Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lessons from Hannah Mermelstein


Hannah Mermelstein is a Jewish activist who spent a couple nights visiting me and others in Ames, Iowa, a few months ago. I was extremely impressed with her ideas and ideals, and her presentation, given in concert with Anna Baltzer, another Jewish activist and international speaker who frequents our region when she is in the United States. Below is an article that Hannah submitted to the Jewish Advocate. As Hannah requested, I looked up the responses Hannah received after publication of her article. One was full of thoughts that I find untrue or half true. I am going to do as Hannah asked and respond to the response. That will be my next offering. It's important that we stand up to falsehoods; really, it's our only defense.

Congratulations, Hannah for your persistent efforts to bring about justice, not just for those who share your religious background, but for everyone, everywhere including Palestinians of various religions.

I invite my readers to review Hannah's story, one reader's response and, my response, too. I will not keep this going endlessly, but I think we must make a stand for truth and I encourage you to join Hannah and me in speaking out against injustice.
Blogger Betsy
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Creating Palestine's Refugees, 1948
Photo from United Nation's files.

By: Hannah Mermelstein
Published by: The Jewish Advocate
Date of publication:

On March 20, 1941, Yosef Weitz of the Jewish National Fund wrote: “The complete evacuation of the country from its other inhabitants and handing it over to the Jewish people is the answer.”

On this day in 1948, almost two months before the first “Arab-Israeli war” technically began, the 1,125 inhabitants of the Palestinian village Umm Khalid fled a Haganah military operation. Like their brethren from more than 500 villages, they likely thought they would return to their homes within a few weeks, after the fighting blew over and new political borders were or were not drawn.

Instead, more than 6 million Palestinian people remain refugees to this day, some in refugee camps not far from their original towns, others in established communities in Europe and the US, all forbidden from returning to their homeland for one reason: they are not Jewish.

Yosef Weitz’s wish was granted. In my name, and in the name of Jewish people throughout the world, an indigenous population was almost completely expelled. Village names have been removed from the map, houses blown up, and new forests planted. In Arabic, this is called the Nakba, or catastrophe. In Israel, this is called “independence.”

Last month I went with a man from Umm il Fahm (a Palestinian city in Israel) to his original village of Lajun, only a few miles away. Adnan’s land is now a JNF forest “belonging” to Kibbutz Megiddo.

As we walk the stone path he points to each side of the road, naming the families that used to live there: Mahamid, Mahajne, Jabrin…. The land there is not naturally rocky; the stones that we walk on are a graveyard of destroyed houses. Adnan was only six years old when the Haganah’s bullets flew over his head and he and his family fled. But he remembers. He tears up as we stop at the site of his destroyed house and says, “Welcome to my home.”

Adnan is an Israeli citizen, yet the land that was stolen from him has been given to a body that refuses to let him live on it. As an American Jew, I could move to Lajun/Megiddo tomorrow, gain full citizenship rights, and live on the land that Adnan’s family has tended for centuries. Adnan, who lives just a few minutes away, is forbidden from doing so.

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel, the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, let us remember Adnan. Let us remember the inhabitants of Umm Khalid. Let us remember more than 6 million people whose basic human rights have been deprived for 60 years, and let us, as Jewish people with a history of oppression and a tradition of social justice, work for the right of indigenous people to return to their land. This is our only hope for true peace and security in the region.

Hannah Mermelstein is a co-founder of Birthright Unplugged and lives in Boston, Philadelphia and Ramallah.

Moving People Out, Now

HOW TO KEEP A CONVERSATION GOING: Links below can be copied, but will not automatically connect you to the Jewish Advocate.

Dear friends, I hope you're well. This is your weekly update about the Jewish Advocate. :) I don't want to crowd your in boxes, nor do I think the Jewish Advocate is the most important aspect of the struggle for Palestine, so this will be the last e-mail I'll send about it. I do find it exciting, though, and imagine the discussion will continue in the Advocate for weeks to come, so if you're interested in following it, please continue to check their site yourself at So, as for this week: First of all, thank you to all the folks who wrote letters - many of your letters have found their way into the paper this week!
?content_id=4729 This week's editorial is about Palestinian refugees: Its conclusions and some of its facts are suspect, but note that it begins by saying: "As the letters in response to Hannah Mermelstein's March 21 column and last week's editorial continue to pour in – both lauding and condemning us for running them – along with questioning the statistics and message contained in each, we are compelled to continue the discussion." So... keep on writing! And perhaps most amazingly, the online poll this week is about the right of return: "With regard to the Palestinian refugee issue, do you think some or all of the 3.7 million should be granted the right of return or given compensation in the event that a Palestinian state is created?" So their number of refugees is a little low, the word "or" should be "and", and the refugees should have rights regardless of the presence of a Palestinian state, but hey, just the fact that this question is out there in a Jewish newspaper is good. (Poll is near the bottom in the middle.) Thanks, all. if you want to keep following this, feel free to keep in touch and to follow the developments every Thursday at (I'll be checking for sure, so let me know if you think you'll forget and you want me to drop you a line). And keep up all your good work in many realms. -Hannah


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