Anna Baltzer is a Jewish American who has been advocating for Palestinian rights since visiting the West Bank in 2005. She described her observations in a book Witness in Palestine: a Jewish Woman in the Occupied Territories and has toured the world presenting her experiences to more than 500 audiences.
From the U.S. to Palestine
Baltzer was raised in a Jewish-American home in the United States. Both of her grandparents are Holocaust survivors. She grew up believing Israel was a “peace-seeking democracy” that symbolized the protection of Jews everywhere.
After graduating from Columbia University in 2003, Baltzer earned a prestigious Fulbright scholarship that enabled her to travel in the Middle East. She met Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere before deciding to volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service in the Palestinian Territories.
What she witnessed in the West Bank told a different story about Palestinians than what she had grown up hearing. She compiled her photographs and journals into a book and toured communities around the world to share her observations, particularly from the point of view of a Jewish American woman who witnessed life in the Occupied Territories.
A Unique Witness
Anna Baltzer’s book Witness in Palestine: a Jewish Woman in the Occupied Territories shares what she saw first-hand: discrimination at checkpoints; settler violence; the erasure of Palestinian history; environmental destruction; home demolitions; conversations with non-violent Palestinian activists, Hamas supporters, and Israeli activists; and more.
The book received accolades from many. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé commended Baltzer’s “compassionate analysis, assisted by invaluable statistics, maps, and facts that make one feel, once more, bewildered by how this monstrosity can still continue today.” Israeli activist Tanya Reinhart wrote that the book and “courageous internationals like Baltzer […] give many of us hope that, with the people of the world working together, justice and peaceful coexistence in Israel/Palestine are possible.”
Taking a Side
Witnessing Palestinian life under occupation compelled Anna Baltzer to fight for equal civil and human rights in Israel/Palestine. In a TEDx talk, Baltzer shared that she used to believe remaining neutral in controversial situations was the moral high ground, but she has since realized that neutrality is a dangerous trap.
Prior to visiting the Occupied Territories, she believed that both the state of Israel and Palestinians held equal responsibility in what is framed as a “complex” issue. However, after getting to know more about the creation of the Israeli state and ongoing repression, her view has evolved.
She realized that taking a side is what really helps conflicts—just like the South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Social Justice as a Jewish Imperative
Anna Baltzer has described her concern for the Palestinian cause as consistent with the “ethics and morality that [her parents] passed down” to her. She referred to the history of American Jews fighting for social justice by supporting the African-American civil rights movement and the South African struggle against apartheid. She says that many American Jews today may not support Palestinians because they have not yet heard the full story—the story that Baltzer seeks to amplify and share with the world.
In this interview, Baltzer discussed the shift in thought happening among American Jews, Americans, and peoples around the world—we are no longer able to ignore the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The interviewer asked about the likelihood of equality for Palestinians when the Israeli state has gained increasing power. She responded that in the South African apartheid case and in the case of the abolition of slavery, justice did not come when the white South Africans and the slaveholders agreed—it came in spite of them.
More About Anna Baltzer…
Anna Baltzer is an award-winning speaker and organizer. In 2009, she received the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Annual Rachel Corrie Peace & Justice Award and a Certificate of Commendation from the Governor of Wisconsin for her commitment to justice in Palestine. In 2011, Baltzer received the Inspiration for Hope Award from the American Friends Service Committee.
Learn more about Israel-Palestine by visiting the Promised Land Museum online galleries.
Purchase or borrow Anna Baltzer’s book from your local library to learn more about what she witnessed in the Occupied Territories.