A Jewish Awakening to the Palestinian Experience

Winston-Salem CPWJ board member Dr. Steven Feldman is the creator and director of the online “Promised Land Museum” (http://promisedlandmuseum.org/). Dr. Feldman got the idea for a museum of the Palestinian experience from growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community and attending the Hebrew Academy in Washington, DC.

A community that included Holocaust survivors and memories of many who did not survive taught him that “the Chosen People have to fight injustice wherever we see it.” And while the Holocaust Museum exposed inhumanity toward Jewish victims, it did not address how Palestinian families became refugees from Israel. He was taught that Jews came back to an “empty land of deserts and swamps and made the land fertile,” and that Jews wanted to live in peace alongside Palestinians, but that “Palestinians only wanted to kill Jews.”

An “awakening moment” came during a trip to Israel that left Dr. Feldman wondering, “If this was all ’empty land,’ how did so many Palestinians become refugees?” What he hadn’t been told was that Jews carried out bombings of civilian markets in Palestine and that the Haganah army expelled hundreds of thousands of innocent Palestinians and destroyed their towns and villages. He reluctantly concluded that much of what happened in the founding of Israel was an affront to Jewish values.

Palestinians have long been telling the story of “Nakba,” describing how they became refugees. But having been fed so many false and negative stereotypes — that Palestinians hate and wish to kill Jews — Dr. Feldman is not surprised that American Jews (and many American Christians) haven’t listened to those Palestinian voices.

By offering access to Jewish voices, Jewish historians, archived Israeli military documents, Dr. Feldman believes the “museum” can help break down walls that keep Jews from seeing what was done to Palestinians. “Creating a state run by Jews in a land where non-Jews were the majority is, to say the least, problematic,” Dr. Feldman said. “Hopefully, the museum’s reliance primarily on Jewish sources will force us to reconcile history with our Jewish moral values.”

He envisions the Promised Land Museum as “endeavoring to capture the attention of Jews (and Christians) and make them aware of the history and its inconsistency with Jewish values.” He would like to see the museum “foster a peaceful repatriation of refugee Palestinian families to their homes in order to reclaim the life we once shared together.”

A grand opening reception for the Promised Land Museum was held in March at the National Press Club in Washington. The museum is available for presentation to interested synagogues, churches, mosques or other community venues. Inquiries can be sent to: info@promisedlandmuseum.org.





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