Confrontation at Borehamwood Vigil for Israeli Hostages

Woman and teddy bear with poster reading - Be Jewdicious, Swap hostages for equal rights, facilities and services. Make a deal.
My poster calling for equality

Confrontation at Borehamwood Vigil for Israeli Hostages

On the 15th December 2023, I attended in Borehamwood‘s vigil for Israeli hostages, with home-made poster reading – “Be Jewdicious. Swap hostages for equal Rights, facilities and services. Make a deal”.

I expected to meet with some resistance and, of course, I did. That I did was fine with me.

I was set upon for the content of my poster. For advocating equality! For going against the assumed narrative of all Jews!

Neither Jews, Muslims, Israelis or Palestinians are a monolith. Not all members of a people think alike on all subjects of concern.

I was asked why didn’t my poster state that I was against Hamas? A fair question.

I can only fit so much on a poster. And there is so much to say. So, here I can expand a bit.

Just because I would like to see equal Rights for Palestinians, it doesn’t mean that I am against the existence of Israel. Neither does it mean that I agree with the, From the river to the sea slogan. Only the use of narrow thinking would surmise that!

I believe in Rights for humankind. I believe in justice. I believe in accountability of all sides in situations. Not being accountable, is more than immature. It is a harmful barrier. Both Israel and Palestine need to be accountable for their parts in the issues.

Because I want equal Rights for Palestinians, the assumption seems to be that I support Hamas! How can that conclusion be drawn? How polarized is that assumption!

I am in no way support Hamas. What happened on October 7th was diabolical.

Although I realise that Hamas want the death of Israel, I don’t think October 7th would have happened had equality for Palestinian been in place.

I want the destruction of Hamas. But it would be naïve to assume that that would end the issues. There will be other groups like Hamas, as long as there is inequality. Even equality won’t end the issues. Though it can possibly reduce them.

Equality will make lives better. Surely that is fair? It can improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians even if not end some of the friction that will always exist.

I am not against the idea of Zion where it simply means a return to a homeland.
I am against the construction of Zion where it displaces another people and creates a life of inequality for them.

I have been to over 60 countries but have not felt comfortable with the idea of going to Israel. It is not my home just because I am Jewish.

That I have more right to a safe home there, and to justice, than a Palestinian born there is deplorably unjust to my mind. It is diabolical. I cannot accept that just because I am Jewish.

I cannot accept injustice to another people in my name as a Jew.

As an Agnostic Jew, I am open to things that I may not know. I am open to narratives that differ from mine. However, I find in general (and certainly found at the Borehamwood Vigil on 15th December), that listening to differing views and narrative are intolerant to some people.

When approached about my poster, I asked what it meant to the man who approached me.

That I disagreed with some of what he (and others that joined in) said, was labelled as me dismissing them, rather than simply not agreeing with them!

Logic would dictate that if my not agreeing with them means I am dismissing them, then they’re not agreeing with me is dismissing me! That would have been childish for me to say though; so I didn’t say so.

To me, dismissing means to treat someone or something as unworthy of consideration. I was open to their narratives, even if I voiced my disagreement. Not agreeing with people’s beliefs is not dismissive, in and of itself. Not tolerating their airing is.

I think the accusation of me being ‘Dismissive’, was being used as a silencing weapon against a view that they didn’t want to see as an alternative view. Something I am used to as a Jew, as an Autistic, as a woman and simply a human being.

Critical thinking is far too risky for many people.

On my way home from the vigil, a woman stopped me in the street having seen my poster.

When (assuming me to support the anti-Israel rallies) she referred to me ‘You people’. She didn’t realise that I, like her, am Jewish! The concept of a Jew wanting equality for Palestinians seemed alien to her!

As a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, I know there are many other Jews that want fairness for Palestinians. Those Jews don’t support Hamas.

There were Germans during Hitler’s time that supported Jews and were against what the Nazis did. It didn’t make those Germans against Germany, just the Nazis.

When the woman learned that I was Jewish, she said she didn’t get it.

What’s not to get about equality and justice?

She even accused me of being middle-class. Why, because I am Jewish? Or because I don’t have a strong regional accent?

Perhaps it was in comparison to working-class people in less developed countries. Yes, I am privileged. I live in a country free of war. A country with relative justice and equality.

However, I have to say “Not in my name as a Jew”. I have to risk upsetting some people, who are so set in their limited thinking and as such, are intolerant of views they disagree with.

It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the release of some Israeli hostages. Celebration of the release of loved ones ought to be permitted on each side. Though it seems not for Palestinians.

Israeli national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s instructions to Israeli forces to prevent Palestinians from celebrating the release of Palestinians is inhumane.

Innocent or terrorist, surely their release should be accepted as a reason for their family and friends to celebrate. Why punish the loved ones?

What message is this sending that it is not permitted? How does this serve the end to the conflict?

Though even if each side was granted freedom to rejoice in the releases, the conflict still rages on.

Conflict will always be a threat whilst injustice continues and prevails. So, we need to still acknowledge the problems and do the work.

The idea of a homeland is central to humankind. However, we need to question how right it is when this comes at the cost of people being dispossessed of their homes. How right is the introduction, by the new arrivals, of legislation of laws for the benefit of their people to the detriment of the existing ones?

The conditions that Israel was built on and exists on today follow what I think is wrong. As a nice Jewish girl, I am ashamed of the circumstances.

Yes, I have the privilege of having these thoughts whilst living in the comfort of a conflict-free land where I am not losing loved ones or fearing for my life, but my name as a Jew is stained in injustice and accusations. I don’t like that.

Through the journey of evolution, the blood that runs through my veins carries the connection to all humans that have ever existed. We are one people and, through the evolution of dispersion, environmental and cultural factors, we have mutated into many beautiful peoples.

Yes, it is selfish of me to worry about my reputation of myself as a Jew but that is not my main concern. I would be disgusted with the unfair foundations of the Israeli Zion and the oppressive regime Palestinians live under had I not been Jewish and my name tarred with it.

The conditions that another people suffer for the gain of our people are bigger than any shame we might feel at our people’s part in it.

This is partly why I don’t feel guilt, as well as shame.

Because I played no part in the situation, it is not my place to take on the guilt. To do so feels like pacification. To pacify, in these circumstances, feels like one feels oneself in a position to patronise; as though one is superior.

This is similar to my not feeling guilt as a white person for the colonization and injustice blacks and other races have suffered at the hands of the white race. Of course, I am disgusted at it. But I will not take on blame and guilt. Again, to do so feels selfish as it makes my feelings bigger than the injustice.

I am not a colonizer – neither because I am Jewish or because I am white.

I reiterate that I think that what Hamas did on October 7th 2023 was wrong.

However, we have to acknowledge the why – and the why behind the why.

The foundations of Israel’s Zion, of Jewish Zion, were unfair.  Israel’s orchestration of Zionism and the continuing control and inequality of services, and lesser human Rights experienced by Palestinian citizens are the roots of the atrocities that Hamas inflicted on innocent Israeli citizens.

If I was Palestinian, I would likely also be against Hamas. Hamas is responsible for much suffering of Palestinians, historically and within this conflict.

As much as I think Israel needs to play a part in the riddance of Hamas (for the sake of themselves and of Palestinians) I think doing so won’t solve problems completely. Hamas is an ideology, a harmful one that will continue in current and new guises, as long as there is injustice experienced by the Palestinians.

Would Israel acquiesce to the injustice they expect Palestinians to acquiesce to? Of course not.

Jews, we must remember that The Torah teaches: ‘Justice, justice, you shall pursue’ (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Several times, over the years, I have been told that it is naivety (a misinterpretation of my autistic traits), that makes me see that many elements of Israeli Zionism are wrong. I have even had a local Borehamwood Jewish woman express her concern that my being on the spectrum makes me vulnerable to being radicalized.

I argue that my autism means that I am analytical and mostly free of groupthink. I think individually but not alone. Many Jews share my thoughts and have done so, many years before I realized. Solitary in nature, I came to many of my beliefs in isolation from like-minded people.

When people say “Educate yourself”, they tend to mean – form the same beliefs as them. Beliefs that even if they are fully versed in data, they have likely not questioned or have limited critical understanding of, but because of their social status (real or perceived), they believe to be the only valid views and dismiss views that do not reflect their polarized narratives.

I find this especially true of much of the Jewish community, the unthinking middle class, and, of course, The Woke!

This is partly why I find it hard to be part of the mainstream Jewish community.

It is also why I don’t join mass demos in London with those I was assumed (by the woman that stopped me in the street), to be part of, chanting ‘From the river to the sea’.

Yes, I want Palestinians to have liberty but I also understand that that chant calls for the destruction of Israel. Which I Don’t want.

Funny enough, later that day, I was introduced to an alternative Jewish community when I read out a section of my book at a Disability Pride Shabbat with the Willesden Minyan congregation, in North West London.

I found them to be exclusive, open-minded and able to respectfully listen to ideas that might differ to theirs. That most of them were neuro-divergent and have perhaps had to learn social skills manually, was perhaps why they use their intelligence for critical thinking and understanding.

On the question of standing with either Israel or Palestine in this conflict? I see it as Israel versus Hamas – not Palestine. I started standing with one shaky but hopeful foot in Israel, and one supportive foot in Palestine. However, I am increasingly losing footage in Israel at all. But wherever that shaky foot is placed, I stand with fist held high in protest against Hamas.

Debra Schiman, 56, Borehamwood, UK
Author of Travels with My Teddy Bear (Travelogues and musings of a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome and her teddy bear).

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