The last two weeks (or almost three) have been the worst of many of our lives. I started writing this on October 7th, and I’ve been writing it ever since. Even though this awful war is not about you (Western, mainly White leftists), I’ve been finding myself having full conversations with you in my head. I tried to tell myself it doesn’t matter what you think, to focus on myself, on the people impacted, on what I believe in. But here I am, spending my energy on you. Because I’m surrounded by you and it overwhelms me. This might not be worded perfectly, I might ramble or not make sense. We’re on day 19 of hell, so we do what we can.
This is not the most urgent thing to talk about right now, I know that. As I write this, there are still over 200 people held hostage by Hamas, civilians, mothers, babies, elderly. There are thousands dead in Gaza, hundreds of funerals in Israel and so many bodies still not identified. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is growing so quickly. Like I said, day 19 of hell. 19 straight days of the most horrific accounts, pictures, and videos I’ve ever seen, that I truly wish I could unsee and un-know. The images of babies in Gaza buried under rubble, of babies in Israel burnt alive, of old women taken hostage, of mothers trying to protect their families with their own bodies. I feel these images rattling inside me, all sharp edges, leaving their marks. I can’t look at a child without being reminded. I can’t look at my own grandma without being reminded. This is all we can think about.
So it bears repeating: release the hostages, declare a ceasefire, help the survivors, start working towards a real, long term solution.
Even though we have so many awful, urgent things happening all around us, I’m still writing this now. Writing is how I make sense of things and I need to make sense of the difficult feelings so many of us on the Israeli left have been experiencing in the last two weeks. These awful two weeks that feel like one long awful day. I’m writing this out of immense pain and grief, from my own perspective as an anti-occupation Israeli, to try and explain a bit what this has been like for me, for us.
I want to note that this is not for those of you who celebrated what happened on October 7th. If you felt any joy in your heart about hundreds of civilians getting slaughtered in their beds, about children getting executed in front of their parents, about grandparents sacrificing themselves to save their grandkids, about horrors that I can’t even handle describing— I truly have nothing to say to you. Whatever is wrong with you is too deep and I want nothing to do with it until you figure that out.
This is for those of you who know that what happened is, at the very least, sad. For those who treated this absolute nightmare as an unfortunate situation that we had coming. For those who didn’t celebrate but instead stayed silent. Who were so quick to lecture us about context and resistance from the comfort of your homes. Those who were so eager to share hot takes calling us losers who don’t understand decolonization while terrorists were still hunting down survivors to finish the job. While we were still searching through snuff videos of the massacre Hamas posted online, looking for signs of life or death from loved ones. Those who had the posts locked and loaded, ready to show us just how progressive and radical you are. This is for you.
What really shocked me is how quick you were to know what’s right. On that awful Saturday, while little kids were still hiding in closets and under beds next to their parents’ dead bodies, before we even started counting our dead, you already knew what’s right. You already told us. You, who never faced such horrors and who couldn’t even imagine them, who never felt or will feel such real, immediate fear for your family and your people, you were ready with your posts telling us about privilege and the price of revolutions.
And I can’t stop asking myself where you got the nerve. How you dared to sit comfortably in your home and casually post your little tweets and memes about how acceptable it is to slaughter us, in between your posts about brunch and your dog and your friend’s birthday? How dare you lecture us on how we should have reacted? What kind of subversive activism do you think you’re a part of when you’re being so careful not to express any understanding towards our grief? What do you think you’re fighting for?
Sometimes I think some of us on the left have become so focused on pointing out what we perceive as subversive, as not obvious, that we fail to see the most simple and obvious of things. That we’ve gotten so used to this oppositional standpoint that we find ourselves so far removed from the values that are supposed to be at our core. Values of humanity, solidarity, justice, peace. How did we find ourselves condoning (if by silence, omission, doubt, or something worse) the cold blooded, planned, systematic murder of children, women, entire families? I don’t know exactly where we took a wrong turn but I’m praying we find our way back.
There is obviously the personal hurt here. We’re going through unimaginable amounts of grief, and even in the worst of it, you couldn’t spare us a hint of kindness. You were so committed to finding and aligning yourself with the party line that you couldn’t show us an inch of humanity. So careful not to commit the awful sin of supporting the evil colonizers, of humanizing the enemy, of normalizing our existence. So careful that you could not allow yourself to acknowledge our pain, even if you’ve known us for years.
So yes, there is personal hurt. A lot of it. It’s really hard having your friends turn on you, chastise you, doubt you, or just completely ignore you when you’re going through the worst nightmare you could imagine. You’ve compounded our grief, and taken away from your own humanity by doing so. That is for you to figure out now.
There is also a bigger hurt here. The damage we could see you making to what activists in the region have been working towards for so long. On October 7th you were gleefully explaining justice to us, but we on the Israeli left already knew what awaited us and the people of Gaza. We knew hell was about to be unleashed on them and that nothing inspiring, revolutionary, or progressive was about to happen. We knew that Palestinian civilians were about to pay for what Hamas did, and that so much more grief was just around the corner. While you lectured us about decolonization, we were already grieving the children of Gaza.
You played right into the hands of the most right-wing, fascist Israeli voices. Those who have been telling us that no one cares about our lives, that Palestinians would slaughter us like animals if given the chance, that our friends on the left would celebrate it. That our activism and anti-occupation work will not save us. You have made it so incredibly hard for us to explain that this is not what we’re fighting for. That this isn’t what Palestinians want for us. That this is not a price anyone should ever ever have to pay.
Palestinians directly affected by this showed us grace during this awful time, knowing that our fates are tied together, while you chose to tell us that this is just how the cookie crumbles. You, who did not witness the horrors that we’re trying to stop, closed your hearts to us quicker than many of our Palestinian friends, who were the ones actually experiencing them. People who lost so much have shown more humanity to the “other side” than you even dared to entertain. What excuse do you have?
We didn’t ask you to wave an Israeli flag. We didn’t ask you to say this is just as bad as what’s happened in Gaza. We just asked you for basic human sympathy, we asked you to say this is unacceptable. We asked you to let us grieve and to grieve with us, just as we will continue to grieve with the people of Gaza. It shouldn’t be this hard for you. It cannot be this hard for you. Yes, we know you think this is a narrative that gets enough attention. That politicians and the media have already condemned it and you don’t want to join them in their “we stand with Israel” parade. We know you think it’s been repeated so much it doesn’t even matter anymore. But you know what — it matters to us, and we’re going to need to hear it from you. You are supposed to be the ones who care about justice, our allies in this fight, not the media and the politicians. If this is the vision you have for liberation then we never have been and never will be allies.
I’m at a loss at what some of you think Israeli anti-occupation activists should do. Is the right thing to accept any act of violence as legitimate, as long as it’s done in the name of decolonization? Is it for us to get down on our knees with our hands up and let ourselves be raped and murdered for freedom? Is it to let our families be slaughtered and say nothing other than “any act of resistance against an oppressor is legitimate”? Maybe you will be kind enough to allow us to grieve. Obviously quietly, privately, lest we push the wrong narrative.
Or maybe we just need to go back to where we came from? To truly decolonize all of Palestine? Should we go back to Poland, to Iraq, Germany, Russia, Yemen, or would you like to host us at your place? The Zionist project is not something I ever celebrated, but you need to understand that unlike many of your colonial ancestors, we did not come to Palestine out of some imperial dream. We didn’t come to conquer or even to find a better life. We came as refugees. As survivors of pogroms and the Farhud and forced displacement and yes, the Holocaust.
We know, we’ve said many times, the Holocaust wasn’t the Palestinians’ fault. It doesn’t justify the occupation or excuse any of the atrocities committed by the Israeli government. But it does provide that thing you crave— context. It does mean that we have nowhere else to go. It means that Israelis and Palestinians will continue to live and die together on this small piece of land. This is it for us.
I know you’re tired of hearing about the Holocaust. It’s ancient history. An excuse we cynically use to justify everything the Israeli government does. You think we have to let it go, because we’re not those same poor sad Jews anymore, now we’re the bad guys, with our strong army that protects us from everything (well). But sometimes I remember that Anne Frank was born 6 months after my grandma. My 94-year-old grandma, who still tries to make it in time to the bomb shelter at her assisted living facility, every time there’s a siren (she fails most of the time, she moves rather slowly).
This is the context we’re working with, the fear that’s burnt into our DNA by centuries of persecution. A fear that, despite knowing our history, I never felt quite as strongly as I did on October 7th. A fear I tried to push aside because I believe it takes courage, trust, and faith to work towards real peace instead of towards war. It takes believing your allies and those you seek to make peace with can see your humanity.
This is that fascist talking point — we need to be able to defend ourselves, at all costs. Pity will not help us, being moral will not help us, we need to survive. If our lives are fair game in this thing you so happily called resistance, decolonization, freedom, then where the hell does that leave us? If you won’t speak up for even the most vulnerable and innocent of us, our babies and our elderly, then what choice do you leave Israelis with any sense of self preservation other than to continue to live by our sword? Other than understanding that our lives are worthless to the world, with no one but ourselves to count on?
Israeli activists have been advocating for decades that our future, our safety, our freedom, is tied with that of the Palestinians. That it’s not a zero sum game — it’s the opposite. That we live together or die together. That it’s not us against them — it’s war mongers and corrupt politicians against the rest of us. Against the people. Us killing and hating each other won’t make us safer or better off. It only bolsters our most power-hungry leaders.
By deeming this form of resistance beyond criticism you are condemning Palestinians and Israelis to perpetual, escalating violence. If you think killing Israeli civilians for what our leaders do is okay, then how will you argue that killing Palestinian civilians for what their leaders do isn’t? We all lose when we let go of our humanity. Collective punishment, revenge, slaughtering civilians, collateral damage — these are things that can’t be defensible, for anyone, regardless of context or history. If you can justify it against Israelis, well, then you can justify it against Palestinians. And we are trying every day not to let anyone justify it.
We’re trying to maintain our humanity in the face of the most brutal and cruel attack on our people since the Holocaust. In the face of horrors so awful that I have to actively push them out of my mind because I know I will buckle under their weight. We’re trying to remind ourselves and each other that all life is sacred, that our freedoms aren’t mutually exclusive, that, quite simply, killing innocent people is wrong. We shouldn’t have to remind you as well.
Israeli anti-Zionist activists have been working endlessly, side by side with Palestinians, against the occupation. Some of us have dedicated our lives to it, all of us have paid a price for it. You are a guest in this struggle and your position on it has cost you nothing. You have sacrificed nothing. You can do it comfortably and without consequence, and the result of it will not impact your life or safety. Israel and Palestine could both disappear off the face of the earth in a cloud of blood and smoke, and your life will remain almost unchanged. You might lose a couple of friends, post about it on Instagram for a week or so, and have some awkward office conversation. Then your life will go on. But our lives and those of our families and communities depend on the consequences of this struggle.
We don’t expect praise or thanks for our work against the occupation and we truly don’t do any of this for you, but we do expect basic human empathy. Yes, we know Palestinians don’t get basic human empathy from so many people, we know they’re not heard. This is what we’re fighting for. But we will not erase ourselves and our families in the process, because, like I’ve said, all of us maintaining our humanity in this struggle is simply not negotiable. We definitely won’t negotiate it with you.
Your aspirations of decolonization are theories. They’re something you would never have to face yourself. You’ll never be the collateral damage in this kind of freedom fighting, you’ll never have to pay a price for it. Your family will never be slaughtered at the altar of anti-colonialism, yet you’re willing to sacrifice our families. You’ll never be told to leave your home and go back to wherever you came from (even though you were born there). Your history of colonialism is old enough, your history of genocide effective enough, that you and your family and everyone you love can continue to be safe and comfortable while you preach about armed resistance. I’m sure you wouldn’t dare criticize any violent act of decolonization acted upon you, but we’ll never truly know. I wouldn’t wish it upon you that we’ll ever find out.
My heart breaks over and over as I see us trying to garner a shred of empathy from you. As we wave the pictures of our dead, the nightmarish stories of our survivors (that you were so quick to doubt and disregard), the horror videos of torture and murder that we will never be able to forget. As we plead and beg for you to care about the 200 people held hostage. We disrespect ourselves and our dead in this desperate attempt to shake you, to make you believe us. People in Israel and Palestine are being pitted against each other with our suffering. Forced to fight to show you the greatest horrors, the most death, the worst cruelty. Trying to win this made-up competition which only has losers. Each trying to scream at those on the other side who closed their hearts and minds to us: why can’t you see us? How could you justify this? Don’t you see we don’t deserve this?
So we will swallow the pain you’ve caused us. Because, again, this isn’t about you. We’re not going to let you antagonize us from our own fight for justice. You won’t make us choose between our life and safety and the life and safety of the people in Gaza, or anywhere else in Israel or Palestine. We know that peace and justice are possible, we will be safe, and Palestinians will be safe. We will find a way, together. We have no other choice.
Lastly, I want to share the ending of the poem Red Sea by Aurora Levins Morales. I’ve been finding myself repeating it in my head like a mantra. I recommend it.
Back then, one man’s faith opened the way.
He stepped in, we were released, our enemies drowned.
This time we’re tied at the ankles.
We cannot cross until we carry each other,
all of us refugees, all of us prophets.
No more taking turns on history’s wheel,
trying to collect old debts no-one can pay.
The sea will not open that way.
This time that country
is what we promise each other,
our rage pressed cheek to cheek
until tears flood the space between,
until there are no enemies left,
because this time no one will be left to drown
and all of us must be chosen.
This time it’s all of us or none.
And a final tiny note: to the friends and allies who have managed to maintain their humanity and hold the complexity and the absolute horror of this situation with us — we cannot thank you enough. Thank you for caring, thank you for treating us with decency and patience. Thank you for looking beyond the slogans. Thank you for seeing that we’re just humans on both sides of this. Thank you for believing that we all deserve better.