Who is Free Paly?

I was born and bred in middle-class America. While at liberal arts college, I discovered my spiritual roots in a certain secular jewish cosmopolitan revolutionary humanist universalism; I traced a spark up from the biblical prophets, through Marx and other communist-socialists and, strangely enough, all the way to certain strands of modern continental philosophy. I became proud of my jewish heritage insofar as it carried an imperative of critique, and transmitted a passion for social justice; I connected with judaism through this subversive, radical kernel that i felt lingered within it.

So, when some wide-eyed poet friends of mine finished college and discovered orthodox judaism in israel, I thought I would come over on a yeshiva-sponsored three week summer religious program and see what living a spiritual jewish life in ‘the holy land’ was all about. I also made plans, before my arrival, to join the ISM and Anarchists Against the Wall, because, dwelling comfortably within liberal left-wing circles in America, I had heard that Israel was an oppressive state, and wanted to fight oppression in all its ugly manifestations. I spent a month studying in an orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, and I got alot out of it. I have a literary lust for dissecting old texts and steeping myself in ancient lore, so for awhile it was exciting to drink from the fountain of Torah study and interpretation that has trickled in leaps and bounds through the generations.

I even- I am ashamed to admit it- became a Zionist for this brief month. It is true that this land is holy to the Jewish people; this is an objective emotional fact for a cultural group, and it exists apart from the political programme in which Zionism has enshrined it. Though I do not believe in God, and though I feel no need to practice the rituals of Judaism, I spiritually connect with the history, culture and taste of the Jewish spirit that has survived and morphed through the ages; so during this first month in Israel, my mind opened wide to soak in the tales of ancient history that came alive in the air around me, that sprouted from the ground upon which my feet in awe tred. But beyond this, I made the mistake of buying into an ideology- I believed that, in some cosmic scheme of things, this patch of land ultimately belongs to the Jewish people as a heritage; I believed that it was good and beautiful for Jews to flock here en masse in the 1900s under the banner of Zionism; I believed (without much research) that the Jews in the 1900s only wanted, and still today only want, peace, and that a confluence of unfortunate circumstances, among them anti-Semitism, have throughout its brief history conspired against Israel to thwart its vision of peace.

I believed in the State of Israel; I rejected the extremist notions of Arab and Gentile inferiority, I did not automatically accept every word of Torah as God-given truth, but still I was proud that my people, under the yoke of persecution, had returned to claim rightful, primary ownership of its homeland. I realized- rightfully so- that before I came I held naive opinions about the Israel-Palestine conflict that were not backed up by much knowledge or genuine conviction (because, looking back on it now, if I have really done my research before my arrival I would not have let myself be sucked into the Zionist mythology); I realized- partially rightfully so- that the left-wing American community with which I identified really did not know much about the conflict, or, at least, that they possessed a fanciful image, radically different from the reality on the ground, radically different from the experiences of those who actually walk this earth.

In truth, I did not dwell on these political questions much during that month; my faith in Zionism was really just a screen to block the harsh light of political reality, under the shade of which I could delve into Torah and Talmud for awhile. But after a month I found myself depressed, empty, restless, listless, confused; I walked one day along the outside of the old city, talking to God (who I held in my heart not as an actually existing entity, but as a fascinating signifier), asking it ‘God, help me! Give me a sign, show me something! I am lost, there is a void inside me, something is missing, I am not content, I am doing something wrong, there is something I am not doing- what is it? Show me, please!’ I looked up, and I saw an Israeli pro-Palestinian rally headed my way! I walked with them, and after the rally there was a bearded man sitting off to the side, reading Gemorrah (Jewish law). I walked up to him and asked, ‘How do you balance Judaism with supporting the Palestinian people?’ He answered ‘There is no balance, Judaism is all about justice!’ I asked him, ‘Are you proud to be in this holy land, and proud to be Jewish?’ He responded, ‘No- I am humble to be in this holy land, and humble to be Jewish.’

It was then that I moved to the West Bank, and spent the next five months as an activist with the International Solidarity Movement, a journalist for the Alternative Information Center and a frequent contributor to other online magazines such as the Electronic Intifada, the Palestine Chronicle, MondoWeiss, Occupied Palestine, +972mag, Palestine Note, Dissident Voice, the Sabbah Report, and more.  This blog is a collection of my articles, a diary of my experiences in Palestine, and a record of my reflections on revolutionary struggle.

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