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Not Looking Away

Thoughts on the Israel-Hamas war

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** Read the 2/28 follow-up essay. Listen to the podcast series with activists on the ground and a policy analyst who specializes in Palestinian affairs and US involvement.


I continue to be overwhelmed by the violence, trauma, and sheer magnitude of the Israel-Hamas war. I’m deeply connected to the Jewish community, and I want the people I love and care about to know that I see their fear and hurt and that I support them. As a fierce supporter of human dignity, I want the Palestinian people who are also in pain and fear, and who continue to struggle for basic freedoms and self-determination, to know that I support them.

Below are my beliefs and thoughts on the Israel-Hamas war. They don’t fit on an Instagram square, and many of you may find them naïve or conflicting or not enough. That’s OK. These ideas are based on my experiences, my faith, and my values. And, please don’t conflate supporting non-violence with neutrality. It often takes more courage to wage peace than to wage war – that’s why it’s so rare.  

At the foundation of my beliefs is this simple truth: I see God easily and fully in the faces of Israelis and Palestinians, in Jewish faces and in Muslim faces.

I support a peaceful, prosperous, secure, and free Israel.

I support a peaceful, prosperous, secure, and free Palestine.

I believe the greatest threat to peace and prosperity for both Israel and Palestine is extremism and terrorism.

Terrorism — which by definition targets civilians and is perpetrated to instill terror and trauma in groups of people — is never acceptable, not even when perpetrated by members of groups who have been marginalized.

I believe Hamas is a terrorist organization, and their actions consistently and predictably pose extreme threats to peace in the region. They continue to put the Palestinian people in danger by using civilians as shields.

I believe the sadistic violence perpetrated on October 7 against innocent Israelis and the taking of hostages is unjustifiable and indefensible, and all hostages should be returned. I can only believe that Hamas knew that their actions would be filmed and shared. The goal had to be to quash any hope of peace and to sow as much hatred and fear as possible.

I believe that Netanyahu and many members of his cabinet are authoritarian leaders who support an agenda that is rooted in maintaining “power over” at all costs. They appear more committed to maintaining their own power than they are committed to finding peace.

I do believe that people have the right to defend themselves, AND I believe the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian people in response to the Hamas attacks is an unacceptable human rights violation.

I believe in the evidence that demonstrates that all human atrocities across history start with dehumanization. I believe that antisemitism in all forms is dehumanizing, and I stand passionately against it. I believe that Islamophobia and anti-Arab language in all forms is dehumanizing, and I stand passionately against it.

I don’t believe that all Israelis and Jewish people around the world support the current Israeli government and their policies any more than I believe that all Americans support Trump. Similarly, I don’t believe that all Palestinians and Muslims around the world support Hamas any more than I believe all Americans support the policies of any U.S. administration.

I support a cease fire, the return of hostages, and immediate aid to the Palestinians who are absolutely suffering.

How I came to believe what I believe:

In 2007, I moderated a panel at the Nobel Women’s Initiative Conference on Women, Peace, and the Middle East. The panel was made up of two Palestinian women and two Israeli women, and the topic was empathy. Two of the panelists had lost children and family members in the conflict and they were members of The Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF).

PCFF is a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization that consists of more than 600 families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict. Their goal is to create sustained peace between the two nations by promoting reconciliation and nonviolence. Robi Damelin, PCFF’s spokesperson and director of international relations, was one of the panelists that day. Her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002 while he was serving in the Israeli army reserves.

PCFF’s work can be agonizing. A recent webinar featured a young man whose brother was killed by Israeli soldiers in 2002, as well as a man whose parents were burned to death by Hamas on October 7 in the south of Israel. To think that we are incapable of supporting non-violent solutions that hold Palestinian and Israeli lives as equally sacred is heartbreaking to me.

Through PCFF, I also learned about activist Ali Abu Awwad’s work to build a national nonviolent movement of Palestinian people — the Taghyeer Movement. Ali writes, “Now more than ever, we all must refuse to use violence to justify more violence. We should not allow our pain to blind us to what is most needed: mutually guaranteed sovereignty, security, and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The families living in anguish deserve so much better from us. As these grieving family members and survivors choose peace and share their stories with the world — I choose to support them and their mission.

In addition to not having any easy answers, there are issues I’m still trying to understand:

1. It seems to me that there are several governments in the Middle East that are significantly influencing the geopolitics of that region and benefitting from the brutal violence in Gaza, especially Iran (again, not to be confused with the incredible people of Iran). Despite trying to read and listen, I don’t fully understand the complexity of the issues. I’ll keep learning.

2. I believe in free speech. I believe that free speech has reasonable limits (e.g., yelling fire in a crowded theater). I believe in peaceful protest. What I don’t understand is where exactly to draw the line.

If language is a tool of dehumanization and violence, when do we intervene? I don’t believe Jewish students should feel afraid to go to class or walk through campus. I don’t believe Muslim students should be subjected to demeaning remarks and other forms of violence.

When is language violence? How do campus administrators create an environment of free speech, peaceful protest, and physical safety?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about why so many people consider any position on this war that centers all humanity as sacred as a weak position or a cop out.

What do we think we know about someone when they take a certain position? Are we seeking understanding and dialogue or looking for counterfeit connection and common-enemy intimacy? We’re on the same side and we hate the same people.

What do you think you know about someone who hasn’t posted or spoken out? I’ve been called everything from pathetic to a huge disappointment and a fascist. I haven’t said anything because my mother died in December. And, in the very difficult ten weeks leading up to her death, my sisters and I were her caregivers. And I was devastated. And in my own grief. It’s a single death compared to the brutality of what’s happening in Israel and Palestine, but taking care of her and my family was enough. And, if we can’t grieve a single death, how can we feel love, grief, and empathy for any loss?

How primal is the urge to avoid pain and that terrible feeling of not knowing? Are these the experiences that drive us to seek shelter in ideological and political bunkers? Has ideology become a pretend safe haven that actually protects us from experiencing the agony of others or offering compassion?

When we understand the brutality of 10/7, why do we look away?  

When we see the death and desperation of innocent Palestinian people, what do we have to tell ourselves to be OK with that?

When we look away from the pain of any people, we diminish their humanity and our own.

I hope you will spend some time learning about the amazing change-makers that I mentioned in this essay — activists who are using their grief and their stories to change the world and to create actionable solutions. And, despite my reflex to protect my heart from the sorrow in these stories, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and family members have made me a better, more loving person, and a more committed activist. I’m grateful for their courage and I’ll continue to open my heart to their pain and support solutions born of their experiences.

Visit their website to learn more about The Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFF).

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