A Letter to Progressive U.S. Jews: These Are Your People

Please try to imagine what it's like here. It's Saturday, the Sabbath, a gorgeous day in a place where a beautiful day has no equal on earth. And a place where the most beautiful of days are often also, hands down, the most horrific.

My wife and I are running along the side of a mountain near our home. We can see Gaza from here, and also the kibbutzim and the towns and villages that border it. Israel and Palestine are at war.

Down the mountain and to our left, many of the most progressive of all Israelis -- the most consistent in their championing of Palestinian independence, the most vocal in their defense of human rights and a viable, just Mideast peace -- are directly in the sights of Hamas gunners.

"J Street should donate armored school buses, they should donate Iron Dome batteries" my wife says. The Iron Dome is Israel's most revolutionary weapon. All it does is intercept and kill incoming rockets.

Alone of all weapons on both sides, Iron Dome leaves people alive -- on both sides of the border.

Down the mountain, friends of ours, friends as close as blood, are trapped in shelters. They are unable to explain to their children and grandchildren why today -- like yesterday, and the days before that -- they cannot go outside, why the entire family, or several families, must sleep in one cramped armored room, and why some families don't even have that to protect them. Why the explosions don't stop. And why they don't know how long it's going to be before they will.

They cannot explain to their children, or to themselves, why, when the alarm sounds, some families must run outside and take cover in a large sewer pipe, where as many as six other families may be taking cover. Why it took so long for the authorities to budget and build shelters. Why there are so few Iron Domes, and none nearby.

Looking down from this mountain, I'm thinking about the people we come from, our eidah, the branch of the Jews we belong to. Americans. Progressives.

The most radical, the most progressive single step that our people can take right now - and in some ways, the most dangerously unpopular - is to be moved to positive action to come to the aid of the civilian victims on not one, but both sides.

Somewhere, we have lost perspective. In war without end, in inhumanity without boundaries, we have lost some of our own humanity. In a kind of affirmative action, driven by the one-sidedness, the chauvinism, and the exclusionism of the pro-Israel establishment, it has been the fate and the practice of some progressive American Jews to support, identify with and help Palestinian victims of the conflict, while relating to Israeli victims with a cold shoulder, or worse, with victim-blaming.

It is seven in the morning. By seven in the evening, scores of rockets and mortar shells will have been fired at the people who are as close to us as blood. It is clear enough to see the southern coastline, where two and a half million people, non-combatants on both sides of the border, are breathing only erratically, knowing that every one of them could be a target.

This is a test for progressives.

It is crucially important that the New Israel Fund and other organizations -- all of them groups of warm hearts rather than cold shoulders -- continue their work for the benefit of Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and other non-Jews in Israel. But it is no less important that these groups, be they J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Meretz USA, Tikkun, the Jewish Voice for Peace and many others, take further steps for Israeli Jews literally under the gun.

My wife is right. There is much more that our people, progressive American Jews, can and should do to demonstrate humanist concern on this side of the border.

This could mean adopting communities, raising money to see to their needs and, in particular, their defense.

It's time. Days like this. This is when it matters.

Originally published on