Contemplations on Israel and Palestine
Below we offer a series of reflections by our Track Two network member and dear friend, Yoav Peck, from his home in Jerusalem. Yoav is a long time peace activist, deploying his considerable experience as a psychologist in efforts to bring peace to his divided community. We share these because they have afforded us new, loving and kind insight on the Hamas Israel war. We hope they will likewise be helpful to you.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Track Two: An Institute for Citizen Diplomacy.
Do The Math, America // November 12, 2023
DO THE MATH
The number of Israelis killed on Oct. 7, using the proportionate size of Israel, would be 49,000 Americans killed in a single day.
If it happened in America, the number is 105,000 wounded.
The equivalent of 8,400 were taken hostage.
On the other hand, if Palestine were America, and Americans were to lose the proportionate number of people killed in the past month, America would have lost 1.8 million people. Of these, 664,000 children.
I ask that you put yourselves in Israeli/Palestinian shoes,
to try to get a sense of what we are dealing with.
The Flood // November 10, 2023
We gathered outside the Knesset with hundreds of Jerusalemites this afternoon, listening to the strong cry of parents and siblings of hostages and victims, and together demanding the prime minister’s impeachment. Beloved Israeli songs are played, prayers are prayed. We join in the Song of Peace, the anthem we sang 28 years ago this week, in the square with Yitzhak Rabin, minutes before his assassination. Together we long for leadership, for direction, for the hope that Rabin brought us then, at this desolate present moment.
The sadness keeps pouring in, a tidal wave, a flood of sorrow. The images from October 7, the dreadful stories just wash over us, there is no escape. We meet friends, we hear more stories, stories we have already heard tens of times. We turn on the radio, more stories, descriptions of the horrors, and we lunge to switch it off. We walk the streets among the ubiquitous posters, each bearing a face, a life, held hostage. The faces of Israelis, old and young, beautiful and plain, somber and laughing faces, and we can’t stop ourselves from imagining where they are this evening, what they are doing, feeling, thinking. Swimming in a sea of sadness and horror.
I imagine dear Vivian Silver, lifelong peace-worker, seeking to connect with her captors, to find the spark of decency in the men, doing her best to take things in hand, deep in a tunnel beneath Gaza. Then I catch myself, knowing I’m only scratching at a horror, anything to make it easier to think of Vivian.
Everyone knows someone, or someone who knows someone. This is collective trauma, everyone sharing it all, in our alone moments and when we are together. Flashbacks, startled jumps at loud noises, difficulty putting thoughts together. Several times a day, the Oct 7 images press in upon me and I get choked up, driving to work, eyes fill with tears, helplessness washes over me. Each of us with his/her own rhythm, we are out of sync…in a moment when I am strong enough to hear the radio, Frumit is not, and I shut it off or take it to another room.
As the Jerusalem gathering disperses, we hear Arik Einstein singing the songs that draw us together in our Israeliness, the glowing communal aspect of our lives here. We head home to receive the sabbath, seeking peace and family and even joy in the light of the candles. Five long weeks, no end in sight, endless suffering here, and also there, beyond the newly-patched-up fence, where 2 million people are paying a devastating price for the perpetrators’ acts on Oct 7. Yet tonight, on this Shabbat, we are mostly with each other, Israelis with Israelis, still swimming against a terrible tide of our own sadness, anger, and fear of what tomorrow may bring.
Let The Healing Begin // November 7, 2023
As the sun set over Jerusalem this evening, I joined some 100 Jewish Israelis, Palestinian Christians and Moslems outside Jaffa Gate in the Old City. Dressed in black, we were there to share mourning for all victims of the present war. There were prayers but no speeches. We spoke informally in small groups, and then, together, we stood in silence for 15 minutes.
There have been similar gatherings in Haifa, a city known for its liberal leaning, where there are even buses that run on the sabbath. But in Jerusalem, where the tension is palpable, where just yesterday a policewoman was stabbed to death by a young Palestinian, this was the first Jewish-Arab event to take place since the war began. Many Jerusalemites don’t take kindly to this sort of thing.
The collective sorrow swept over us, some people wept openly in each other’s arms. We had a permit, and heavily-armed policemen watched over us. The media was there in force, interviewing people in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Hopefully, the coverage will be broad.
I was asked to don a fluorescent vest and patrol the perimeter, watching for possible disrupters. But it was quiet, and only some curious settlers, who live in defiant little enclaves in the heart of the Moslem quarter, came by to ask what the gathering was about. As I explained, one woman, modestly covered from head to toe, demanded to know if “the Arabs here object to the Hamas massacre.” I answered that yes, we were all of us there to protest the killing of all innocent victims. “Palestinian blood and Israeli blood are the same color,” I reminded her. “You are so blind,” she hissed in disgust, as she turned away.
In response to the overflowing pain of the past month, so much hatred and righteous fury has been unleashed. NY Times’ David Brooks writes, “It is dangerous to be hardened and calloused over by hard times. It is also dangerous, as C.S. Lewis put it, to guard your heart so thoroughly that you make it ‘unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.’”
We must collectively demand a ceasefire. The hostages must be returned home, the bombing of Gaza’s civilians must end, the missiles must stop falling on Israel’s towns and cities. So much healing lies before us. Healing that cannot begin until some light appears at the end of the tunnel.
We Lived in Pompeii // November 5, 2023
Since 2005, as the second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising drew to a close, leaving 1,000 Israelis dead and 3,000 Palestinians, we have lived in Pompei. After five years of bus bombings and severe repression, life more or less normalized. There were spurts of violence, the West Bank settlements expanded at breakneck speed, but for the average Israeli, it was possible to continue with our lives. We went about our business, blithely ignoring the reality taking shape under our nose, enjoying our growing prosperity. Sure, there were rockets falling on the villages on the Gaza border, but most Israelis were able to set them aside, as the Vesuvius of occupation simmered and smoked. Netanyahu actively advanced the illusion of “managing the occupation.” We on the left warned that it was just a matter of time until the volcano would blow its top. On October 7, Vesuvius exploded.
In the argumentative culture of Israeli discourse, if you disagree with me, you just haven’t been listening. Expressing understanding of another’s motivation is the same as justifying it. As though the very effort to understand another’s perspective is already a form of surrender.
Over the past two weeks, any Israeli’s attempt to grapple with what could have driven Hamas’ men to commit the Black Sabbath atrocities is considered an act of treason. If an Israeli expresses empathy for the Palestinians, he is subject to furious derision. But if a Palestinian Israeli dares to draw attention to Palestinian suffering or to the process of de-humanization wrought by 56 years of occupation, he/she is openly victimized.
While Arabs comprise only 20% of our citizenry, 47% of new doctors, 48% of all pharmacists and 24% of all nurses are Arabs. Israelis of all stripes gladly enjoy the care they render. Yet recently Arab doctors and nurses have been summarily fired from their jobs. In my local drugstore, where most of the pharmacists are Arabs, they have been replaced by Jews. The streets are not safe for Palestinians. Many Palestinian students and workers are afraid to attend studies or work. Increasing numbers of Arab journalists have reported that since the war began they have been threatened and even attacked – not by civilians but by the police and members of other security bodies. Said one, “I asked the officers why they had hit me. ‘Because of the Arabic,’ they said.”
Additional streams of Vesuvius’ lava are flowing through the IDF. The messianic religious sector of the Israeli populace has, in recent years, occupied an increasingly influential presence in the IDF. Just yesterday, the captain who serves as rabbi for one of our fighting brigades, appeared beside a rock band at a morale-raising event for soldiers, and declared, “When I set aside the dead, the wounded, and the hostages, this is the happiest month in my life…This our country, it is all of it ours, including Gaza, including Lebanon… We’ll show the world what is good, what is morality and justice, and values.” A lame rebuke was issued. The soldiers’ whoops of approval were frightening.
The “errant weeds” of Netanyahu’s coalition are also spilling their share of the lava, spewing ash over Pompeii: Israel's Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu announced on Sunday that dropping a nuclear weapon on the Gaza Strip is "an option." Netanyahu furrowed his brows and reprimanded him, barring him from meetings of the cabinet, though he has no authority to do so, rendering his rebuke “kalam fahdi,” (Arabic: empty talk). Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are already aflame with their new “proof” of Israel’s intentions.
So much for the bad news. Can’t leave you without a bit of hope. Last night, thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country, demanding that the government stop manufacturing excuses and get serious about returning the hostages. This was the climax of weeks of smaller demonstrations, which until now were led by the hostages’ families. We have all been admonished, during the war’s first month, to feign solidarity and let the government’s agents do their work. The public is having no more of it.
We were also subjected to the rhetoric that “you don’t mess with the leaders in a time of war. We’ll deal with Netanyahu after it’s over.” People are realizing that the end of this disaster is nowhere in sight. Just as we neared completion of 1,400 funerals for the Oct. 7 victims, now 25 soldiers have died in battle since we began the incursion into Gaza. So last night, on our way to the hostages’ demo, a thousand of us came to Netanyahu’s house in Jerusalem to demand his impeachment. Such a demonstration was not possible just a week ago. No one is buying the warning that replacing him will make it harder to wage the war. We simply do not trust the man. November 4th marks the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. While he was not perfect, Rabin was a leader who gathered a majority of Israelis behind him, because we knew that when he went to work in the morning, he was busy serving his country. During the dark months leading up to his killing, a young Netanyahu was inciting murderous mobs as he lay the foundation for his move to become prime minister.
It was encouraging, at the demonstration, to speak with embittered Likud supporters who feel betrayed by their hero. Bibi tweeted last week, in the middle of the night, to castigate the commanders of the army and security services for their responsibility for Oct. 7, cleansing himself once more of all responsibility. This he allowed himself in the moments when the commanders were readying the incursion into Gaza. His removal of the tweet, nine hours later, did not fool anyone.
The political awakening of hundreds of thousands of Israelis that began 10 months ago in response to Bibi’s self-serving judicial coup, and the public’s inspiring and massive leap to support our evacuees and our soldiers, may lead toward the day, may it come soon, when a majority of Israelis will finally take our country back into responsible hands.
I promised you good news, and that’s the best I can do, for now.
The Elephants Fight... // November 4, 2023
“When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” - Mozambiquan proverb
Here in wartime Jerusalem, Friday morning is still a time for reading the weekend newspaper, handling chores, and meeting friends in a coffee shop. Yesterday, I had a working coffee with a colleague and ran into a couple of other friends. Their responses to asking how they are doing had a common theme, and echoed my own feeling. Something in the neighborhood of…”I have ups and downs. Some days I wake up with despair, fatigue. Other days, I get up and carry on.” Everyone shares deep worry about where we are and where we’re headed. And we all feel that, whatever comes out of the present crisis, there will no return to business as usual.
As Israeli novelist Dorit Rabinyan writes, “Maybe we too, those who cannot sleep, who watch the news until late at night, you and me, who scroll through the networks and websites in the darkness of our beds, maybe we too are characters in this war tragedy who will end up covered in dust under the rubble of our houses. All the cards have been shuffled, and with every rocket and every siren, they are shuffled again. Every boom that shakes the walls could be our boom.”
When friends from abroad end their emails with “Stay safe..” I cannot oblige them. If you are not hiding near your safe room all the time, there is no “safe” these days. Though my son’s kibbutz on the northern border has been evacuated, he and some of the others take turns coming home to watch over the village and complete getting the apples in. Yesterday, Hezbollah mortars shelled a neighboring village, half a mile away.
I had thought my daughter’s place in the Arava desert, north of Eilat, was a safe space. Many evacuees from the Gaza border villages are sheltering there. However, on Monday, a ballistic missile launched in Yemen, 1,000 miles from Eilat, was intercepted as it flew up the Red Sea.
Wednesday, I left the psychiatric hospital where I consult, south of Tel Aviv, and got to the parking lot just as the sirens wailed. I could not have gotten back in the 60 seconds I had, to the safety of the ward where patients and staff huddled together, so I flattened myself against the nearest wall, waiting for the boom. It was loud, not far off, and I waited a couple more minutes and got in the car to drive home.
There is no “safe.” Two hundred thousand Israelis have fled their homes to relatively safer hotels and family. Three hundred thousand soldiers are deployed, south and north, and the fighting escalates from day to day. Half a million Israelis are not at home.
People’s trust in the army is high. If we were able to assure ourselves that the government directing the army was doing its job, we would be calmer. But no one, other than a handful of blind Bibi loyalists, finds any quiet when we think of the dubious complex of motivations driving the decision-makers. The desperate families of 240 hostages do not trust that every caution is being taken to keep their dear ones alive. The many out-of-work small business people and salaried workers do not trust that they will be compensated decently for their losses. The crisis of trust is deep and wide.
No one seems able to get their heads above the water enough to think past the next few days. But it is the very vision of the future that can keep us sane, humane, true to ourselves. If we momentarily set aside the nascent concrete plans, and as NYT’s David Brooks articulates, if we can “see people with generous eyes, offering trust to others before they trust us,” we may be disappointed and feel the fool, but we will be doing what we can to be part of the solution, rather than digging the hole of the problem deeper. We will find the courage to confront Max Weber’s challenge…. “How can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul?” The answers we offer will determine our ability to climb out of this pit of fear, hatred, and confusion, and emerge to rebuild our homes and lives.
In Israel, More Questions Than Answers // November 2, 2023
The 16 year old son of a close Palestinian friend from East Jerusalem was brutally arrested the other day, and was brought in, with his father, for a police interrogation. The two were separated, and the police worked on the boy for two hours, seeking to lure him into becoming an informer. The father was then questioned, and the police revealed a wealth of information they had gathered about the two of them. A long time community worker focused on youth at risk, my friend stood his ground as they tried to coerce him into supporting their objective.
Upset by my friend’s account, I am nonetheless thrown into a dilemma. I know that the police and secret service protect us citizens partly by obtaining intelligence gathered from informers in order to uncover budding terror cells and other threats. I cannot in good conscience deny that I rely on the security forces doing their job effectively. Though I work for co-existence, the situation here is still dangerous, and there is no lack of Palestinians who plan and carry out violent attacks on Israelis. Yet, when this sort of thing hits close to home, it is particularly disturbing.
The suffering of my friend and his son, who has barely slept since his interrogation, has me twisting in pained empathy. But it would be hypocritical to say I oppose the police tactics. As long as we do not have peace, they save lives.
All I am left with is an ever-deepening conviction that the circumstances that necessitate this sort of thing must change. The war raging in Gaza and the missiles flying into Israel must lead us to seek a new reality. The catastrophic failure of Israel’s intelligence and military that enabled Oct. 7 is bringing demands for commissions of inquiry. But then what? Some heads will roll (hopefully our prime minister’s first) and we’ll be served a bevy of recommendations for fixing a vehicle without our grasping that before it broke down, it was already heading in the wrong direction. All of this fixing will leave the present paradigm in place.
The entire deck of cards has been re-shuffled. If we are wise, we will not busy ourselves gathering the cards in a game that cannot be won, by either side. Instead of arranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic, we need a different ship, a new course-setting, a paradigm shift.
The burst of citizen activism on behalf of the soldiers and the thousands of evacuees, the effectiveness of Brothers in Arms, who turned their protest brigade into a huge civilian support mechanism….these phenomena would seem to bode well for Israel-after-the-war. Frumit sent out a call for volunteer laundry squad to serve the evacuees from the north in one hotel, and within two hours, 40 people had signed on. Three mornings a week they show up to schlep sacks home and then deliver the laundry, folded and fresh, to the lobby the next morning. We Israelis are terrific under pressure.
However, all these good-hearted Israelis are collectively traumatized, as we bury our dead and worry ourselves sick about the 240 hostages. Tens of people are still unaccounted for, many of them were incinerated in the kibbutzim on the Gaza border and cannot be identified. Others may or may not be among the hostages.
All of this leads most Israelis to hatred and calls for revenge, and has hardened people’s hearts. Many liberal Israelis are now giving voice to a strident militarism that they themselves never would have thought possible, just a month ago. In most places, it is still unacceptable to express anything humane about the plight of the Gazan Palestinians.
The Israeli aerial bombings, the Hamas missile barrages and bitter hand-to-hand battles, and the never-ending funerals continue to be, on both sides, our daily fare. From where will the shift emanate? How will we unite to support a future resolution that works for everyone? How will Israelis accept that rebuilding a devastated Gaza must come to pass, sooner or later, and that negotiations will have to be conducted if we are to head toward win/win? So many questions, so few answers.
Treat The Wounds, But Root Out The Infection // November 1, 2023
They rolled back the artificial lawn on Mt. Herzl today and dug fresh graves for the two young Jerusalemites who were among the first fifteen soldiers to die in our expanding ground incursion into Gaza. “Destroying Hamas” is now the official goal of this escalating conflict. This is an illusion. On October 7, Hamas inflicted a terrible blow on Israel, killing 1400 people, in a nation of 9 million. In the 25 days of war, Israel has killed 8,000 Palestinians, in a territory containing two million people. More than 3,000 were children.
The Israeli civilians murdered on Oct. 7 were certainly victimized. But the nation of Israel is no victim. I am disgusted at the performance of Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilead Erdan, who last week wore a yellow Jewish star to the Security Council. Stealing the symbol of pre-Holocaust Jewish persecution, Erdan sullied the memory of six million victims, at a time when Jews were defenseless and stateless. Even the right-wing director of the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum rejected the parallel. There will be no second Holocaust here. We maintain the strongest army in the middle-east, we have a vibrant society and a thriving economy. But we have abused our power.
In the wake of the ’67 victory and the conquest of the territories, we allowed success to go to our head, rather than immediately employing our conquests as a bargaining card in the struggle for a peaceful future. Successive governments encouraged messianic settlers to spread throughout the territories, and they are now half a million strong. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have never stopped striving for an independent nation. I heard a commentator comparing our planned destruction of Hamas to the “successful” 1982 expulsion of the PLO from Beirut. What he failed to mention was that the PLO relocated to Tunis, and with the Oslo Accords, returned to Palestine in 1993. The Palestinian struggle never waned, and the destruction of Hamas will similarly never eradicate the aspiration for an independent Palestine. As Medgar Evers said, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.”
The wounds of history and of the present moment will never heal until we root out the infection that keeps them festering. That infection is the occupation….the illusion that military power can force anyone to yield. As stated in a recent New Yorker piece, “The oxymoronic strategy of bombing enemies to the negotiating table does not often work as designed.” The generals who will flock to the cemeteries to eulogize the soldiers, who will hug the widows while mouthing the empty slogans about the “inevitable price of fighting for our people,” these generals have made a career of war, and they seek to persuade the public that the fallen soldiers did not die in vain. Tell it to the mothers, tell it to the orphans.
The decent people in Israel must look to a different horizon, where, to paraphrase Dr. King, on the rocky slopes of the Jerusalem hills, the sons of former Palestinian terrorists and the sons of former Israeli commandos will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
As The War Ramps Up, The Israeli Interior Gets Ugly // October 31, 2023
Making a stab at normalcy, I went today to the shuk, the open market in the middle of town. At my favorite vegetable stall, I asked the Palestinian proprietor how he was doing. He told me that yesterday a crowd of “La Familia” came through the shuk, hunting for Palestinian workers. This rabble are followers of Meir Kahane, the racist rabbi who was banned from the Knesset years ago. The thugs are known for their rampages against Arabs, and the present conflagration seems to have given them a shot of inspiration. Before they could corner anyone, the police moved quickly and arrested several. On Saturday, Arab students at Netanya Academic College were attacked by hundreds of residents and forced to barricade themselves on the roof until the police arrived and evacuated them. The demonstrations were accompanied by cries of “death to Arabs.” The general atmosphere is explosive.
Mohammed Darawshe, a lifelong Arab/Jewish activist and educator, writes in today’s Ha’aretz: “Many Arab employees are being fired from their workplaces, and students expelled from their universities for speaking out against the Israeli army assault on Gaza. We see the silencing and censorship in the arrest of the singer Dalal Aby Amneh for sharing a prayer on Facebook Israeli police took as hostile. The lecturer Warda Saada was expelled from Kaye college in the Negev for sharing a post, without being given an opportunity to explain herself.” I know Warda through my work at “Sulha.” An active and outspoken peace-worker, she has taught for 28 years. Her expulsion was arbitrary, sudden and final.
While the army has gone on the offensive in Gaza, deploying ground troops in growing numbers, in the West Bank the soldiers are also very active. Under the marquee of “rooting out Hamas cells,” soldiers are besieging and killing with an abandon we have not seen in a long time. Extremist settlers are hitch-hiking onto the general fervor, attacking civilians randomly, eagerly advancing their plan to cleanse the territories of Palestinians. Shootings are occurring under the nose of the army, which is doing little to restrain them. Some soldiers even participate, in uniform, in the festivities. No one is being held to account for the abundance of incidents.
Also taking advantage of the situation is our minister of public security, Itamar Ben Gvir, who is distributing rifles to settlers like candy. The other government ministers are mute, reportedly grumbling to each other about Netanyahu’s fumbling loss of control over events, but they remain too cowardly to speak out openly.
Shared society organizations are coming together to resist the gathering tidal wave sweeping through Israel, but so far we are a feather in the wind. And no one in authority seems to have an idea of where all of this is leading. There is little discussion and no consensus about the goals in Gaza. The humiliation of our Oct. 7 debacle is spawning rage and revenge, the horse is stampeding and the reins have been jerked from our hands. A dark moment in Israel.
Hangin' Out With Chicken Little // October 30, 2023
Frumit and I took an afternoon rest today. The neighborhood was quiet, a blessed hour to collect ourselves for the remainder of the day’s activities. Suddenly, the shriek of the missile sirens tore into our calm. 90 seconds to collect ourselves and get downstairs to her studio. Just 20 seconds after we closed the studio door, 5 thuds of the missiles’ interception, a miIe or two west. Waited the obligatory 5 minutes and returned to the house, the coiled spring in my stomach slowly releasing.
I went to work Wednesday, at a psychiatric hospital in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv. Three hours after I drove home, a missile landed nearby, devastating an apartment building half a mile from my route.
On Shabbat, In Tel Aviv in the middle of enjoying the raspberry topping on my friend’s cheesecake, we rushed into the stairwell, as the sirens sounded. David calmly checked his watch and said, “Wait for it…” And within 90 seconds, a succession of eight booms of the Iron Dome’s interceptions.
And this is only the latest round in what seems an endless succession of “There but for the grace of God” moments. During the second Intifada, Frumit was on her way home from the accountant and walked down the pedestrian promenade where, 10 minutes later, a terrorist killed three teenage girls with a bomb.
What a strange reality we’ve come to accept. As the present war drags into its fourth week, we’ve gotten used to it. But the moment I recognize our momentary equanimity, I am horrified to remember those who have no respite….1,300 bereaved families, 229 families of the hostages, and 8,000 Palestinian deaths, and I am appalled that I could have achieved this false calm.
Driving into Tel Aviv on shabbat, I looked up at the sky and realized I could no longer count on it just being the sky. For twenty years, for Israelis in the south, and to 2 million Gazans it has been the source of terror, the place from which death rains down. I sort of scrunched my shoulders around the steering wheel, and thought of Chicken Little’s cry…”The sky is falling!!!”
As Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad sing, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English…….there must be another way.
Be 'Right' Or Be Effective... A Call To Jewish American Leftists // October 29, 2023
In 1971-2, my last years in Berkeley, many of my friends from the movement against the war in Vietnam were attending demonstrations in favor of the Palestinians. I just did not know enough about the Israel/Palestine conflict to be able to take a stand, so when I had the opportunity to visit Israel at the end of summer, ’72, I gave myself two weeks to figure out the middle east so that I would know where I stand. Fifty years later, I’m still working on it.
I fell in love with Israel during those first years here, and chose to become a citizen. I encounter my old lefty friends when I go back to the States, and in every visit since, I have been astounded at the level of ignorance I discover there, regarding the Middle-East. The ferment on US campuses and the general response of much of the American left has me upset, so I’m writing to you, from the heart of the pressure-cooker in Jerusalem.
My activist credentials: In March, 1965, I boarded a bus in Madison, on the way to joining Martin Luther King for the Selma march. Midway there, the organizers asked us to divert to Washington, so there would be a presence there, as MLK led the Selma march. We sat outside the White House in the slush for three days, chanting civil rights songs, and slept on the floor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church. From ’65-’72, I worked against the war in Vietnam, sometimes helping to organize demos, or spray-painting buildings at 2 AM, or leafletting workers at factories, and got beaten and arrested during one particularly tough demo in Berkeley. I threw stones at the police, who were brutal, until I woke up to non-violence. The Vietnam days were painted in black and white, we were the good guys, the rednecks were the bad guys. In our righteous fervor, we would burn American flags, alienating the very people whose attitudes we claimed to be devoted to changing. Together with my brother and some friends, I put together an anti-war, feminist rock group called “Contraband,” and we played political festivals and demonstrations.
Five years after my immigration to Israel, I became aware of the attempts of the nationalist rightwing in Israel to colonize the territories we conquered in ’67, and I got active in anti-occupation. I have been resisting the occupation for 45 years, mostly as a volunteer, but for the past 10 years have worked in managerial positions in two Israeli/Palestinian organizations, learning basic conversational Arabic along the way. Over the past nine months’ struggle against the government’s anti-democratic coup, I’ve attended weekly demos, bearing a sign that insists “There is no democracy with occupation.”
Life here is laced with contradictions. Called up to the first Lebanon war in ’82, I served with my fellow reservists. When we realized the true goal of that war, uncovering Ariel Sharon’s deception, I went to Tel Aviv on my first 48 hour leave, to demonstrate against the war I was fighting! We here all have blood on our hands. Some Israelis are racists, some are humanists. Some are calling to wipe Gaza off the map, others of us are campaigning to avert the bloody ground invasion that will solve nothing.
Dear Jewish leftists, choosing sides, painting Israel/Palestine in black and white is an exercise in self-delusion. The Gaza crisis is a complex reality, and if your values of equality, democracy, empathy, and justice are harnessed into a one-sided rage, you have missed the boat. Mobbing together with fellow over-simplifiers does not serve anyone. Why not get together with the forces that call to end the violence on all sides? Why not summon the courage to convene public dialogues and to explore the moral intricacies of this crisis, joining us in seeking a win/win resolution?
I want you to know that most of my Palestinian colleagues, friends and committed peace workers abhor the Hamas attack, and reject any connection between their Islamic belief and the deeds of the Oct. 7 murderers. They are also appalled at the disproportionate Israeli response, and many have family in Gaza.
I turn to you as a fellow activist and ask that you join us in braking this runaway train. I invite you to summon your bigness and to avoid sloganeering and generalizing. Take an interest, seek deeper understanding, when choosing how to act in a way that will support all the people in this troubled land.
Stop The Invasion // October 23, 2023
I am not a military analyst, nor am I a particularly sophisticated political observer. But I read people who are.
In a series of well-considered articles, NY Times’ Thomas Friedman opines the following: “If Israel rushes headlong into Gaza now to destroy Hamas — and does so without expressing a clear commitment to seek a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority and end Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank — it will be making a grave mistake that will be devastating for Israeli interests and American interests.”
Sadly, our present government, manipulated by fanatic racists and hotheads, is as far from committing to seek a two-state solution as Beijing is from Tel Aviv. Shifting to focus on the present constellation in Israel, after interviewing scores of experts, Friedman contends: “Israeli military leaders are actually more hawkish than the prime minister now. They are red with rage and determined to deliver a blow to Hamas that the whole neighborhood will never forget. I understand why. But friends don’t let friends drive while enraged.”
The rage we Israelis all share must not be the driver that carries us forward. We must choose our steps ever so carefully, at this explosive moment.
Friedman goes on to warn that: “What began as a Hamas onslaught against Israel has the potential to trigger a Middle East war with every great power and regional power having a hand in it — which would make it very difficult to stop once it started.”
The world is a complex system, a web of inter-related interests. Israel’s choices, in these tense days, will have world-wide implications. Satisfying the military’s and the hotheads’ fervor must be relegated to the back row. What is needed now is statesmanship. When you peel away the outer show of Netanyahu’s bluster, you are left with a petty politician whose only true motivation is his own personal interest. What must happen, and soon, is for the majority of Israelis to rise up and demand the kind of leadership we have been missing since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. If you look at his face in the footage of the 1993 ceremony on the White House lawn, Rabin clearly did not feel like shaking Yasser Arafat’s hand. But he rose above his gut and did what held promise for the long-term welfare of his people.
Friedman concludes with the following penetrating question: “If Israel announced today that it was forgoing, for now, a full-blown invasion of Gaza, who would be happy, and who would be relieved, and who would be upset? Iran would be totally frustrated, Hezbollah would be disappointed, Hamas would feel devastated — its whole war plan came to naught — and Vladimir Putin would be crushed, because Israel would not be burning up ammunition and weapons the U.S. needs to be sending to Ukraine. The settlers in the West Bank would be enraged. Meanwhile, the parents of every Israeli soldier and every Israeli held hostage would be relieved, every Palestinian in Gaza caught in the crossfire would be relieved, and every friend and ally Israel has in the world — starting with one Joseph R. Biden — would be relieved.”
True power is demonstrating the ability to strike one’s foe with devastation, and not striking. Instead, offering a viable alternative to the bloodbath such devastation would have wrought. Must we pursue Hamas’ leaders and soldiers? Yes, but sending hundreds of thousands of troops into the minefield of Gaza is not the only way this can be accomplished.
Friedman quotes a senior American military strategist:
“Israel has built so much, enjoys so much and contributes so much to the world and has so much more to contribute. To risk all that in an act of revenge or rage that will not fundamentally alter its strategic dilemmas is exceptionally unwise.”
At this critical juncture, let us be wise rather than hard-assed, reserved rather than knee-jerkers, and may we act now to advance a hopeful future for our region and for our world, before it is too late.