I was born in 1953 in a country my parents, along with a great deal of diplomatic officialdom, called Israel. I didn’t choose my place of birth or the circumstances that led to it. Neither did my parents. My mother was born in New York City, the daughter of Polish Jews who emigrated to the U.S. in 1920, fleeing generations of systemic racism and deep personal loss at the hands of the predominant culture.

My father was 12 when his family left Germany, a country whose social and political reality was changing rapidly. In the year before the Baer family walked away from the small city where their citizenship was not questioned for centuries, and where they were established members of the community, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany and 40,000 auxiliary police officers were recruited to support the agenda of the Nazi Party.

History isn’t sure who burned the country’s Parliament building, the Reichstag, but a great deal of the evidence points to Hitlerian insurrectionists.

The fire at that country’s legislative seat instilled a sense of crisis in the German populace and lead to the Enabling Act, which abolished most civil liberties including the rights of speech, assembly, protest and due process. As part of the new law, Chancellor Hitler received emergency powers that allowed him to purge the government of those who did not support him.

The first concentration camp, Dachau, was opened that same spring of 1933, when Dad was 11 and still living in Halberstadt. Dachau was quickly followed by Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück.

That April, the Nazis began to officially boycott Jewish business, defining their owners and all Jews as non-Aryan: “anyone descended from non-Aryan, especially Jewish, parents or grandparents. One parent or grandparent classifies the descendant as non-Aryan… especially if one parent or grandparent was of the Jewish faith,” the government edict stated.

While my father’s family was packing to leave home, Hermann Göring created the Gestapo, books were burned throughout Germany, the Nazi Party was declared Germany’s only legal political party, and a law was passed that stripped Jewish immigrants from Poland of their German citizenship.

In short, my father and his family got out of there alive and just in time.

Dad reached maturity in the British Mandate of Palestine, arriving at adulthood just as World War II was beginning. A self-trained communications engineer, he served in the Royal Air Force by day; on his off hours, he was part of the underground armies seeking to create a Jewish State.

Financial support for what Jews call the War of Independence came from people like Mom, dedicated Zionists who collected money and materiel for the effort.

When Britain declared its intention to walk away from the mess they made and the United Nations passed its 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine, the news came to Jews as a salvation. After generations of midnight knocks on the doors of their houses, of villages burnt and brothers killed just for not being Christian, of ever more restrictive edicts denying them rights that you and I take for granted, they were home.

Much of the land they settled on was purchased fairly; a great deal of property was allocated by the outgoing British, and far too much was taken by bloodshed. That bloodshed and taking continues.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were criticized recently for deciding to stop selling ice cream in Jewish/Israeli settlements of the occupied territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The distributor they work with there doesn’t appear to have ever sold ice cream to the West Bank residents who live outside those fenced in neighborhoods, built by the Israeli government to solidify their hold on land taken by military power, and says the decision will adversely affect the lives of about 20 Palestinians employed by Ben & Jerry’s in the occupied area.

I was 2 when my parents decided to move to the U.S. For Mom, it was a return to stability and comforts not available in the newly hatched Israel; for Dad, it meant a wider range of economic opportunities in this country’s growing communications and information industries. I grew up as an American with uncertain allegiances, coming of age in the 1960s and seeking mostly peace and harmony among humans and within this fragile world.

It wasn’t until 1980 that I returned to the land of my birth, spending five months exploring the tiny and environmentally diverse land. I carried two passports, the Israeli one granted by my father’s citizenship and the one issued by the U.S. State Department that reflected my birth abroad as the child of my American-born mother. I met lots of Jews and a smaller number of what I was brought up to uniformly call Arabs. The latter were adherents to quite a few different religions and cultures, and our interactions changed my perspective on the idea of nationhood.

I asked a lot of questions during that first return visit in 1980. I wanted to know why people were so certain that peace, between what are essentially cousins, could never come to that land. In one conversation, with a Jewish woman living in the north of the country, not far from Syria, Lebanon and the Jordan River, I suggested it might help if children went to school together, learning in a neutral language and creating the seeds of a common culture.

Aside from a vehement repetition of the fear that “all they want to do is kill us,” I remember her saying, “Even their language is ugly. Their music is disgusting.”

By the time I went back in 2012, Israel completed a 440 mile-long barrier that government refers to as a fence. Mostly made of cement, topped with razor wire, and in places more than 25 feet tall. It separates the City of Jerusalem from the towns of Moslem, Christian, Druse and other Palestinian non-citizens. In places, it separates one part of a non-Israeli town from another, sections of one person’s fields from another, olive groves from their stewards, families from their historic homes.

My plans for the visit included an interview with a woman living in the West Bank and, not wishing to get in any trouble my family back in the States couldn’t get me out of, I contacted the issuers of my two passports. The State Department’s representative told me I should always use my U.S. Passport when traveling, that I should let the Department’s office in Israel know I was crossing into the West Bank, that this country did not recognize my dual citizenship, and that he would save us both a lot of trouble by forgetting I ever mentioned the other document.

The woman at the Israeli Consulate said she didn’t understand the question.

“I plan to travel from Jerusalem to Beit Yattir, in the West Bank,” I told her. “Because that means crossing the border into the West Bank, I want to know what I should do in terms of passports and notifications.

“There is no border,” she told me. “Only a safety fence. It is all Israel.”

Recently, the New York Times profiled Sameh Zakout and Uriya Rosenman, a pair of rap music performers, who created a powerful poetic statement where they speak the angry half-truths and outright lies their respective communities use to reinforce the distrust that separates them as surely as any wall or chainlink fence.

The Palestinian name for the events that created this bizarre circumstance is the Naqba, the Catastrophe. The generation that was on the ground then is mostly in the ground now.

What would I have done in my parents’ shoes? I don’t know. I was formed by the Holocaust and by the decisions and responses that came out of it. I would like to think that I would have recognized the danger in building a religious state on land ripped from the hands of others. I hope I would have done whatever I could to avoid a land takeover that expanded the UN borders and effectively erased 77% of Palestine.

The Naqba has continued in the form of civil discrimination, economic suppression, ongoing cultural demonization and subsequent Israeli military incursions that forced a majority of Palestinians — Moslem, Christian, Druse and others — into the 2324 square miles of Gaza and the West Bank region.

Here in Maine, the population density is 37 humans per square mile. Since the creation of the State of Israel, that government took 77% of land formerly designated as Palestine leading to a population compression of 1398 humans per square mile in the West Bank and 14,532 in Gaza. Like me, I don’t think any of them chose their place of birth or the circumstances that led to it.

T0o many of us are ignorant of the realities on the ground in a land many of us call holy. We sit in our safety and judge those who live this every day. Ben & Jerry climbed down from such ill-informed neutrality and that leaves me with a question.

If good fences make good neighbors, what do bad fences make?

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a bi-weekly basis.