Mendel Letters 78 — Israel

Israeli riot police attacked mourners at the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and her casket was toppled to the ground.

May 21, 2022

Dear Mendel,

Israel has been a difficult issue between us for a long time. Recent news is very disturbing. Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known Palestinian-American television reporter, was shot to death while covering an Israeli raid against Palestinians on the occupied West Bank. When she was shot, Abu Akleh was wearing a vest that clearly identified her as a journalist. Although they deny it, the Israel military is suspected of her murder. Days later, Israeli riot police attacked mourners at her funeral and her casket was toppled to the ground. The police claim they attacked the mourners because they insisted on carrying the casket to a local church where she would be buried rather than placing it in a hearse.

When you met and married Fay we became a very pro-Israel family. As I remember the story, Fay’s younger brother Ari Jacobi was a U.S. World War II veteran who went to Israel to join the independence movement and he became an officer in the Israeli army. I met him a few times on his trips back to New York. I know over the years you and Mother visited Israel many times and her sister Gert eventually went to live there also.

In 1967, Mother was visiting Israel when the Six-Day War broke out. Americans were evacuated and we waited in shifts to pick her up at Kennedy Airport because her name was not listed on any flight manifest. I was a high school senior and a number of my friends and I signed up with the Jewish Agency to go to Israel to help in any way we could, but the war was over fast, Israel was victorious, so we weren’t needed and never got to go.

At CCNY I became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and began to question the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and efforts to annex part of the territory into Israel proper. By the time the 1973 Yom Kippur War started I could no longer support Israeli policy in the occupied territories. I have always supported Israel’s right to exist as a safe and secure nation. I understand why most Israelis and American Jews want it to remain a Jewish State, but I believe Palestinians have a right to their own country and that expanding Israel settlements on Palestinian lands make this impossible and are a constant source of conflict.

My views about Israel led to a lot of family tension. Before family gatherings, you would tell me to not say anything about Israel and cause trouble. My answer was definitely not helpful. I wanted to know if you also requested that other family members not to say anything about Israel that might upset me. Passover was always a problem because the tale of Exodus inevitably led to discussion of Israel, especially when people chanted “שנה הבאה בירושלים” (Next year in Jerusalem). I think I generally bit my tongue, but you might not remember it that way.

Much of the world, not just the Arab world, is opposed to expanded Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank of Palestine, but that has not stopped Israeli governments from starting new settlements. Last October Israel announced it would build homes for 3,000 West Bank settler families despite a protest from the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and just last week the Israeli Defense and Interior Ministers approved of the construction of over 4,000 additional settlement homes in the occupied West Bank. Blinken, by the way, is Jewish and had family members who were Holocaust survivors.

This April, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Israel of being an apartheid state and charging the Israel government with crimes against humanity because of the occupation and the persecution of Palestinians who are being evicted from homes in areas Israel now claims. Amnesty International makes similar charges. There are also anti-occupation groups in Israel including the human rights group B’Tselem and one organized by Israeli military veterans.

Once you told me “Jews don’t do these things.” My sarcastic response was “Maybe they’re not really Jews.” I am sorry for the sarcasm. I know how important Israel was to you and when one of Ari Jacobi’s sons visited, I gave him a vial of your ashes to bring to Israel.

We never discussed Israel much when I was young, although when I was in Hebrew School we always gave money to plant trees in the Negev desert. Someday I plan to go see my trees, but I can’t go now because of the continuing occupation and the mistreatment of Palestinians. This has got to stop. Wherever you are, maybe you could talk to someone like Ari about it?

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

Follow Alan Singer on twitter at https://twitter.com/AlanJSinger1

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