By Anne Tracy, Newman parish, Leeds
This year, as part on the online Leeds Palestinian Film Festival, the Justice and Peace Commission sponsored the film ‘Jews Step Forward’ The panel discussion is available online until the 28th November.
It is easy to get the impression from the media that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is regarded by all Jews as a literally God-given right, or at the very least, as an unfortunate but necessary act of self-defence. – Which gives this film a very interesting slant, for in it, Jews from Israel, Europe and particularly America, offer a very different take on the history and the realities of today. They are members of campaigning organisations such as Jewish Voices for Peace, the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance, Veterans for Peace and many more. They believe that the narrative the government of Israel expounds, is politically false and contrary to everything their heritage holds most sacred.
Some of those in the film are survivors of the Holocaust and it is seared into their memories. One woman remembers being on a Kindertransport to the UK; she reads us the last letter her mother was able to send her. Another remembers her father desperately saying over and over ‘But where are they all’ unable to take in that so many friends and relatives have simply disappeared. Even those born after the war in distant America remember the shock of hearing the stories and seeing the pictures; how fearful it made him says one speaker, them that another Holocaust could happen at anytime.
They remember too, joy they felt at the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. We see film of ships carrying refugees from Europe, and young settlers full of hope, many setting up socialist kibbutzim and farms, to ‘make the dessert bloom’ some with a more ominous Zionist dream. It was said to be, ‘A land without people, for a people without a land’. Except of course, it was not. The ‘the homes and dishes, the furniture, the clothing the olive trees’ and the land, belonged to the people who lived there.
And so, we see more terrible pictures and stories, this time of Palestinians. Photographs of the Warsaw Ghetto are set beside pictures of murdered Palestinians. An academic tells of the thousands of military documents he researched, finding plans and orders to drive the Palestinians from their land. There are films of refugee, destroyed villages and murdered villagers.
An activist tells how she tried to talk to her Jewish friend about what she had found when she visited the West Bank and was bluntly told ‘I don’t want to know.’ But the people in this film have made their stand and will not be silenced. We see them in demonstrations against Israeli goods in supermarkets, and outside synagogues with placards reading ‘Anti-Occupation is NOT anti-Semitism.’ They are clear there can be no solution until there is justice and they ask their viewers to support boycotts and do whatever is possible in our local and faith communities. The film using old newsreel footage, film, photographs and witnesses, tells the modern story of Israel/Palestine, but is remarkable in that it does this through the eyes of Jews who have ‘stepped forward’ and who may have an important part to play in the achievement of a just peace.