Rachel Persico, a foreign student advisor in the University’s International Center, said that growing up in Israel she believed many myths about how Israel was one empty but rightly belonged to the Jews.
“A land with no people for a people with no land,” Persico said. “This is what we were brought up on.”
Persico said it was only later she learned the story about the “ethnic cleansing” as she called it, of Palestinians from Israel in the late ’40s. She was previously told that the Palestinians were nomads who wandered outside of the borders of Israel and wanted to throw all Jewish people into the sea.
“I learned that between ’47 and ’49, Israel systematically expelled the majority of Palestinians, 850,000 of them,” she said. “They left everything behind when the war broke out.”
Last night, Persico and Ann Arbor resident Henry Herskovitz were part of a presentation called “A Jewish Perspective: From Israel to America,” sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality. Persico and Herskovitz, as American and Israeli Jews respectively, presented their support of human rights for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank territories.
“I would hope that there are more of us in the closet dying to get out,” Herskovitz said. “I think a travesty is happening in front of the world’s eyes. … The travesty is the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israel Government.”
Herskovitz expressed his opinions, relating to his childhood growing up as a Jewish boy in a primarily non-Jewish environment. He talked about riding a bus 10 miles to go to Hebrew School, and expressing disbelief at other kids his age who talked about Santa Claus. He said it was his sister who taught him “his first lesson in diplomacy,” – that it was fine to not believe in Santa Claus as long as he respected the views of those who did.
Herskovitz also said it is ridiculous that at the border crossings in the occupied territories that visitors needed Israeli permission to go into the West Bank. He added that Palestinians will sometimes be detained for several hours before they can pass through a border.
“Would I have to ask somebody from Canada to go to Mexico City?” He added that the many suicide bombings in Israel give the Israeli government an excuse to make more incursions into the West Bank.
“I think that the Israeli government isn’t upset with the suicide bombings,” he said. “It all goes in Israel’s favor.”
Both Herskovitz and Persico talked about the “silent Jews” in the United States and Israel who are afraid to speak out in support of Palestinians. Herskovitz said he once talked to his cousin, who said there were Palestinian childrens television programs that taught children to hate. Yet, when Herskovitz visited the West Bank, he could not find such shows.
“I watched children’s programming for eight days and I saw nothing,” he said.
Persico said there is an ideal view among Israelis of what their country should be and how the leaders should have unquestionable authority. But growing up, she was warned by her mother, a Holocaust survivor, about the mistake Germans made by following a charismatic leader and not questioning their government.
“My shock with the Israelis is we have all turned into good Germans,” she said.