Maya Wind grew up in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada. She witnessed bombed cafés and buses, armed attacks, and a general collapse of law and order as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians took an even uglier turn than normal. Her conscience, however, only became clearer.
All Israelis are bound by law to serve the Israeli military (IDF)’ Maya and others with her formed a group of conscientious objectors who refused to serve what they regarded as a morally repugnant instrument of oppression – braving prison, social boycott, and alienation from their friends and families. They called themselves the Shministim Letter, rallying behind a petition they wrote as twelfth-graders.
After suffering the psychological torture of being thrown in prison weeks at a time, taken out, and then thrown back in again, she was finally released from prison – the government declared her ‘mentally unfit to serve’. But her experiences have only helped her mature as an activist.
She slept in Palestinian homes that were in danger of being demolished by Israeli bulldozers. She joined feminist organisations that work to subvert the occupation. At Barnard College (USA), she helped organise ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’, setting up mock checkpoints, demonstrating to students the ritual humiliation and difficulty that ordinary Palestinians have to go through on a daily basis. Her extended family does not speak to her.
Her partner is Eran Efrati. He did serve as a combat soldier in the IDF. And it was his experiences in the army that taught him about the injustice and oppression under which Palestinians live. I heard him speak of a mission in which a family was not allowed to leave their house and bury a child the same contingent of soldiers killed the night before. He became part of Breaking the Silence, a group of ex-soldiers who raise awareness about the daily realities in the Occupied Territories, which in a lot of cases are shaped by them.
Together they form part of a growing group of activists who have embraced the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Movement, aiming to shame, and morally and economically weaken Israel’s policies towards Palestine. The American Studies Association, a group of academics, has recently thrown its weight behind the movement with well-known academics like Stephen Hawking and Judith Butler endorsing the movement.
My point, however, is not simply to draw attention to the movement. Despite the vague, sinister (mostly wrong) ideas that Pakistanis in particular have about what Zionism means, Jews do not equal Zionists. In fact, Maya and Eran and many like them refer to themselves as anti-Zionist, that is, they are opposed to the settler-colonial ideology that has brought about the state of Israel as it exists today.
There are people like Rachel Corrie, an American college student who died opposing the occupation as an Israeli bulldozer ran over her. There are organisations like Boycott From Within, a collection of Israeli citizens unafraid to call the policies of their own government a form of apartheid. There are queer communities that resent Israel’s policy of ‘pinkwashing’ – posing itself as the only gay-friendly country in a homophobic Middle East.
The venom with which we use words like ‘Jew’ or its equivalent in Urdu, ‘agent’, ‘conspiracy’– and more broadly, the raging anti-Semitism we exhibit are not simply morally repulsive; they are a disservice to the thousands of Jews from all over the world, especially America and Israel, that are disgusted with their countries’ policies and continue to devote their lives – giving them up, in some cases – to rectifying them.
Pakistan has supposedly taken the moral high ground when it comes to the occupation. We do not recognise Israel, and many a sermon is devoted to our ‘Palestinian brothers’ and their plight. Our actions to aid our ‘Palestinian brothers’ however, has been negligible; their plight is only mentioned when it is instrumental to anti-Americanism or our portrayal as victims.
Before we go on the next tirade on Jewish conspiracies, think of Maya and Eran. Think of all the Jews giving everything to make the Middle East more just, more integrated. They deserve better.
By: Saim Saeed