Breaking the taboo

Israeli Jews speak out about the massacre in Gaza

Jewish Canadian Corey Balsam (right) and two unidentified Palestinian youth. Balsam, the grandson of a Nazi concentration-camp survivor, is now volunteering in the West Bank.

Jewish Canadian Corey Balsam (right) and two unidentified Palestinian youth. Balsam, the grandson of a Nazi concentration-camp survivor, is now volunteering in the West Bank.

Photo By Patricia Daugherty

Sacramento peace activists Maggie Coulter and Patricia Daugherty have been in the West Bank since October 2008. Reports of their experiences are at

With the death toll from Israel’s massive assault on Gaza now nearly 1,300, including 900 civilians, horrified people around the world are demanding that their governments take action to stop the massacre. This outcry includes tens of thousands of people inside Israel, mostly Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, but also many Jewish Israelis. (As of this writing, 13 Israelis, 3 of them civilians, have been killed.)

The growing awareness of Jews around the world about the brutality of Israeli’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories has been catalyzed by the mass killings in Gaza. Once taboo, some Jews are making comparisons to the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Holocaust. That could increase once Israel’s media blackout of the Gaza invasion is lifted, says American-Israeli peace activist Dorothy Naor.

“The photographs they will show and the stories they will relate will not be much less traumatic than the photos of the emaciated survivors, of the ovens and the skeletons in the concentration camps at the end of World War II,” says Naor, 76. “When this occurs, Israel will be seen by an ever-growing number as the pariah that it has become.”

Naor is active with New Profile, a group that hopes to transform Israel from a militaristic society to a civil one.

“There is criticism of Israel—more criticism of Israel now than I ever recall having been in the past,” she notes. “Meanwhile, Israel is not merely the neighborhood bully. It continues to be the neighborhood persecutor, tyrant, terrorist.”

Jewish Canadian Corey Balsam, 24, the grandson of a Nazi concentration-camp survivor, is now volunteering in the West Bank. He agrees that the taboo that prevents Jews from criticizing Israel’s militarism is diminishing.

“There are no longer just a few dissenting voices among Jewish youth in the diaspora,” Balsam says. “An increasing number of us are coming to see the truth about Israel and Zionism. The ongoing massacres in Gaza, the ethnic cleansing, the collective punishment, the occupation, the racist policies towards Palestinian citizens of Israel—these are not things that we as human beings and as Jews are willing to tolerate.”

Balsam first came to Israel as a teenager on an all-expenses-paid “birthright” tour for Jews. He then began to do his own research and notes, “It did not take me long to figure out what was really going on.” Balsam is now active with Canadian groups like Jewish Voices Opposing Zionism. Since November, he has been volunteering with the joint Israeli-Palestinian Alternative Information Center in the West Bank.

For decades, there have been individuals and organizations inside Israel calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Many have defended a “soft” Zionist vision of a kinder, gentler Jewish state, one that calls for an end to the occupation but does not address the rights of Palestinians. Others believe that a state that favors one group over another cannot be a just state.

“As a Jew raised on the notion of ‘never again,’ I cannot ignore the genocidal policies that result from the desire for a Jewish-only state,” says Jewish Israeli Neta Golan, 38, whose grandparents came to Palestine in the 1920s. A longtime peace and justice activist and mother of two children, Golan co-founded the International Solidarity Movement in 2000. The group currently has eight volunteers reporting from inside Gaza.

“Of the million-and-a-half people concentrated in the Gaza strip, 80 percent are refugees, expelled from their homes in what is now Israel,” Golan explains. “Israel transformed the Gaza Strip into an open-air prison and has subjected it to varying degrees of siege, allowing in just enough food to keep it on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Now Israel and the U.S. are [committing] indiscriminate mass murder of an imprisoned and impoverished people. Civil society everywhere must work to withdraw their complicity in the form of financial ties with Israel.”

Golan says a boycott initiated by Palestinians is gaining steam with Israelis. Many Jewish members of the peace movement are concerned that the Gaza invasion will diminish Israel in the world’s eye.

“This attack and slaughter in the Gaza Strip is something that will redound to Israel’s shame for as long as Israel continues to exist. There can never be a lasting peace here until there is justice,” says American-Israeli Elana Wesley, 77.

Wesley and her husband David moved to Israel in the 1950s to live in a kibbutz. They will be in Sacramento in April as part of a U.S. tour for David’s book on discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel.