By Haemee Lee
A former Israeli soldier, who served in the occupied Palestinian territories, spoke on campus about the moral price of her service Monday night.
Frima “Merphie” Bubis, 24, is participating in a month-long Breaking the Silence campus tour with J Street U chapters “to bring the reality of the occupation to college students and Jewish communities across the U.S.”
J Street UMD was interested in bringing Bubis to campus in light of the recent Birthright walkouts, said Hanna London, a sophomore civil engineering major and J Street UMD member.
In these cases, Birthright participants staged walkouts on their trips that, they claimed, were “hiding the realities of the occupation” and “intentionally leaving out Palestinian narratives.”
“It caused a lot of uproar on Facebook with a lot of people sharing videos and testimony,” London said, “and it just seemed like it was a topic that people wanted to know more about.”
Both Breaking the Silence and J Street are nonprofit organizations that advocate for the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory–the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem–of over 50 years.
Breaking the Silence is mostly made up of veterans of the Israel Defense Forces, like Bubis, who share their experiences with the public.
Bubis, who was born and raised in Jerusalem in the Modern Orthodox community, initially felt that the mandatory military service was “the best way that [she] could contribute and take part in something that [she thinks] is…so central to Israeli identity.”
As a soldier in Nablus, one of the largest Palestinian cities in the West Bank surrounded by Israeli settlements, Bubis witnessed violence between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. In her recounts of incidents, she emphasizes that discourse is largely guided by the violence aimed towards Israeli civilians or soldiers.
“But when the violence is the other way around, by Israeli settlers towards Palestinians, it’s something that we very little are engaged with and know about,” Bubis said. She found herself in a conflicting position, like other veterans in Breaking the Silence.
“The work that I’m doing today–and this goes for all of us in Breaking the Silence–is part of the understanding that there is really no such thing as an enlightened occupation or an occupation that is conducted without daily violence,” she said.
Rob Burns, a U.S. military veteran and non-degree seeking student working towards a master’s degree in geospatial intelligence at this university, found out about the event through flyers around campus.
“I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, which is an area that’s not to the same level they were talking about here, but it’s an area that has its own contentious history with occupation,” Burns said. “Issues about this–I guess I would describe it as anti-imperialism–are very important to me personally. I was glad to hear [Bubis’s] perspective on it.”
Mia Carmel, a senior public policy major and J Street UMD member, said, “We think opening the conversation is the most important part [of being a J Street U chapter], and that’s what this event did tonight.”
At the end of the event, Carmel announced J Street UMD’s petition for Maryland Hillel to include a Palestinian speaker in its yearly Birthright trips. “That could just mean one to two hours out of the whole 10-day trip where a Palestinian voice is heard to all the students,” she said.
Carmel added, “We hope at the very least it’ll open up conversation and that they’ll consider the idea. There are some universities where the Hillel has already agreed to the asks of this petition.”