Tencer traveled with IfNotNow to restore access to the spring for Palestinians.
Photos by Allie Levin
Imagine checkpoints lining 8 Mile Road. A bus approaches the border of Detroit and the suburbs, headed for Oakland County, and two heavily armed officers step on board to check IDs. Depending on your residency status and ability to obtain a rare permit from Oakland County’s government, you’re permitted to cross. Few Detroiters are able to obtain these permits, but residents of the majority-white Oakland County are able to travel freely.
In Detroit, we know about segregation. We can see the long-lasting impact of its history in our communities. As American Jews, we denounce these practices in the United States. So why do we allow these systems of oppression in Israel and Palestine? Some say that it’s for security, our safety. Some speak of their fear — of the worst that could happen to Israel, and to us.
These are valid concerns and emotions for a community that faces continued violence and trauma. We want a safe place to live and thrive, like all people. I hear this and honor this desire. But is a violent military occupation the answer? Does this really keep our community safe?
A few days into the new year, I traveled with a group of more than 150 Palestinians, Israelis and diaspora Jews like myself to Ein Albeida Spring, a central water source that villages in the South Hebron hills in the West Bank have depended on for centuries. The goal was to restore Palestinian access to this central water source, which was historically used to nourish these communities. The day was planned and led by Palestinian activists, as well as the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.
The spring is located in Area C, meaning that it’s under complete Israeli military and civil control. Fifteen years ago, settlers from a nearby outpost called Avigayil took the area over, renaming the spring and swimming in it, destroying its use as a drinking water source. Palestinians have described facing harassment from settlers when they attempted to use the spring, ultimately dissuading most from using it completely. Furthermore, according to reports in Ha’aretz, any water infrastructure Palestinians do construct, the Israeli Civil Administration routinely destroys.
When we visited, activists put a banner over the spring’s sign to state its real name, Ein Albeida. Not even 10 minutes had passed when a group of settlers arrived and ripped the banner down. They continued to harass our group, confidently knowing that the presence of the army and police were there to defend them, even though their outpost is technically illegal under both Israeli and international law. Yet our group continued to clear bushes, chip away at rock and lay down new stone pathways to the spring. We were ultimately successful at reopening access, and, for the day, Palestinians drew water from the spring for the first time in more than 15 years.
As we celebrated in a nearby village, I looked around at the group of Palestinians, Israelis and other Jews: eating, talking, embracing, laughing. In that moment, I knew that another world was possible. I could see it right in front of me.
The American Jewish community can no longer support a brutal military occupation that oppresses Palestinians. We cannot support sham “peace” plans that maintain this system, like the one recently unveiled by President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today, Israeli authorities and settlers continue to build settlements, obstruct access to water and electricity, demolish homes and violently control the daily lives of Palestinians. This is not about the safety of the Israeli people; it’s about power.
I will never forget what a Palestinian activist and mother asked our group at the end of our trip, “Did you see the difference in our children’s lives and your children’s? Does the soldier block the road for them?”
When you meet with a mother of two in Ramallah or families in the South Hebron hills, it’s easy to see how the current status quo fails to provide dignity and freedom to the Palestinian people. When you are welcomed again and again into homes and villages in the West Bank, always with ample hot tea, coffee and smiles, you can see how ridiculous and discriminatory these practices are.
It may feel vulnerable and scary for American Jews to acknowledge and criticize wrongdoing by the state of Israel, but our moral conscience demands it. Palestinians, like us, want to live their lives with dignity and safety. We must call for our governments to shift course and promote a real path toward peace for all Israelis and Palestinians. The soul and future of our Jewish community, and the lives of millions of Palestinians, depend on it.
Lisa Tencer is a member of IfNotNow Detroit.