For the first days after our horrific Shabbat-Simchat Torah here in Israel, I could not find my words.
What happened here a week ago, which feels like a world ago, is devastating and unconscionable. I will not list the atrocities Hamas committed; we have all seen the images and read the details. And anything I can say about how this all has affected me seems trivial when compared to the pain of the victims and their families.
That is one reason I kept silent.
Another was my anger — at Hamas for manifesting humanity’s worst evil into the world while claiming to be acting in the name of Palestinian human rights; at Israel’s destructive government, which hundreds of thousands of people like myself have been demonstrating against for the past year (trying to prevent catastrophe, but even we could not have imagined one this horrific) to no avail; and at God, or the Universe, for the state of the world.
Some anger pushes me towards action. This anger was so overwhelming, it paralyzed me.
Another reason was my feeling of being shattered, my worldview shaken, my hopes for and belief in the possibility of peace crushed. Especially when I heard of some Palestinians celebrating in the streets, some so-called human-rights organizations supporting Hamas and calling the attack a justified and even praiseworthy act of resistance, and some Jews calling for revenge.
And added to the heartbreak and feeling of doom was the knowledge that this barbaric terror attack would lead to more violence, to the loss of more innocent lives in Gaza, and of the lives of soldiers who would be sent into Gaza.
I was struggling. I still am.
But my spirits were lifted and my faith in the path of partnership and solidarity among Palestinians and Jews in Israel, at least, restored, when I began hearing from my Palestinian-Israeli friends here in the Galilee who were also shocked and dismayed by Hamas’s actions:
My friends Tahani Abd Al Halim and Sokina Taoon, for example, who told me if I am ever in danger, their home is my home; my friend Ghadir Hani, who came out against Hamas on various public forums; and my friend Suheil Diab, who condemned Hamas’s actions in our local Standing Together chapter’s WhatsApp group and declared them disastrous for Palestinians, too.
These friends and I, and others in our Standing Together chapter, demonstrate weekly against the occupation of the West Bank. Yet, we all agree, as David Grossman wrote in Haaretz this past weekend, there are levels of wrongdoing, and what Hamas did is on a different level entirely than the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Then, when Israel started its attack on Gaza, we all — Jews and Palestinians alike — expressed our grief. And when Jewish settlers on the West Bank began attacking, out of revenge, their innocent Palestinian neighbors, even killing some, we all expressed our outrage.
My heart is breaking for the innocent people living in Gaza trying to reach safety. It is now clear that Hamas is a grave danger to anyone living in Israel, and their call for a terrorist day of rage against all Israelis and Jews around the world proves their threat reaches farther and wider. Their actions have also confirmed that they will not be a source of salvation for the Palestinian people, especially as they are blocking civilians from moving south as per the Israel Defense Forces’ instructions, so they can use them as human shields and images to send to the press to foment hatred against Israel.
Some enemies one can make peace with but not ones like these.
I am a pacifist at heart, but I am also an activist. How can we stand by and let evil reign? Innocent people — Jews, Israelis and Palestinians — have been killed and will continue to be killed if Hamas (which is aligned with ISIS, we are now discovering) are allowed to rule Gaza.
And so, I pray the IDF will act with as much restraint as possible and spare as many innocent lives as they can while destroying Hamas. I pray that we as a country, shattered and in shock, will not let our anger blind us to the humanity of those innocent civilians living in Gaza. And I pray if there is any way to help get as many of them to safety and get the hostages out alive, we don’t miss or lose those opportunities.
In a Zoom gathering of our Standing Together Chapter with a social worker on Thursday night, we drew maps of our feelings and then shared in breakout rooms. I was in a virtual room with a young Palestinian-Israeli woman, who drew a picture of stick figures of all sizes trying to flee from rockets. It was her depiction of the current reality in Gaza, which is her inner emotional reality now, too. She became overcome with emotion, could not speak, and a huge wave of sorrow arose from my chest to my throat. I, too, could not speak, but I could cry with her.
My heart is broken, but our solidarity groups of Jews and Palestinians are intact, and my faith in the ability for Palestinians and Jews to live in peace on this land is restored, even if it takes generations to heal from our trauma.
Groups of Palestinian and Jewish Israelis have banded together to clean out bomb shelters and patrol the streets in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa to prevent internal violence; Bedouin in the south went out in jeeps to find and save people (mostly Jews) who were missing; Jews and Palestinians across the country have joined forces to help the victims, find housing for survivors in the south and people evacuated on both the southern and northers borders, and make food packages for and bring supplies to the soldiers; and Jewish and Palestinian Israeli hospital staff are working side by side to heal the wounded.
Joint vigils were held on Saturday night instead of the demonstrations that feel like a lifetime ago. I was at one such vigil in the Bedouin town of Beit Zarzir near my kibbutz, Hannaton.
Just as we do not want others to equate us with Jews who commit acts of hate in our names and in the name of Judaism, we must not equate all Palestinians with Hamas and its barbaric actions.
I have not given up hope. Our partnership movement will continue to build and model a shared society here. We are all in this together. After all, the missiles are falling on us all, and the terrorists did not spare anyone — Jew, Palestinian, Thai, American, German, Russian, Eritrean, etc. I was at the mourning tent of Awaad Darawashe, a 23-year-old medic at the festival in Reim who could have escaped in his ambulance but instead stayed to help others. His uncle is my friend Mouhammed Darawashe, a leader in the Palestinian-Jewish shared-society movement (see the Givat Haviva and Abraham Initiatives websites) in Israel.
I am aware of the complicated identity and feelings of dual loyalty Palestinian Israelis feel. Yet there is also a feeling of a shared fate for all of us who live here, as complicated as that, too, may be.
As my Palestinian friends here cry with me for the devastation of Shabbat, I cry with them for the devastation of Gaza. And together, we cry for all the victims, and we embrace one another and cry together for the endless loss of human life in the name of this ongoing conflict, and for the state of humanity that has brought us to this reality.
The acts of Hamas were a total violation of human rights and the sanctity of human life, and so, our hearts must remain open and tender, crying along with God for all lives lost; we must remember that we are all created in God’s image. Just as we do not want others to equate us with Jews who commit acts of hate in our names and in the name of Judaism, we must not equate all Palestinians with Hamas and its barbaric actions.
When my local Spirit of the Galilee clergy interfaith group met on Zoom and prayed together for peace, I began to regain my spiritual grounding, and those prayers helped me begin to find my words. I was inspired to write the below interfaith prayer for comfort, connection, hope and peace.
Interfaith Prayer for Comfort, Connection, Hope and Peace
May the One who Blessed Those Before Us bless all those suffering from the devastating atrocities and their aftermath, in our midst. May the souls of those departed because of violence and hate and its reverberations rise and find peace, and may their loved ones find comfort, somehow, in some way.
As the Psalmist reminds us: God is with the broken-hearted.
And may it be your will, Divine Womb, that we are able to bring home those precious humans taken captive or still missing.
As Jeremiah laments:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.
Please, God, bring your children home!
And please, Source of Life, give us strength to continue loving and building trust and friendship across boundaries and amidst the hatred and separation.
As Jesus preached on the Mount: But I tell you, love your enemies [and those called your enemies*] and pray for those who persecute you, that you may all be children of God, who causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Please, Divine Force Flowing Through All, give us strength to carry on, to cling to hope, to the belief that one day there can be a better world.
As Muhammed declares: Oh, Allah. You are peace, and from You does peace emanate. And to you shall peace return. Bless us, please, oh God, with peace.
Amen. Ameen. Inshallah!
* Add this or use it as an alternative to the words before it, at your own discretion.