From the outside looking in, the 10-day delegation led by the Center for Jewish Non-Violence (CJNV) could easily be mistaken for a Birthright Israel trip. Indeed, on the first day of our delegation, we passed a Birthright trip in the Old City of Jerusalem. Of course, while they were most likely learning about Israel’s glorious victory in the war of 1967 — which resulted in the “unification” of Jerusalem — we were learning about the Nakba and the destruction of the city’s Moroccan quarter.
After that, it became much easier to distinguish between the two different trips. The second day of the delegation coincided with Jerusalem Day and the infamous Flag March, and CJNV delegates spent the day spread across the city, engaging in various forms of direct action. One group joined the left-wing Israeli group Free Jerusalem in blocking a main highway that connects West Bank settlements to Jerusalem. Other groups attended a protest against the Flag March or documented settler and military violence in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The rest of the trip was spent in Masafer Yatta, a Palestinian community located in the southern edge of the West Bank. The Israeli government is currently attempting to expel many of the residents of Masafer Yatta from their land under the premise that it is located in what they have declared “Firing Zone 918.”
While in Masafer Yatta, CJNV delegates heard from Palestinian activists Naser NawajahAli Awad, and Awdah Hathleen. They then split up to spend two days in the villages of sfai and Tubaboth of which are located in Firing Zone 918. While in these villages, CJNV met and bonded with the residents of the villages, and helped them build playgrounds in each village.
Though the delegation is only 10 days, the CJNV staff makes it clear that they hope delegates will continue to engage in Palestinian solidarity work. The delegation ended with a day dedicated to programming around “taking it home.” Following the delegation, CJNV expressed the importance of “creating support structures and practices for Jews who actively challenge the system of Jewish supremacy that upholds the Occupation/apartheid and Ashkenazi-supremacy.”
For delegate Ethan Wellerstein, the brutality he witnessed on Jerusalem Day was enough to spur him to action. “They want you to feel helpless, they want you to feel demoralized.” He said, “I’m not going to let that define Judaism.”
Wellerstein is not the only member of the delegation who feels compelled to continue engaging in Palestinian solidarity activism.
“What galvanizes me into action is blatant, heartbreaking injustice and the recitation of blatant lies. The steady perseverance of Palestinians for their life in their land…The generosity of spirit and tenacity to remain present on the land of their ancestors…” Stated Harriet Cooke, who was participating in her first delegation.
“On my way home on the train to the airport, I had a conversation with a French Jew. His understanding of truth is that the proportion of Israelis killed by Palestinians is way more than the reverse…What galvanizes me into the simple action of learning and speaking is to share a counter-narrative with references and try and find a meeting place where we can agree on the common goal of building a fair society…”
“I was moved to continue speaking out to save Masafer Yatta after experiencing the welcoming hospitality of the families in Sfai, and witnessing their come on (Arabic for steadfastness) after their primary school was demolished,” said Laura Saunders. “They invited Diaspora Jews to join them in constructing a playground for the children while knowing this will lead to Jewish settler organizations to instruct the Israeli Civil Administration to carry out more demolitions in their village or enable the Israeli army to displace the villagers.” CJNV’s call to long-term action has clearly been successful, as 2023 marked Saunders’s 5th delegation.
Over just 10 days, delegation members form long-lasting relationships that spur them to continue to fight for Palestinian liberation. Delegates like Saunders have become CJNV regulars, while others have gone on to be active advocates for Palestinian rights within their home communities.
After the 2022 delegation, Palestinian activist and Youth of Settlements co-director Issa Amro proclaimed, “you all need to bring five friends next year.” CJNV’s work — and the positive response it has received from Palestinians living under occupation — highlights the effectiveness of direct action and proves that meaningful relationships play a key role in undermining the Israeli apartheid regime.