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I Am Renouncing My Israeli Citizenship. Here’s Why.

“I saw how well the manufacturing of history and the dehumanization of Palestinians worked…”

Palestinians displaced due to Israeli attacks take refuge in Nasser Hospital as the attacks continue in Khan Yunis, Gaza on December 03, 2023.

On Nov. 6, I was supposed to have an appointment at the Israeli consulate in New York to begin my application to renounce my Israeli citizenship. That morning, I finalized a letter of explanation to the Israeli population and Immigration Authority to explain my reasoning. By that time, the apartheid State of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and settlers in the West Bank had already committed countless atrocities in the prior several weeks alone, bombing hospitals, schools, and churches, killing and maiming thousands of Palestinians, and displacing thousands more. The genocide we have seen unfolding since Oct. 7 is just one horrifying chapter of the decades of sheer brutality and inhumanity of the Zionist project to colonize Palestine. This is a clear continuation of the Nakba, the theft of Palestinian land, and the ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinian people since and before 1948.

In 2017, after Israeli forces arrested then-16-year-old Ahed Tamimi (the detention and physical, sexual, and mental abuse of Palestinian children by Israel is not uncommon; they since detained Tamimi again on Nov. 6, though she was freed Nov. 30 as part of a prisoner exchange), I started attending rallies by Within Our Lifetime, where I heard Nerdeen Kiswani talk about citizenship renunciation as a way forward for Israelis—and the idea was seeded in my head. I had been living in New York since 2012, but I was raised in an Israeli-Zionist household, and I cannot put into words the shame I have for my own family’s participation in Zionist violence. While I did not serve in the IDF for medical reasons, I cannot ignore my position as a settler. Like millions of Israelis, I was also kept ignorant by the state and its educational system on purpose. However, once you unlearn Zionist propaganda, there is no going back; the world makes so much more sense, and it feels similar to what I have heard of those who escaped a cult. After tackling some legal hurdles, I finally scheduled my renunciation appointment at the Israeli Consulate in September and confirmed it a week before. The morning of the appointment, I received a notice of cancellation due to a “safety incident” at the building. Since I had always planned on going public about my renunciation and had been working on my letter of explanation, I decided to post it on social media, where it spread widely. Unfortunately for Israel, its most recent genocidal campaign meant the letter received greater visibility. On Nov. 20, I went to the rescheduled appointment only to be denied the chance to submit my application since I do not have the papers to prove I did not serve in the IDF (I do not have access to those). So, this op-ed is a way to further clarify why I chose to take a very public approach to renouncing my citizenship and why I am encouraging others to do so, too.

Since publishing my letter, many have asked me how I was able to unlearn the Zionist propaganda. While I have always thought of myself as left-leaning, I was ignorant of much. My reeducation began after the New York Police Department’s Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner, and I started attending Black Lives Matter protests. The Black friends I was in community with — and to whom I could never truly repay for their time and effort to educate me — taught me the foundational history of policing and racism in the U.S. I witnessed or went to more protests like those organized at museums across the city that exposed the interconnected relationships of oppression. I followed more and more Black, Indigenous scholars, artists, and organizers of color on social media. I began to understand the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the struggle for liberation in Palestine, and oppressed people around the world.

I learned from Angela Davis about the solidarity between those in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Palestinians who offered organizers concrete tools to deal with a militarized police force trained by Israel, and I learned from Nick Estes on oil, land, and settler colonialism in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. An especially eye-opening moment was when I read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s book “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” and saw the same myths I was taught in Israel reflected in the settler-colonialist ideology of the U.S. I also learned from Harsha Walia on the violence of borders; from Mariame Kaba on policing and prison abolition; and I am constantly learning from Imani Barbarin about ableism and disability as a thread that connects all forms of oppression. And I have been fortunate to learn from Palestinians like Noura Erakat about Israeli apartheid. Other Israelis like Ilan Pappe helped untangle some of the myths that Zionism tells the world. It is through this ever-growing learning and my understanding of my role as a settler in the U.S. that I was able to reflect and understand my role as a settler growing up in colonized Palestine and the interconnected nature of the struggles of Palestinians, the ongoing genocide in Gaza, the millions displaced and killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, and the militarization of police forces here in the U.S. as we see in the flagrant example of Atlanta’s Cop City — just to name a few of the current struggles.

Modern Zionism, which emerged in the 1800s, is an unethical, immoral, and evil settler-colonial project, held together by lies, racism, propaganda, and the support of world superpowers with their own interests in the resource-rich region. It cannot provide a “safe haven” for Jews, and Zionism is antithetical to Jewish values. We see this in the way the government, currently led by genocidal fascist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is willing to kill Israelis, hostages (some of whom gave accounts of Oct. 7 and their time in captivity that do not suit the Israeli narrative of ruthless, senseless, barbaric behavior from Hamas), and staff from international medical organizations and the United Nations while bombarding Gaza. We see it in the repression of protests in Israel — the nature of which Palestinians have critiqued. We see it in the way that Israel treats Israeli Holocaust survivors, a third of whom live below the poverty line and must choose between food and other basic necessities at times. One could also easily make the argument that antisemitism is beneficial to a settler colony that is built and sustained by the fear of its settlers. Hence, it is to Israel’s benefit to flame the fires of antisemitism, making Jews worldwide less safe. The founder of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, himself claimed antisemites “will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”

Living in Israel, I saw how well the manufacturing of history and the dehumanization of Palestinians worked to create a society and culture that celebrates and demands the death of Palestinians. Palestinians are being portrayed as wanting to enact genocide by chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a chant that represents liberation from occupation and equality for all. However, it is Israelis and Zionists who not only use fascist, genocidal rhetoric,, but also materially make it so: enacting pogroms; enforcing enclosures and blockades; turning off power, food, and water supplies to millions; demolishing homes; and ethnic cleansing as the entire world has seen time and time again and especially in this bloody, ruthless campaign to eviscerate Gaza. The surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, who has been working tirelessly in Gaza with countless wounded, correctly framed this as such: “We are facing a killing machine masquerading as a state.” The clarity of this moment shows that as much as Palestinians are dedicated to life, water, and land, Israel and Zionists are as dedicated to death and destruction.

That is why Israel is so terrified now—the lies and propaganda simply cannot counter the overwhelming truth that we have access to thanks to journalists and people in Gaza, like Motaz Azaiza, Plestia Alaqad, Refaat Alareer, Bisan Owda, Eman Basher, and others who are risking not only their own lives to share what they can, but also their families’, as Israel targets them as punishment (at the time of publishing this op-ed, Israel has killed 50 Palestinian and three Lebanese reporters). Meanwhile, mainstream media reporters like Bel Trew and Sara Sidner and outlets like The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN have been manufacturing consent for Israel to commit this genocide by acting as stenographers, repeating U.S. government and Israeli propaganda without questioning it and perpetuating violently racist and Islamophobic stereotypes.

The response to my letter has been overwhelmingly supportive. I blocked any Zionist who reached out, like an Israeli who sent me a direct message on Instagram saying, “what is it like not to have friends or family?” But I received heartfelt messages from Palestinians inviting me to their homes and families, some even telling me that they did not know a single person who had not read my letter. Lebanese people, a people who have also suffered tremendously from Zionist violence, offered me a community and a family. Many anti-Zionist Jews have responded, some now looking to take a similar action. For a little while, the tender responses to my letter moved me to tears. I felt, and still feel, that I did not deserve it and wish to take the space here to deeply thank each person who has reached out, commented, or shared my letter. It is not lost on me that as a white, Ashkenazi Jewish Israeli man, the response has been mostly positive, while my friends and others are killed, suffer doxxing, horrific racist and Islamophobic abuse and violence, intimidation, and economic repercussions for choosing to speak against genocide or simply existing.

Our call for a free Palestine demands that we understand that it will not take just a singular action but collective work. That it will take time and commitment. It demands clarity in our anti-colonial struggle and the centering of Palestinian voices. It demands that we keep each other safe — from McCarthyism, policing, and state-sanctioned death and disability through our current SARS pandemic—by wearing a high-quality mask, covering up, and protecting ourselves from surveillance. Together, our resolve must be steadfast and resilient, as of olive trees.

Every moral and ethical part of my bones, flesh, and soul leaves me with only one viable option: to unequivocally renounce my Israeli citizenship. Mohammed el-Kurd said “We chant for our freedom while they chant for our death, that should tell you all you need to know about the settler state.” This is why I choose to say: From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.

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