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Testimony 2: Michael

When I was growing up, I often visited my father’s side of the family in Israel. The trips were always joyous occasions, centered around seeing all the relatives – my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my cousins, my cousins’ cousins. I was too caught up in the family schedule to know that something might be happening outside our circle.

As I got older and left home for university, I started going to Israel less and less. At the same time, I also started to read things for myself and speak to different people about Israel and Palestine. I began to develop my own understanding of what was happening in the region.

After a long time of not going to Israel, I decided to visit my family again, keeping at the forefront of my mind this new understanding. My father and I went to visit my uncle who lived near the Palestinian village Abu Gosh. My father and uncle wanted to take me for lunch in the town, which they assured me had very good relations with the Israeli state and was therefore treated well. Cautious of their claims, I joined them in the town for hummus and falafel, and then went to explore the place with my father. We strolled along the main high street before turning down a quieter road lined with homes and with some children playing on the street. At first I was distracted by the beautiful trees and the hanging bougainvillea, but then I looked at my father and saw his discomfort.

I asked him if he was alright and he said he thinks we should leave. I told him that I liked the place and I wanted to carry on, but he became irritable and insisted that it wasn’t safe as no one was around. I pointed out that it was a quiet neighbourhood and we were not alone, there were children playing right by us. But my father just grew more fretful and his fear really started to show. He said that we were two Jews and if someone were to attack, no one would be around to help us – he claimed that if I was brought up in Israel like he had been, I would be wiser and know to leave. At that point I could really see the panic in his eyes and hear the urgency in his voice, so we turned around and went back to the busy high street.

I left Abu Ghosh feeling dejected. What I saw in my father was so deep rooted, so deeply ingrained from his upbringing, that even a quiet, suburban Palestinian street could trigger him. He was taught to treat the Palestinian people with suspicion and caution for what he said was a matter of survival. To him Palestinian existence represented a threat to the safety of his family and himself. I realised then that Palestinian people existed in my father’s imagination first and foremost as a people to be feared.

The way he acted that day did not match up with the way he thinks of others around him or the way he speaks about Palestinians and wanting peace with Palestine. But when he was removed from comfortable conversations around the dinner table and was confronted with a real life situation, his true prejudices came out. Just like my family, many in the British Jewish community have fond memories of going to Israel – whether to see family or just to go on holiday. For so many there is such a strong sense of community from the moment that first step is taken off the plane. But that communal sentiment is sometimes contradicted by a hostility towards an entire group of people. And with this feeling of hatred and prejudice within us, Israel will never exist as the land we want it to be. That day in Abu Ghosh made me realise that in order for my father to truly think of Israel as a loving place, where family and community flourish, he will have to be honest and work hard to vanquish the prejudice that he was brought up with. And the same can be said for many of us in the British Jewish community.

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