Jewish Americans speak out for Middle East peace

CLEVELAND — Anna Baltzer, author of “Witness in Palestine: Journal of a Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” spoke on Nov. 19 at the Middle East Peace Forum here, a “culturally diverse group” committed to promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Also speaking were Hannah Mermelstein and Alison Weir.

A graduate of Columbia University, Baltzer was a Fulbright scholar in Turkey in 2003 when she decided to visit neighboring Arab countries. Her grandmother, who had fled Europe and lost most of her family in the Holocaust, had always spoken of Israel as “a tiny victimized country” surrounded by hostile Arab regimes.

In Lebanon, Baltzer met a family of Palestinian refugees who told her of being violently expelled from their homeland. They spoke of military attacks, colonization, house demolitions, imprisonment without trial, torture and government-sponsored assassinations. At first she didn’t believe them.

She traveled to Palestine in late 2003 as a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service, a grassroots solidarity organization dedicated to documenting and nonviolently intervening in human rights abuses in the West Bank, and to supporting Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the occupation.

She said, “Nothing could have prepared me for witnessing firsthand the injustices that characterize Israeli rule in the West Bank, including the expansion of Jewish-only colonies on Palestinian land, the virtually unchecked brutality of soldiers and settlers against Palestinian civilians, and Israel’s Apartheid Wall, which separates hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land, jobs, hospitals, schools and each other.”

Mermelstein, a Jewish American raised in a Zionist household in Philadelphia, also served as a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service and is co-founder of Birthright Replugged, which takes Palestinian children to visit the home towns and villages from which their families were expelled.

Weir, who is not Jewish, is executive director of If Americans Knew and maintains that more non-Jewish Americans need to become outspoken on the plight of the Palestinians. The three activists insist the United States should “stop sending our tax dollars to Israel” for brutality and support boycotts of and divestment from American companies doing business in Israel.

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