There is a Jewish woman who is notorious for trying to run over internationals and Palestinians with her car and a Jewish man who pretends to be a paramedic. He drives an ambulance but has no medical training or skills and arrives at scenes of injury to Palestinians for the purpose of impeding real medical assistance and causing further harm.
While here, I have come to associate tzizit, kippah, and the star of David as synonymous with rifles, machine guns; harassment and/or impending injury. I have somewhat adjusted to this association, but this Shabbat morning it is more difficult. I find a part of myself wanting to forget that the soldiers and Jewish settlers call me a whore and traitor. I find myself wanting to follow the tallit wearing youth down the hill, wanting to hear the morning prayers. Quietly, under my breath I say the Sh’ma and feel tears well up in my eyes. I wonder what has become, and what will become, of Judaism?