Some Conflicting Thoughts on the Ongoing Israel-Palestine Conflict
Last Saturday I woke up to my phone buzzing incessantly beside my bed. It was early in the morning and I was still drowsy when I reached for my phone. My mother in Hungary and my brother in Australia were communicating in Hebrew on messenger.
“Mum, are you aware of what is happening in Israel?”
“There is nothing about it in the Australian news. My friends from the army are fine, but the country is a mess. These Palestinians are animals. Ashkara animals.”
I didn’t read further and leapt to check the news. There was nothing about it (yet) in the Canadian media. My brother then sent on disturbing celebratory videos taken by Hamas militants who were dancing on tanks and boasting about their butchering and decapitating women, men and children and the capturing of other innocent civilians as hostages. Videos that later were played on the news for the whole world to see. Shocked and shaken, I immediately called my friend in Petah Tikva. She wasn’t answering her phone. “R. I’m worried. Are you okay?” I sent her a message. Minutes later I received a voice message in which in her depleted and demoralized voice she said, “Imolush, I can tell you that this is the worst thing I have ever lived through in my forty-seven years. I’m experiencing it as a holocaust. Close friends of ours, a couple, musicians with four children are dead. Their sixteen-year-old son shot in the stomach. Horror. Horror. What am I doing in this country? What am I doing in this hell?” I left her a voice message telling her that I was available to talk when she was ready, and was sending her much love.
My daughter Celeste had two of her friends sleep-over so I served them croissants with Nutella, jam and fruit. In their world everything remained untouched. It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and my daughters were preparing to leave with their father to Ottawa to visit their grandparents.
I did manage to talk to my Israeli friend the next day. “I’m done with compassion,” she said. “Enough is enough. I have moved to the other side. Enough of us going in there (Gaza) with tweezers. This time, we’re going in hard.” Her words made me sad, but I refrained from judgement. Her pain was raw and real. She didn’t have the privilege that I had: the distance, and safety that allowed room to hold two seemingly conflicting views at once – Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism, and the Palestinian people’s aspirations for freedom and a country of their own, and – both side’s equal right for dignity. What was so heartbreaking about the situation is knowing that the Hamas, in a way, has won: it has managed to “sow the seeds of hatred” (Y. N. Harari’s words) so deep that the already fragile hopes for peace look even less possible now, if they were ever possible before. “Pray that it doesn’t get worse,” my friend asked me. I am not one for prayers, but I must admit that I prayed. Even if we both knew that things were going to get much worse. Young Israeli soldiers were going to get drafted, Gaza was going to see bigger destruction than ever before, bloodshed was going to be followed with more bloodshed, and more innocent people – many of whom are children – were going to die in yet another brutal war.
I spent much of the following week in my introspective bubble, trying to avoid the news and deal instead – to the best of my ability – with the heaviness in my heart. I avoided commenting on the massacre and conflict, because I am familiar with how this tends to play out on social media. You are prompted to pick a side, declare who you stand with, put the appropriate flag on your profile and post horrific videos of the innocent victims killed and murdered. And there is no shortage of stomach churning, gut wrenching videos – on both sides. Social media is not a place for nuanced conversation and rarely, a place for empathy. You open your mouth and say the wrong thing and you are quickly labelled as a “supporter of…”, or a “denier of..” It is the quickest, and surest way to lose friends. I wasn’t interested in fuelling this fire. And my heart was too broken to find the right words with which I could articulate my complex feelings.
But after a while silence too became unbearable. As a writer whose mission is to “challenge the status quo and encourage respectful, meaningful conversation” how could I remain silent on such an important topic – and one that I was intimately familiar with, even if not entirely impartial to?
Please bear in mind that what I write, I write not as an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor as a politician (thank God), but as an ordinary human being. Perhaps more than anything, I write as a mother who imagines herself in the shoes of those Israeli and Palestinian mothers who have lost their children to the brutality of this ongoing conflict.
From my safe place in Montreal, Canada, what is most heart-breaking to see is how the residues of trauma continue to claim more victims. Israel was built on the trauma of the holocaust. Is it any wonder that this brutal massacre by the Hamas was felt by many Israelis and Jews as another pogrom, or as a “second holocaust’? As an attempt to annihilate the Jews? And on the Gaza side, there is the ongoing trauma that comes from the oppression of people living in unimaginable conditions that are often referred to as an “open air prison.” People that are deprived of their dignity, humanity and basic needs like food, water and electricity. Children who grow up with nothing to look forward to. Is it any wonder that this hopeless situation breeds hatred that is then easily exploited by Hamas? What we have is two deeply traumatized people that are playing out their trauma, and in the process inflicting more trauma on one another. A never-ending cycle of trauma and violence – and as long as it continues, the Hamas is winning in their campaign of hatred and destruction.
In my silent prayers I was asking for all this hatred to stop. Retaliation is a tried formula that hasn’t brought freedom and safety to neither side, only graver losses. I say this, while understanding the natural human instinct for revenge. Had I lost children in this conflict, I would have a hard time to talk about reconciliation and empathy. But I wonder, is a justified retaliation against Hamas that is inadvertently going to bring the unjustified death of more innocent people on both sides is the best course of action?
I was living in New York during the 9/11 terrorist attack and remember the shock waves it sent across the world. I understood the outrage and the desire to teach those terrorists an unforgettable lesson. “We are going to bomb the shit out of Afghanistan,” I remember my (progressive) roommate say. Twenty-two years later, we have had enough distance to analyze how these raw sentiments brought with them fatal mistakes that made the situation worse, and have not improved the United States’ security. By attempting to slay one monster, we created a bigger monster. What was less analyzed are the anti-American sentiments that had brought 9/11 on. That is not to excuse the attack, but is a process of taking a cautionary step back and considering the larger picture, and a measured argument for the most effective counter-attack.
And how can I ever forget the night I woke up to my brother’s shaking and crying in his sleep while he was visiting us in Canada, to what I realized was a bad case of PTSD from all that he saw and experienced while serving in the IDF in Lebanon. He never spoke to me about these experiences. “What good will it do?” he said, to which there was nothing I could say.
So, in the past week I’ve been thinking much about my Israeli friend, my brother and the victims on both sides. Yes, both sides. Because my heart is big enough to contain everybody’s pain – and sometimes it feels too much to bear. It’s been tough to rise in the mornings, even in my safe place in Canada, when we don’t seem to get any respite from witnessing the horrors in the world. When will this all end, and how: The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war and now this Israel-Hamas war? Is there any hope in sight?
I don’t know what to do. I feel helpless, sad, and angry. I search for positivity. I try to see the beauty in little things. I realize that I am not offering any solutions here, nor much hope, but – still. I try. What I remind myself to do is what I try to teach my daughters: to take responsibility for our actions. To strive to do better, every day. To be kind, and loving to one another. To focus on what unites us, not what separates us. To listen, really listen, before we leap to argue. To look within, before we look outside. And pray, when everything else fails. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is something. Imagine what would happen if we all did our bit. I know it is an impossible ask if you are personally affected by the unspeakable horrors happening in the world right now. My heart goes out to you. I understand your anger, even if it is directed at me because you take me to be “too naïve.” And still – I dare to hope. I must hope for a better world in which we can hold hands and cry together for our collective losses, and then find a way forward – together. This is what I continue to work for, and pray for.