By Samantha Shanker
On March 21, 10 Kenyon students joined 1,100 college kids and 2,000 others in Washington, D.C. for J Street’s fifth national conference, and we were reminded of a responsibility for reconciliation. J Street is the political home for pro-peace, pro-Palestine, pro-Israel Americans. J Street works to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to secure peace and two states for two peoples. We do this in the interest of Palestinian human rights and the continued existence of a Jewish and democratic Israel. To say this is a simple goal is like saying say that Gambier is a bustling megacity. But J Street is dedicated to making peace a reality, inch by inch, and it starts with our own personal actions.
The conference reminded us of our own responsibility by pushing us to reexamine our personal connection to the conflict. Listening to members of the Israeli parliament, Palestinian negotiators, journalists and current White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough helped us to understand that the status quo needs to change, and that we can work to make it happen. Often it is easy to think “I’m far away,” or “I’m not knowledgeable enough on the subject.” But all of us have a responsibility and opportunity to act and to end the conflict. The United States gives over $3 billion a year to Israel according to Business Insider (September 20, 2012). Many of us grew up in communities that cared deeply about Israel and Israelis, Palestine and Palestinians. We all have a role to play.
Often it is also easy to put the conflict out of mind because for many of us living in the U.S., or even for those living in thriving cities in Israel, we do not see the everyday living conditions of those in the West Bank, Gaza or in Israel under the threat of rocket attacks. The undeniable and dire situation for so many in the region, including significant and immediate human rights violations, should propel us to action everyday. For example, just this past Sunday, NPR reported on the Otaish family living in the Shujayeh neighborhood of Gaza City that was bombed during the Gaza War this past summer. The family is living in a broken shell of the home they once had, still suffering the consequences of a war that occurred almost a year ago. We find it unacceptable that Israelis and Palestinians should have to live through these kinds of cycles of violence, and we seek out political solutions to ensure this cycle stops.
The last takeaway from our weekend in D.C. was that our feelings of responsibility should manifest themselves in concrete action. For example, J Street U, the student-organizing arm of J Street, is working to make Jewish organizations more transparent about where their funds go in Israel. This transparency is crucial to make sure money does not go over the Green Line, the line demarcating the 1967 border. These organizations include Jewish Federations across the county that work to support Jewish communities in 151 cities, and that donate money to Israel. The Columbus Jewish Federation alone donated over $1.5 million to the region in 2013, according to its annual financial report. Most of these funds remain within the Green Line, but the exact location of the funds from Federations are often hard to trace to their final destination. The goal is to create an openness around funds that will ultimately hold organizations to their stated efforts toward peace.
For the sake of the security and well-being of both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, it is imperative that each one of us relinquish the excuses that create apathy and bar us from action. We must instead organize, hold authority figures and organizations accountable and engage in action toward peace.
Samantha Shanker ’17 is a political science major from Saint Louis, Mo. As a member of J Street U, she can be contacted at email@example.com.