Building a Home for Everyone

22 February 2024
By: Ben Poor

I’m always a bit surprised how much I like the Israeli song “Ein Li Eretz Aheret,” often translated as “I Have No Other Country.” (Feel free to play it in the background as you read this post). It’s surprising for two reasons: First–I very much do have another country, where I was born, grew up, and reside today, the United States. Second–my relationship to Medinat Yisrael, the modern nation-state, is deeply complicated by its treatment of another people who, in a very literal sense, have no other country: Palestinians. 

And yet, the song stays with me. I first remember hearing this song while living in Jerusalem last year. Between its haunting melody and syncopated offbeats, the song stuck itself in my brain, even before I really understood the Hebrew. But the more I listened, and the more I learned of the song’s history, the more my appreciation for it made sense. Songwriter Ehud Manor composed the piece after breaking down when seeing Israeli soldiers entering Beirut during the First Lebanon War. The song became a rallying cry for Israelis who opposed the war, but who also refused to abandon the idea of their country–even when it acted in ways they couldn’t recognize. “Even if my land is aflame,” Manor writes, “I won’t be silent, because my country has changed its face.” In my own way, as an American Jew, I resonated with his inability to look away, particularly in a year where Israel elected its most right wing government ever. Despite all his frustrations with his country, its wars, and its leadership, Manor cannot separate himself from his people: “just one word of Hebrew pierces my veins, my soul.”

I’ve felt that pierce, particularly since October 7. On a flight in late October, I heard a family speaking Hebrew. I wouldn’t normally start a conversation in a circumstance like that–I didn’t know their situation, their politics, or anything about them–but I wondered if our pain might be recognizable to each other. As we disembarked, I told them I was thinking about them. The mother said, in a very Israeli way, don’t worry about us: “The good guys will win.” 

I didn’t get to ask her who she meant by the good guys, but I can tell you who I think they are: people like the members of Standing Together (Omdim Beyachad–Naqif Ma’an), a grassroots movement organizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in pursuit of a just society, an end to the occupation, and peace. Since the war, they’ve responded powerfully–bringing together joint Jewish-Arab Solidarity rallies and networks, building political will for the release of hostages and a ceasefire rooted in the interest of Jews and Palestinians, and more. 

These aren’t just reactions though–they’re actively building the society they want to see. What’s more, their vision is catching on. At the start of February, over a thousand Standing Together supporters gathered in Haifa to elect new national leadership and chart a course for the work ahead. In recent student union elections at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a slate of Arab and Jewish Standing Together-affiliated students won more than 25% of the seats, making them the biggest group in the student government. 

There are so many people who, in any language, resonate with Manor’s powerful sentiment, “here is my home.” Of all the signs I saw at protests against the judicial coup last year, the one that spoke to me the most, perhaps unsurprisingly, came from Standing Together. It said simply: This is a home for everyone. May it be so.