As a little kid, my favorite pastime was attending gymnastic classes a block away from my home. Specifically, I loved the trampoline. Every week, we would bounce for hours, jumping, doing flips in the air, handstands on our instructor’s hands, and generally feeling free.
I hadn’t thought much about trampolines since then. But this summer, I traveled to Israel and the occupied territories as a part of the New Israel Fund’s Global Activism Fellowship. Our group spent seven days meeting with activists, both Israeli and Palestinian, working to build a better society for all who lived there.
On the eighth day, we were headed to the South Hebron Hills where we would have a chance to meet with those living under occupation in the West Bank. Activists sat with us and served us tea while explaining what it meant to live under the constant threat of demolition. Our guide, Tariq, showed us how the well where they get water had been demolished several times. He introduced us to his uncle who has been resisting the occupation since 1967.
And then he pointed towards the Jewish settlement, his finger just grazing the barbed wire that separated him from occupied land a few feet away.
Then I saw it. The trampoline. Outside a settler’s home.
As Tariq spoke, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
Growing up in a progressive Jewish community on the Upper West Side of New York, I was taught the importance of caring for the stranger, fixing our world, and pushing towards peace. But Palestinians weren’t a part of that story. So three years ago, I attended an IfNotNow training that helped me understand my place in a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation in the West Bank.
By the time I was standing there, staring at the trampoline across the divide, I had been organizing against the occupation for three years.
I had heard the statistics. I had seen the pictures. I knew about the disparities between Palestinians who lived with no infrastructure and settlers who had running water and electricity supplied by the state.
But seeing the trampoline did it for me. Suddenly, I felt sick to my stomach.
A trampoline, the fun, silly, playful toy that enables the most free of movements. The children jumping up and down, and up and down must have a hard time not noticing their Palestinian counterparts grasping at the barbed wire wishing to have even an ounce of the same freedom of movement.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the Palestinian children on the side of the barbed wire fence I was on would end up growing into adults, the weight of occupation still on their shoulders, their children still unable to dream of playing safely on a trampoline.
As Tariq continued to tell us his story, I could feel anger seething out of his lips and entering my own body. How could we, as Jews, a people I was proud to be connected to for so many generations, let this happen? Why weren’t we doing more? Why wasn’t I doing more?
I would make the NIF Global Activism Fellowship a requirement for any young Jew if I could. It has so deeply impacted my thinking of Israeli civil society. Seeing an issue that is so important to me up close made it real.
It was no longer stories I had read in a friend’s Facebook post or an article in The Forward. I could literally see the pain Palestinians were enduring.
I could also see the resilience of Palestinian and Israeli activists fighting to make life better. After Tariq finished, I asked him what made him hopeful. “We don’t have a choice,” he told me, “We keep at it even when hope seems to be fading because we must preserve our dignity even in the face of oppression.” Tariq and this trip taught me so much about resilience.
If we believe in the rights and dignity of immigrants in the United States, we surely have to believe in the rights and dignity of thousands of Palestinians who do not have freedom of movement.
If we believe that housing should be affordable and safe for every person in our country, we surely have to believe that Palestinians should have the right to feel safe in their homes and not fear demolitions knocking down their door.
Most of all, if we believe that every child should have the same opportunities to live freely in the place we call home, surely we believe that Palestinian children also deserve nothing less.
As Jews and as human beings, we have the responsibility to ensure that the Palestinian children behind the barbed wire fences of the West Bank grow up into freedom. We have a responsibility to ensure that they are able to jump around, to play, and to just be kids.