Q: Israel is only responding to defend itself from terrorism by Hamas. How can focusing on Palestinian victims be read as anything other than a defense of killing Jewish people?
I started paying attention in earnest to Israel/Palestine politics when I went to study Hebrew on an Israeli kibbutz in 2005 before conducting religious study in Jerusalem for two years. I know deeply that Israel and Palestine are real places with real people, not a religious fantasy, political football, or exotic destination. I am sharing this response to hopefully get us closer to a world without violence in the Holy Land, where my fellow Jews are safely and happily living wherever they like, including in Palestine, and where the Palestinian people are doing likewise. It is an ambitious goal. I don’t really know if I believe my writing will have that outcome.
But I will not begin with certain common cliches.
• I do not think it is necessary (or true) to say that I believe that the state of Israel, a state consisting primarily of Jews organized under the principles of Zionism, has any right to exist in the Holy Land. I don’t think that’s necessary to say because the Zionist state of Israel EXISTS regardless of my beliefs.
• I do not have to assert Jews’ right to self-determination. That right was exercised with the creation of the state of Israel. As an anti-Zionist Jew, I believe that the creation of a Zionist state that legally dispossesses Palestinian people was disastrous morally, culturally, and religiously. I spend my time in the Jewish community urging divestment from such a state.
• I do not think I have to condemn the murder of civilians by Hamas militants before considering condemnation of the murder of civilians by the colonial Israeli army. The universal condemnation of civilian deaths, regardless of the victims’ nationality, should be a given for us all, as it is for international law. International law is also clear that decolonization, including by armed struggle, is legitimate and that apartheid systems are not.
There are also things I find necessary to say very clearly.
• We must take away the ability to kill civilians from any and all military actors, including Hamas and the Israeli army.
• I believe in the safety and well-being of all Jews, even those I disagree with. Because of my political beliefs, I am often accused in bad faith of not desiring safety for Jews.
• It’s necessary to say, “Free Palestine.” Palestinians, the people who have lived on the Holy Land from time immemorial, were forcibly removed from their homes for Jewish settlement. Palestinians are not free. They can not move about their country thanks to restrictions enforced by the Israeli army. They are dying the shocking deaths of those who live under apartheid. I demand their freedom and sovereignty in their land. Who do I demand it from? The only entity that currently claims political power, claims to represent my Jewishness, and receives the carte-blanche support of the United States government: the Israeli state.
Many, many people hold space for both the victims of attacks by Hamas militants and the suffering civilians of Gaza. No one worth listening to says the human heart can only mourn for some but not others, that it’s only sad when Jews die, or only sad when Palestinians die. What we are really having a conversation about is the future of the Holy Land, whether it will grant democratic rights to all its residents, and what to do about the ongoing violence between the various parties that hope to benefit financially, politically, ideologically, from their “side” coming out on top.
How we look at any conflict, whether interpersonal or international, depends on when we start the metaphorical clock. In thinking about the most recent violence, most of us are tempted to start the clock on October 7th, when Hamas militants fired rockets at Israeli targets and breached the Gaza/Israel security fence. I’m asking you to reconsider. Violence and territorial dispossession of Palestinians in Israel didn’t start last weekend. It is the context for these attacks, and we should not further that violence and dispossession in retribution. For a good rundown of events since the 1980s, review the answers to the last three questions in this explainer by Jewish Currents. Consider where you believe this conflict began, why it began, and how it has only deepened over the last several decades. Hope for a democratic outcome for everyone in the region. Believe in neighbors living together, peacefully, despite what has transpired.
Some organizations working toward a better future for the region include Breaking the Silence, Jewish Voice for Peace, and If Not Now. Please donate to the Middle East Children’s Alliance to provide emergency medical aid to children in besieged Gaza, children whose lives are no less important than those of children in Tel Aviv or Boise.