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Our Enemy is Not Palestinians; it is Inhumanity

The stain of blood from this past weekend will forever be remembered on the Jewish calendar.More Jews were killed on this day than any day since the Holocaust.

Jews everywhere are in a state of trauma, grief, fear, disorientation, and rage.

On Saturday morning I opened my phone to a WhatsApp message that terrorists were knocking on the doors of a friend of a friend’s kibbutz, setting houses on fire if they didn’t answer. Hours later a friend who visited last week wrote that her friend, a single mother, had her 12-year-old daughter abducted and taken into Gaza.

I find myself praying when I see a text from an Israeli friend I was with days earlier. I helped him tie his tie for a White House visit. He writes that he was drafted “and to think that just a week ago, my biggest challenge was wearing a tie.” I have to fight back the thought that I might not see him again.

I read that more than 250 young Israelis were killed at a music festival not so different or distant from the one I attended last December with my closest friends, peaceniks from Tel Aviv.

I look at the clock and it’s 6 pm. It’s Shabbat and I realize I haven’t eaten food or drank water since last night.

I am grateful that Israel is responding - as they should and as they must - to this soulless massacre of Jews and the human spirit. I am grateful for my friends-now-warriors who are entering this fight. I am grateful for the lesson in resilience and community that Israelis demonstrate so well in times of crisis. But I am grieving for my people.

I am tired of mourning for dead Jews when, on Monday morning, my dear Palestinian friend emailed me to confirm he would join a call we scheduled weeks ago. An hour later, he messaged me that his family home in Gaza was bombed.

I tremble in terror. I am reminded of Leonard Cohen’s soul-curdling testimony from the Yom Kippur War exactly 50 years ago

Helicopter lands. In the great wind soldiers rush to unload it. It is filled with wounded men. I see their bandages and I stop myself from crying. These are young Jews dying. Then someone tells me that these are Egyptian wounded. My relief amazes me. I hate this. I hate my relief. This cannot be forgiven. This is blood on your hands.

My friend, a peace organizer, is on my mind as I read the news that Palestinians in Gaza have been cut off from electricity, food, fuel, and aid. I think about his loved ones who will be devastated by this war and his friends in Gaza who have no leaders to protect them. All the while, I’m grateful that Israel does.

My hardened heart is a battleground. I feel myself sliding toward factionalism. How can I even question for a moment Israel’s response to this tragedy? Am I sympathizing with the very people who committed these atrocities? Yet, how can I ignore the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians? How can I deny their anguish and fear? Am I abandoning the ones I love?

I shared the Leonard Cohen story above on Instagram and an Israeli friend responded from a place of trauma and anger. I can’t blame him. It seems all of us have a constrained capacity to stretch our compassion toward “the other side.” I shared a poem about love that resonates with me from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. I wonder if I am the enemy. I write a poem about the pogroms my great-grandmother faced, and I cry some more.

I see people demonizing Jews in America for their heartfelt connection to a land and a people. I see friends dehumanizing all Palestinians because of the actions of Hamas.

Many will be tempted in the coming days and months to demonize and dehumanize Jews and Israelis or Palestinians and Muslims. No human is sub-human. We will be tempted to forget the intrinsic humanity of every human. Even worse, our communities and the public discourse will incentivize us to do just that. We will be asked to “choose a side” as if there is any side to choose but that of life. The war we have to fight here in the United States is not a war of violence, it is a battle against the hatred and rage which seeks to hijack our humanity.

Each of us - whatever our attachments to Israel or Palestine - is feeling pressure from our psyches and communities to caricature some imaginary “other” as if humanity can be categorized by such arbitrary differences. We cannot allow the terror in our hearts to nullify our ancestral truth that the divine is incarnate in each of us

All people - Israelis and Palestinians alike - deserve empathy, justice, and freedom. We in America are not soldiers. We have a different mission.

Do not assume that all Palestinians or Israelis support all the actions of their leaders. Do not hold Jews, Muslims, Israelis, or Arabs in the United States responsible for a foreign conflict.

To my Jewish friends, do not allow this long winter to harden your hearts. We are a resilient people who introduced to the world the sacredness of all humanity; let us not forget this. Our enemy is not the Palestinians; our enemy is inhumanity. Our enemy is Hamas. We must demand justice, not unrestrained revenge. We must stand by our Muslim siblings who are experiencing a rise in Islamophobia.

To my non-Jewish friends, there is no justification for the killing and capturing of civilians. It is disturbing that such trite truths need to be repeated, but it seems they do. And please know that this war is already stirring a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment and antisemitism. Jews are likely to be harassed and attacked across the globe. Jews need your allyship.

To my Israeli and Palestinian friends, I have a promise rather than a plea: I will do everything I can to remind the world of your humanity.

Our destinies are intertwined.


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