Losing Our Grip on Our Humanity

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

My eight year old came home from camp today and told me his best friend said we should kill all the Arabs if that’s what we need to do to protect ourselves.

A friend of a friend was arguing on facebook that the children of terrorists are not innocent because they are happy that their fathers have killed Jews and therefore it’s legitimate to destroy their homes. She wasn’t even talking about a specific “guilty” child – she made clear that ALL Palestinian children are happy when Jews are killed, and therefore it’s simply wrong to treat them as innocent.

How did we come to this?! Why are so many of us convinced that we really are more human than they are, more deserving of life and liberty and happiness? The thing is, when I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that I get it. I get it because those us-and-them thoughts live inside me too. I want so much for “us” to be right. I want to believe that our ongoing occupation of another people is necessary for our survival. I want to feel like when there are rockets being shot at us it’s totally justified to go in and wipe out every last terrorist and building (and maybe kill 100 or 200 other people by accident along the way), because everyone there wants us dead anyway. I look at the fear in my kids’ eyes and think to myself that I just don’t understand how anyone could want to blow them up, and that any society that could produce such depravity must be perverse and evil all the way through.

And I see how the current conflict encourages even more that gut instinct to dehumanize the other. We – Israeli (and diaspora) Jews – are once again being thrust into the powerful unity brought about by sharing a common enemy. I feel it too. We are all scared, worried about our children, drawn into the irrefutable logic that no matter how much we dislike the idea of killing or oppressing innocent people, אין מה לעשות (what can we do?)- we’ve been backed into a corner by Hamas’s thirst for Jewish blood and have no choice but to defend ourselves. They (all) want us dead and we just want to keep our children safe. It’s not only our right but our obligation.

But no matter how much I get it, I feel like crying over my and our own loss of humanity as we allow ourselves to ignore? accept? justify? the suffering around us.

We have killed seventy-six people in Gaza in the last three days. Maybe some of them deserved it, but too many of them were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the way it looks now we’re going to kill a lot more. As terrified as we are on our side of the border (and we are, indeed, terrified and being terrorized), there is so much more devastation on theirs. Even if our actions are justified, even if there was no way to avoid it, even if we deeply believe that ours is the most moral army in the the world – how can we not be crying over those deaths? How can we be so fiercely and righteously protective of our own children while allowing ourselves not to even see theirs?

I feel like a broken record, and I have so many answers to this, and yet I have none at all. And I don’t mean to sound self-righteous and I’m afraid I do. I’m just so scared that the more we allow ourselves to continue being blind to their humanity, the more we are losing our own.

3 Responses to “Losing Our Grip on Our Humanity”

  1. I believe you are on the right track with your thoughts. I feel so bad for the Israelis. They believe they are God’s Chosen, but they are doing evil in this world. Each person killed by your weapons is a black mark on your soul.


    Marlene Palmer · July 11th, 2014 at 2:07 pm
  2. At this point we should ask God What did you have in mind when we were made the chosen people? Would you do us a favor and now please choose another group of people? Bring on the subs.


    Syd · July 11th, 2014 at 4:43 pm
  3. Marlene, when you people say things like that, it makes me more likely to believe that the whole world loves a dead Jew.


    Joel Berger · July 11th, 2014 at 7:36 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik