Social justice activist Alice Rothchild shed light on the Palestinian experience in the wake of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict during a special lecture held in Illinois Hall on Oct.13.
Following a brief introduction by Professor Paul Parker, Rothchild, an obstetrician and filmmaker, took the podium to briefly illustrate her experiences as a young Jewish American that fueled her activism in providing a voice for Palestinians and their continuing experiences of statelessness and loss.
“I come from a very common place for many American Jews and obviously as a child of the 60s with the Vietnam war, with discovering feminism, health care reform, and all the political movements that were sort of swirling about, I became a much more politically conscious person,” she said.
“I got involved in the Jewish-Palestinian dialogue which rapidly helped me to under- stand that there’s a whole narrative and a whole history that I have never been exposed to,” Rothchild added.
Rothchild’s effort to expose the Palestinian experience led to the production of her documentary, “Voices Across the Divide”, which was shown during the lecture.
The documentary portrayed the many personal accounts of Palestinians who were forced to immigrate to the U.S and faced dispossession as a result of the loss of Palestinian land and the massive influx of Zionist immigrants over the course of 65 years in Israel.
According to Rothchild’s documentary, “Palestinians continue to suffer the indignities of occupation, permits, checkpoints, loss of land, refugee camps, military incursions and exile. Israeli society is bearing the fruit of being an occupying force and the society has largely turned its back on these issues.”
The traumas of the Holocaust and the dream of Israel as the Jewish homeland defined much of Rothchild’s childhood and she alludes to the Palestinian crisis as a deeply stigmatized subject at the Jewish dinner table.
Rothchild’s efforts to deepen the awareness of this continuing issue has generated a variety of responses throughout the Jewish community.
“In Jewish audiences where people are either activists on this topic or questioning the behavior of the State of Israel, this movie has been very well received,” she said. “There are people thanking me and crying and there are people telling me I’m an anti-semite and the movie should never be shown anywhere. So, I’ve had the entire range of experience within the Jewish community.”
“I have lost some of my genetically connected community but I now have this totally multicultural Jewish-Muslim- Christian-Arab-White-Black community that’s actually quite wonderful and I feel very at home with,” Rothchild added.
Bonnie Hughes who is the Literacy and Social Studies Co-ordinator at Valley View Middle School and a member of Etz Chaim, resurfaced the struggle of reaching out towards older Jewish generations while also wishing to educate her students on the harrowing history.
“We want our kids to know this, but also we were discussing the kickback that we may receive from parents and having to discuss that with a generation that might not be ready to discuss the issue,” she said.
Rothchild agrees and feels that the traumas of the Holocaust makes it harder for older generations of Jews to become more open to the conversation.
“You’re right, it’s very different from generation to generation,” she said. “It’s much harder for older Jewish folks who’ve experienced a lot more trauma than younger Jewish folks. So, this is a really major trouble within our community.”
Junior Steven Gonzalez felt that the documentary was crucial in creating awareness of the issue and related the Palestinian narrative to his current volunteer work and his relationships with the Jewish community.
“My girlfriend is Jewish with family that comes from Jerusalem and to see exactly the types of issues they deal with daily was quite the eye opener for me,” he said. “I had known there were issues but to see the scale of it all was something new.”
“Having also been a part of the benefit had for Rothchild’s research out in Evanston, I feel glad that I was able to help raise money to pay for the construction of libraries for Palestinian children,” Gonzalez added. “The viewing was very important for not only the people already looking into this conflict but to make others more aware of its existence.”