by Leah Solomon
I am so tired of sides. I am so tired of one-sidedness. Of being expected to have empathy only for my own.
There is so much pain today. So much suffering.
More and more of our soliders dying. Teenagers just beginning their lives, who will never grow into the amazing people they would have become. Devoted fathers with children and wives waiting for them at home.
Hundreds of dead in Gaza. Thousands wounded. So many people who have lost their homes and everything they own. Parents who have had to bear the unthinkable task of burying their children. Terrified children who will suffer the rest of their lives without limbs, without parents, in pain.
Antisemitic rallies across Europe and in the US, spewing vitriol and threatening Jews’ sense of security in their own homes and synagogues.
Bedouin citizens of Israel being killed and wounded by rockets because they have no protection and nowhere to run. Jewish civilians terrified, killed and wounded by rockets, mortars, shrapnel. And so many more of “ours” would have been lost if not for our miraculous, nearly impenetrable, Iron Dome.
I am not (completely) naive. I know there is real evil in the world. And while I don’t believe this war was inevitable, this is where we are now, and perhaps some of our actions against Hamas will save innocent lives in the future. And perhaps some of those who have been killed were truly evil and deserved their fate.
But while I can, just barely, stomach the destruction of property and infrastructure that is caused in the process of seeking out and destroying rockets and tunnels, my heart is crying for those whose lives are being destroyed. All of them. The Gazans who are experiencing a living hell. The residents of southern Israel who have to stay within fifteen seconds of shelter at all times. The children on both sides of the border who are growing up thinking that this nightmare is normal.
All of these make my heart hurt. I want so very much to be able to comfort them: the terrified, the wounded, the families and friends of those who were tragically killed. All of them.
And yet it seems most people who care about what’s happening in this place, (on both sides), believe that feeling such sorrow for the enemy reflects at best a naive lack of comprehesion of what we’re really up against, and at worst a moral corruption. This is war after all. Time to rally around the flag, sue for unity. How can I be focusing on Gazans (who anyway brought Hamas upon themselves) when our fellow Jews are suffering so truly and deeply?
It’s not that the words aren’t there. Everyone I know is quick to emphasize that Israel is the most moral army in the world, that we do everything in our power to minimize civilian casualties, even at great risk to our own soldiers. True or not, this is not just a platitude designed to combat the masses villifying Israel. My friends and family who repeat this over and over do so because they believe – or need to believe – that it’s true. And I know that the reason they need to believe it is because they (you) really are good people, who are desperate to be able to defend our country while remaining morally whole. I need to believe it too.
And yet for so many people I’ve heard from, going beyond those words to consider the horrific lived experience of those suffering on the other side is a slap in the face. It’s one thing to worry about the Other when things are good. But right now we are suffering. Our boys are dying. War is a time to care for our own. Expressing too much empathy for the “enemy” is not only insensitive; it teeters on the dangerous edge of treason.
I refuse to accept that thinking. I refuse to close myself inside. Not just because I feel in the depths of my soul that the suffering of any human being is tragic and deserves my sorrow, though that is true.
But more than that, I insist on empathy – even when it’s hard for me (and often it is) – because I deeply, truly believe it is the only way out of this mess. We may smash Hamas into submission or oblivion. We may destroy every last bit of ammunition they have. But with it we will, inadvertently or not, foster even more hatred and resentment: theirs for us and ours for them.
I have no idea what our government’s exit strategy is, if they even have one. I fear Hamas’s exit strategy will involve the deaths of as many Palestinian pawns as possible. But the only real end to this that I can imagine will come through recognition – by all of us – of the fragile humanity of our erstwhile enemies.
During these horrible days, I find myself, uncharacteristically, closing every thought with an urgent prayer:
Please, Compassionate One, please, for the sake of all our children, may we enable ourselves to connect with the pain of everyone suffering. May we hear the cries even of those who are not our own. May we listen and try to understand what we can do to help their lives be better. May we develop the compassion that we so urgently need in order to reach, one day, a true and lasting peace.