Thou Shalt Not Kill
by Steven Feuerstein

This speech was given on October 24, 2020 at the University of Illinois - Chicago campus by Steven Feuerstein

Thou Shalt Not Kill Speech or Why I Am Here Today

This is the first time that I am speaking out publicly against Israeli policy.  I was born and raised an American Jew, which means I was raised to reflexively and uncritically support Israel.  I became disillusioned years ago, but limited my criticisms to within family circles—which just got family circles mad, really mad, at me.

Now I feel compelled to take a public stance and call on Israel to stop killing and brutalizing Palestinians! And I believe very strongly that we, the American Jewish community, must take the lead in calling on Israel to change its policies, to stop the occupation of Palestinian lands, to seek a lasting and just peace in its own country.

Why have I come to this point in my life? Because I am Jewish.  Because Jews are taught: THOU SHALT NOT KILL.  The Torah does not say: Thou shalt not kill only Jewish people.  The Torah does not say: Thou shalt not kill only those who agrees with Jewish people.  And the Torah DEFINITELY does not say: Thou shalt not kill anyone but Palestinians.  The Torah, the guiding light of the Jewish people, says:


And Jews are very big on this rule: you can break other sacred laws, such as those honoring the Shabat, the Sabbath, if breaking that law will help save a life.  And yet, after thirty years of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, after thirty years of the Israeli domination over the Palestinian people, we have come to this:

Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers who are able to rationalize without any noticeable effort, without any noticeable remorse, the persistent shooting and killing of Palestinian children, the destruction of Palestinian homes, and the continual, growing occupation and dissection of Palestinian lands.

An Israeli government that, after years of "negotiations" with the Palestinian Authority, is ready and able to imprison an entire people in their small, isolated towns—whenever the Israeli government feels it is justified.

And the Israeli government explicitly justifies its actions as necessary to save the Israeli state, to save worldwide Judaism.  Well, I am hear today to make sure that Israel and other American Jews and other Americans know that this American Jew will not accept the killing of Palestinians IN MY NAME, ON MY BEHALF.  Israel must stop killing Palestinians.  Israel must seek a real peace and to do that it must take real, concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to peace.

I am not an expert on the Middle East.  I am an expert on the Oracle PL/SQL computer language.  I cannot "hold my own" in an extended and complex policy discussion on the Oslo accords nor on the final status of Jerusalem.  I am really only good at telling you about the best way to write a bunch of code.

I do not believe, however, that it is necessary to be a policy expert on the Middle East in order to recognize that Israel is visiting a grave injustice on the Palestinian people.  One clear, physical expression of that injustice are the settlements that Israel has built throughout Palestinian territory.  These settlements are obviously designed to maximize Israeli control over Palestinians even as they are supposedly granting them their autonomy.  These settlements are provocative and as long as they exist, there will never be peace between Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

So I call on Israel to unilaterally announce the stoppage of any new settlements and to immediately begin dismantling the existing settlements.  I believe that if Israel takes this one step, Palestinians will recognize the real possibility of justice, stop the al Aksa intifada, and work with Israel for a lasting peace.

Israel, with the seemingly unanimous support of American Jews, is now able to rationalize ignoring one of its most sacred beliefs—THOU SHALT NOT KILL.  The clear and most awful result is death and destruction for Palestinians, but there is another victim of this degenerate Israeli policy:

The killing of the Jewish spirit of justice and love of life.

The survival of the Jewish people, of Judaism, it seems to me, is very much dependent on the way that Israel responds to the current crisis and whether it can admit its mistakes, whether it can make a real gesture towards peace with Palestinians.

But Israel will not change its policies unless and until the United States changes its policies, and applies real pressure to the Israeli government.  That is the reality.  Our government sends over $3B of our tax dollars every year to Israel, much of that for military aid.  Israel cannot, in the current state of affairs, survive without us.  Our government can insist on substantial changes in Israeli policy.  But it will not do so unless American Jews speak out, and call for that change.

And that is why I call on the many other American Jews who feel like I do to take a public stand and criticize brutal Israeli policies.  Yes, it is hard for American Jews to criticize Israel.  When we do, we are intimidated and harassed by our very own community.  But it is even harder—for me at least—to tolerate the killing and torture and destruction that is being done in my name.

I believe, in conclusion, that the more I (and others) speak out, the more other American Jews will feel they can speak out.  We can then create a "safe place" in the public eye for Jewish criticism of Israel, which will allow a real debate to occur in this country, and hopefully a real change in our policy towards Israel and Palestinians.