Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience

Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience

by Alice Rothchild

Paperback(Second Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Wednesday, October 24?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.


Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience by Alice Rothchild

This is a new edition of Alice Rothchild's acclaimed book. Telling the story of her experiences as a Jewish American doctor working within Israel and the Occupied Territories, Rothchild explores the complexity of Jewish Israeli attitudes and the hardships of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Ultimately, the book raises troubling questions regarding US policy and the mainstream Jewish community's insistence on giving unquestioning support to all Israeli policy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745329703
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 02/02/2010
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Alice Rothchild, MD, is Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She serves on the steering committee for American Jews for a Just Peace- Boston, and has worked with medical delegations to Israel and the Occupied Territories with the AJJP Health and Human Rights Project. Her many articles can be found at

Read an Excerpt


My Own Story: Family Secrets

This is a book about the unraveling of family secrets. It has been a difficult journey, born of love and pain and tortuously leading to questions, anger, and a desire to find a more honest place and a more positive future. The difficulty in sharing this journey with my family speaks to the depths of the trauma and the immense fear of facing uncomfortable, dissonant truths. I am speaking not only about my immediate family, even though they are significant players in this drama, but also of the larger community that shaped my experience of being Jewish in America. I was born in Boston in 1948 to first generation parents and grew up with the State of Israel as my friend, my pride, and ultimately my heartbreak. Thus, this is a story about losing the beautiful myths of childhood and learning to stare open-eyed into previously invisible contradictions, bringing voice to the unspeakable ghosts that threaten both our foundations and our futures.

Diaspora Roots

Like many suburban Diaspora Jews growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I went to Hebrew school three times a week and synagogue services every Saturday morning. On Passover I sat quietly in the school cafeteria, carefully unwrapping my matzo and avoiding the stares of my classmates. These were all parts of the normal experience of crossing back and forth between the world of public school and the religious Brooklyn world of my grandparents. Even in my earliest memories, I knew that we were different from Gentiles, that we could "pass" and even succeed in "their" world, but ultimately the pull of Jewish cohesion and difference would trump the seduction of total assimilation. After all, wasn't our separateness the key to our survival as a people?

I also grew up in the dark shadow of the Holocaust and the redemptive sunshine of the founding of the State of Israel, the heroic David miraculously fighting the goliaths of anti-Semitism and Arab hostility. I remember while in high school being drawn with horror and curiosity to the trial of Adolph Eichmann, a leader in the Nazi Gestapo, responsible for the extermination of 3 million Jews. The televised trial was deliberately held in Israel and prosecuted by Israelis rather than by an international tribunal. I can still recall being drawn to this malignant embodiment of evil who looked so ordinary with his dark glasses and high forehead, his headphones for translation and the protective glass box doubly framing his face. His trial was a central history lesson for my generation and etched the Holocaust into our consciousness.

Early on, I understood that Holocaust survivors were a special class of people, whether it was my red-faced Hebrew school principal screaming uncontrollably at a group of unruly students or the vulnerable rabbi's wife who always overdressed her children as if she could not protect them from some fierce internal cold. As a child, I knew that survivors needed our generous understanding and support. Their damage was deep and unimaginable. Although my family listened to the German composers, Wagner and Strauss, I remember that it was unthinkable to buy products made in Germany. In my teens, traveling in a Swiss sleeper car from Switzerland to Denmark, I heard my mother say clearly that she would not set foot in Germany. I have a hazy memory of dimly lit sepia colored German train stations, flashing by through the night with the grinding of brakes and the gentle rocking of the train. Despite the spacious wood paneled compartment with the crisp sheets on the foldout beds and the efficient but friendly conductor, German trains still had a lurking evil association for me. Even while touring Europe with a youth chorale in 1966, I looked into the face of every German man of a certain age and wondered what hideous crime haunted his Nazi past.

Embracing our status as the world's long-standing victims and living in a politically progressive family, I also proudly claimed another heritage: all the Jews who prominently defended the less powerful in the US through the labor, civil rights, and women's movements. Along with the legacy of Hebrew studies and Jewish history, to be Jewish in America meant being an outsider and a survivor as well as a defender of the disenfranchised. We were chosen not only in the Biblical sense, but as my mother patiently explained, chosen to be responsible for the creation of a just world for everyone.

A Love Affair with Israel

When the country and I were both in our early teens, I visited Israel with my parents, younger sister, and brother. I fell in love with the exuberant beauty of the land, the olives and pomegranates, the terraced Judean hills, the red orange streaks of sand near the Dead Sea, the idealism of the kibbutzim, and the heroism of the soldiers. My carefully penned diary brims with youthful enthusiasm. There were detailed descriptions of Mediterranean beaches and a night-time bonfire with joyous singing and dancing. I was smitten with a lovely, doe eyed, Jewish Moroccan waiter named Hananya who shyly returned my attentions. My family explored the sandy white ruins of Caesarea. In my diary I noted: "Wandering along the walls and half uncovered buildings, it was fascinating to observe how each wave of inhabitants left their mark on the architecture. Gothic structures were intermingled with the marble steps brought from Rome and all this was topped by a tower that looked suspiciously like a minaret." We touched the fallen columns in Ashkelon and ran after darting lizards. We marveled at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, an organization for scientific research where my father was consulting. I saw this as powerful evidence of the Israeli success story, a place for a smart, secular search for knowledge and discovery. "I was impressed by its idealistic purpose, truth for truth's sake. Men [sic] here spent their lives just looking for knowledge. The whole complex of buildings was all geared to the future. Everything looked new and promising."

At the same time, I was painfully conscious of the frailty and vulnerability of this nation-building project. Visiting the Galilee and Lake Tiberius, my diary describes "beautiful views of the checkered fields below us and the winding road above us. Sometimes we passed a lone sentry post battered with bullet holes and other times there were small kibbutzim nestled in the valleys." At the Sea of Galilee I noted, "The steep shore met the cool waters in the shade of the palm grove. The water was delightful and the bottom was covered with tiny shells and smooth rocks. On the other side were the pinkish purple hills of Syria." Another diary entry explains, "A half hour later we arrived in Safad after driving through the mountains to this hilltop city. From afar it looked like a sky blue mosaic. We parked the car and had a small lunch. We could see the crumbling Arab section, the poverty, the skinny cats, and the bullet holes on the police station from our table." After touring the artists' colony and Sephardic and Ashkenazic synagogues, I recorded,

We strolled down thin, high-walled streets, broken by dark archways with old women and cats sitting in them. The stones of the street were large and smooth with a small gully in the middle. This being one of the major Jewish strongholds before Israel, there were many marks of war. Buildings were scarred by the patchwork of bullet holes, rolls of barbed wire remained and crumbling shattered houses stood in the rubble, a monument to bygone days.

Growing up in a house where even plastic guns were forbidden, I was intrigued with the idea of the Jew as an armed fighter rather than a frightened victim. One of my biggest thrills was when my father would stop the white Valiant rental car and pick up hitchhiking Israeli soldiers, invariably muscular, tanned, and radiating machismo. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was for me the Platonic ideal of an army: moral, invincible, principled, and Jewish. When we visited my parents' friends, General Ben Hur and his wife, my diary entry includes, "General Ben Hur had a battery of war stories, jokes, and other experiences at his finger tips. In the house his army uniform and guns hung on the wall." Later, they took us to Jerusalem on the winding Burma Road. I observed,

Bedouins encamped next to their herds, camels standing in the shade, banana trees, orange groves, sugar cane, a memorial to the group of 14 and 15 year olds who defended a house against the Arabs and died doing so, small Arab villages tucked away, almost camouflaged in the scenery, and most of all the Judean Hills. These were most impressive, for if land could speak, they would tell a colorful, invigorating tale of courage, freedom, life, and spirit. These hills could have filled the Israeli fighters with bravery. We viewed the Jordanian border and spied on the Arab half of Jerusalem. Everywhere were the marks of war: bullet holes, barbed wire, sentry posts.

With the innocence and honesty of early adolescence, I also commented, "In Israel everyone has the right of way and maintains it."

My most powerful experiences occurred visiting kibbutzim, which were central to my understanding of the Israeli ethos. At Yad Mordecai, I wrote,

This was a kibbutz founded by Jews 43 years ago who had escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto. It was named after the man who had led the first revolt and thus this kibbutz symbolized the new Jew, the fighting Jew. The tour guide, talking constantly in Yiddish with Mom, led us down a white stone path towards a hill covered with luxuriant flowers. Because of the proximity to the border of the Gaza Strip, a special shelter was kept in readiness and each night a patrol went out to guard against Arabs. We were surrounded by green fields and forests until the end of the Israeli border. The Gaza Strip was a desert. These two regions were side by side and there was actually a distinct line where modern science and irrigation ended and the lands left to nature began. This was a true picture of the progress Israel had made in reclaiming the desert. On the hill there was a memorial and the graves of the 26 men and women who had died fighting against the Arabs in the original attack.

Approaching kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar, my diary includes,

With relief we saw the sign "Hotel Pension." We drove past much construction, turned down a driveway and there we were. Red, yellow, and white roses bloomed plentifully and bizarre shaped cacti filled a garden. We went wandering down an unpaved road, past new two story apartment houses, older wooden buildings, cement construction, small plots of corn, a calla lily, and numerous chicken houses. This was unbelievable. In the midst of the wilderness, near the troubled border, was a large and tempting pool. Walking back, we noticed children playing with parents, Shabbat candles lit in the windows, and we heard music playing. This was a small center of civilization.

An Uncomfortable Dissonance

Reading this diary more than 40 years later, I notice attitudes and assumptions that I now find troubling. I am struck by my sense of Eastern European superiority, unapologetic Jewish entitlement, and a stereotypic disdain for Arabs and Sephardic Jews. An entry on the way to Be'ersheva includes,

From the car, we could see many black-clothed Arabs. Mothers sheltered their children, and little boys herded flocks of black and white sheep and goats. Their dingy brown tents huddled in the distance and camels looked superciliously down upon each other. The streets were winding and often unpaved and lined with old shops. Chickens clucked from their cages and colorful scarves swayed in the infrequent sultry breeze. Arabs, dressed in long black robes and dirty head dresses walked everywhere. Little grey donkeys clopped delicately along, pulling heavy wagons behind them. Our next problem was to find a place to eat. We'd spy a place, but the dirty, greasy look of most everything made us lose our appetites. Falafel was sold from slimy looking stands managed by fat, unsanitary looking women. As you can see, the Arabs and Oriental Jews had had their effect on the city. At last we found a small, clean restaurant managed by a Yiddish speaking European Jew.

As a young Jewish teenager, I completely succumbed to the national mythos surrounding the 1948 Israeli War of Liberation, the militant, post-Holocaust Jew, and the superiority of Eastern European Ashkenazi culture with its educated, socialist, secular leanings. Like many in my generation, my fervor resonated with the emotionally uplifting 1958 Lean Uris novel and subsequent film (1960), Exodus, and the idealism and romance of the kibbutz movement. I am fascinated that despite my boundless adolescent curiosity and sensitivity for victims all over the world, I never asked what happened to the Arabs in those white stone houses with their dark empty archways or those towers that looked suspiciously like minarets. In my Israel, in the famous words of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, there was no Palestinian people. Like many in my family, there was also no Nakba or Palestinian catastrophe created when Jews founding Israel drove Palestinians off of their land. There was not even any doubt that this land was rightfully ours. Despite years of Hebrew school and a well-educated liberal family, I knew nothing of the philosopher and social activist, Martin Buber, or the rabbi turned professor, Yehuda Magnes. I was not exposed to their arguments for the creation of a secular bi-national state instead of a Jewish state and the vigorous debates that occurred within the early Zionist movements. A decade after the worst genocide the world had ever experienced, I had never heard of the expulsion and flight of 750,000 Palestinians, of the Deir Yassin Massacre, of the destruction of hundreds of Arab villages, of the victims that were created, in significant part, by my own people's victimization.

So how did my emotional and political transformation occur? In high school, my love affair with all things Israeli continued, woven into my obsession with the evils of the Holocaust and my private debates with the political theorist Hannah Arendt. I was fascinated by her analysis of the Eichmann trial and struggled over her depiction of Nazi behavior as exemplifying "the banality of evil," rather than as a unique manifestation of malevolent monsters. Celebrating the Israeli success story, I joined various Jewish youth movements and linked hands and scarves in a number of Israeli dance clubs. At my very WASP college, during freshman orientation I proudly attended temple services, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Searching for my place in this new world, I founded a college Jewish discussion group, verbally sparred with private school graduates who had never before met one of my tribe, and started dating non-Jewish men who found me exotic. Into this adolescent cauldron, my own issues of inside/outside status, separation, and identity combined with the protests against the Vietnam War and the explosion of feminism. When I headed to medical school, my involvement in health care concerns, women's consciousness-raising, and economic justice continued to change my worldview, eclipsing my interest in and passion for Israel.

Gradually, I began to frame political conflicts in terms like colonialism, imperialism, and nationalism, and ask questions I had never previously imagined. I started to notice my discomfort with synagogue services, with all the familiar prayers that extolled the love of Zion and a yearning for the land of my forefathers. I developed a growing distress with the assumption of a uniquely chosen status for the Jewish people. Family Bar Mitzvahs became uneasy events, as I squirmed through rabbinical sermons that assumed an uncritical view of Israel. Seders, no longer the endless Hebrew chanting of my grandfather or the boisterous family happenings led by my father, became a battle ground not only around my relationship to my family and my Jewishness, but also about whether I could honestly sing "Next year in Jerusalem" at all. The childhood holiday of liberation felt to me unbearably ethnocentric and self-congratulatory. For years, my uneasiness had no vocabulary and little actual historical foundation beyond generalities. Increasingly alienated, unable to verbalize my own disappointment, I avoided the topic of Israel with a fierce defensiveness born of intellectual discord as well as gut-wrenching fear and lack of knowledge.

During the Vietnam War, I had learned to doubt official media as well as governmental spin. After the 1967 War in Israel and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, I started distrusting mainstream Jewish explanations as well. Like many Jews caught between long-standing loyalties and contradictions, I also became uncomfortable and distrustful of the relationship between my own government and Israeli policy. Because my relationship to Israel remained an important piece of my identity, this sense of unbalance and discomfort was not sustainable. I needed an historical memory and a context that merged my own personal history with the politics of the person I had become.


Excerpted from "Broken Promises, Broken Dreams"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Alice Rothchild.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to Second Edition vii

Preface to First Edition x

Acknowledgements xiii

Abbreviations xiv

Map xv

Part 1 Jewish Voices from Israel and the Diaspora

1 My Own Story: Family Secrets 3

2 An Allergy to Lies Dr. Ruchama Marton 23

3 Danny! Think About It! Professor Daniel Bar-Tal 45

4 Angela Godfrey-Goldstein Avodah Kodesh 69

Part 2 Palestinian Trauma, Resilience and Resistance

5 Checkpoints: Crossing the Line 93

6 Visiting the Mythaloon Maternity Home: Like Women Everywhere 111

7 A Day in Nablus with Dr. Allam Jarrar: We Will Have Just Fun! 127

8 Restrictions on Access to Health Care: We Are Not Animals 141

9 A Visit to Gaza: Working in a War Zone 165

10 Visiting Rafah: Just the Bad Face 185

11 Military Occupation: Samoud and Sorrow 205

Part 3 The Implications of Knowing: Complicity and Dissent

12 Finding the Voice for a Just Peace: Seeing the Human Face 227

Glossary 251

Brief Time Line 257

Notes 261

References and Websites 271

Index 275

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews