[Note: This was written before the ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli troops began.]

As I write, Israel is pounding Gaza with bombs and bullets, not yet satisfied with having killed and injured 1500 people, over a third women and children. Israel claims they don’t target civilians. Six little girls in one family were shot dead in front of their house, making this claim meaningless. The U.S. media tells us Israel is “at war” with Hamas. To call the relentless bombing of a 139 square mile area by the world’s 4th largest military “war” is ludicrous, just one more trick to keep us distracted from thinking too long or hard about the power imbalance of a 4-decades long inhumane Occupation.

I can hear the howl of protests now from the organized Jewish community, which would prefer to label me a self-hating anti-Semitic Jew than face the realities of how Israel is changing the face of Judaism. We forget that less than 50 years ago the Jewish community was hotly debating the pros and cons of statehood; we were free to argue either side without the vicious labels that function as labels always do – to stop people from thinking about what is being said and instead focus on the person saying it. The anti-Zionist arguments of the ‘30s and ‘40s have become dangerously and heartbreakingly realized – we are so obsessed with the mechanisms of statehood that we have willingly forsaken the meaning of our identity as Jews.

Every bomb dropped, every concrete slab of wall built, every acre of land illegally taken, every demolition of a Palestinian home, should force us to come to grips with the fact that to be Jewish in 2008 is no longer about our cultural ties one to the other, our shared values, our collective history. To be Jewish is now measured by our allegiance to Israel; if it was more than that, then our communities would be alive with protests about what we are doing in Gaza.

We are like the child who has been abused and grows up to recycle the abuse on a less powerful woman or child. We make all kinds of excuses for why we have to be abusive; we run the familiar tapes about the threat of anti-Semitism, the hatred of Hamas, the continued shelling of rockets from Gaza into Israel… the list is long and familiar. Yet I have not met a single American Jew (or American, for that matter) who has spent any time in Palestine who continues to recite this list. I do not claim that Israelis live in the kind of stability most of us know here or that the solutions are simple. I do claim, however, that the life Israel forces on the Palestinian people in the name of safety and security is not one any of us would be willing or able to endure.

For the most part the Jewish community here doesn’t know, doesn’t see because to know and to see would mean admitting that we are paying too steep a price for this homeland, this state. We have become comfortable believing that a Jewish life is worth more than a Palestinian one. I’ve sat across the table from devout Jews screaming at me that all Arabs do is breed suicide bombers, without seeing that their screaming hatred of Palestinians is the flip side of our experience. I’ve been called names by respected elders in the Jewish community because I dared to speak about the inhumanity I witnessed in Palestine with my own eyes; this in a community once proud of its ability to argue multiple sides of any issue. I’ve had Jewish leaders of all kinds tell me to keep quiet, now is not the time, don’t speak of it, urging a conditioned silence that is terrifyingly familiar.

As a Jew, I take to heart the teachings of Rabbi Hillel, who instructs us across the ages not to do to others that which we would not want done to us. As a Jew, I understand our invocation of “never again” as universal, a lesson from the Holocaust we should apply to all people. As a Jew, I am proud of our strong cultural commitment to justice. I thought once that these were the things that defined what it meant to be Jewish.

I no longer think so, for what seems to matter most to us now is our unquestioning allegiance to a state that does horrific things in our name. Judaism is not at risk from Hamas, Palestinians, or anti-Semitism. Judaism is at risk because we are silent when we should speak up, blind when we should see. In our haste to be like every other nation, to be powerful regardless of the price, we are indeed killing the very thing that makes us who and what we are. Bent on achieving a security bought with the lives of innocent people, we can’t seem to grasp the age-old lesson that raw force only strengthens the resolve of people to resist. I can’t help but wonder what we have saved, what we have made secure, when the only experience that literally millions of people have of us is one of daily injustice and oppression.

I refuse to conflate Judaism with Israel. I am driven by my deep concern for our future as a people. We may have already gone too far to reclaim Judaism to itself. I do not know. I only know I do not want us to lose ourselves to the continued justification of that which cannot be justified.