Testimony 13: Josh
I’m Josh and I grew up in north west London. I went to JFS School, which is the biggest Jewish school in Europe and a cornerstone of the community.
Israel featured heavily in the formal and informal Jewish education the school provided, including 3 years of Israel Studies classes.
We were taught about the food, culture and history of Israel, from Herzl until the ‘90s. A lot of what we learnt was fantastic, but there was a gaping hole in the syllabus – the Palestinian people. Palestinians were only referenced as an obstacle, a safety threat and a thorn in the side of Jewish freedom and safety.
In the rare instances that a student asked about the plight of Palestinians, they were quickly, and often angrily, shut down. We were told that this education was not supposed to be political, and that bringing up Palestinian perspectives was stoking controversy. In contrast, at many times students were encouraged to make Aliyah and join the Israel Defense Force.
The Palestinian perspective was only ever spoken of as something to be countered, and we were armed with the tools to obscure, deny or derail any legitimate claims to grievance. We were taught that Palestinians broke every ceasefire, refused every offer of land, started every war, and had no motivation besides hatred to do so. Every bit of land in Israel’s borders was bought fair and square or freely abandoned. We were told that Palestinians faked harrowing news stories in order to con credulous western news sources, so no accounts of Palestinian suffering was ever to be trusted.
We heard testimony from Jewish victims of the conflict. However, Palestinian death or suffering was never registered, other than to say that it resulted from the Palestinians being too evil and illogical to prioritise their children over their hatred of Jews. We were taught to view the Palestinian flag as a borderline anti-Semitic hate symbol.
Palestinians were never portrayed as complex people, with various outlooks, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. They were instead defined only by terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and bigotry.
Growing up steeped in the Jewish history of persecution and injustice, this wholesale discarding of a group’s humanity felt wrong to me. Even as someone who was critical of the official doctrine, I am still amazed to find how much of the bigotry I was taught can still surreptitiously colour my understanding of events in Israel-Palestine.
As a Jew with family in Israel, who went on numerous holidays and residential programs in Israel, I understand many of the reasons for this moral blind spot, but they are not an excuse. I’m happy to have now joined Na’amod, a Jewish movement that makes it clear that to treat Palestinians as human beings does not put Jewish safety at risk.