Ceasefire Now

In 2008, when the Israeli army bombed Gaza in an attempt to eradicate Hamas, they killed more than a thousand Palestinians, most of them civilians. I watched the faces of children who had lost baby sisters and grandmothers, families whose entire apartment buildings had been flattened, and I wondered: who will these children grow up to be?

I witnessed this cycle of violence repeatedly when the Israeli army bombed Gaza in 2012, 2014 and 2021, all in a region that has been besieged by Israel for 16 years. Gaza is among the most densely populated, impoverished regions in the world.

Tragically, we now have a partial answer as to who some of those kids grew up to be. Some of those kids who were six, seven and eight in 2008, and who survived the next 15 years of horror in Gaza, just committed the most revolting massacre in Israel. Murdering civilians is a war crime and taking hostages is a war crime. I unequivocally condemn the Hamas massacre on October 7, 2023.

And. Violence begets violence. 

And. Hundreds of thousands of those children who lived through fifteen years of being bombed have not resorted to violence.  

And. Amidst my grief and anguish of having witnessed the massacre of thousands of my Israeli and Palestinian sisters and brothers since October 7, I am now in absolute horror, as we are on the cusp of witnessing a scale of destruction in Gaza unlike any before. Countless innocent Palestinians will be murdered. An entire civilian population of two million people is deprived of food and water, electricity and fuel, medicine. Impossibly, 1.1 million Palestinians have been told to “evacuate” when – in a territory only twice the size of Washington DC – there is no place to go in Gaza that is safe.

There is only one moral way forward at this moment: an immediate ceasefire. We have to stop the massacres. As Jewish Israeli leader Mikhael Manekin so eloquently writes, the safety of the hostages must come first. Securing the freedom of our prisoners is among the highest values in Judaism. Revenge is not. 

It is well known that the Netanyahu government is the most rightwing government in Israel’s history. For almost a year, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested this government’s undermining of democracy. It is a sheer nightmare to imagine Netanyahu’s explicitly racist government waging all out war on Gaza. 

This war will not bring peace and it will not bring the hostages home. Violence begets violence. There is no military solution to Gaza.

Every day of continued violence plunges the region further into darkness, and takes both Israelis and Palestinians further away from peace, now and for years to come. Every day of violence makes it harder for future generations. 

A ceasefire is the only way to begin to heal what has been broken, to offer the breathing room to begin to think about how this region can go forward on the values of equity, dignity and security for all.

Some 1,400 Israelis have been killed, two hundred have been taken hostage, and more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, as of the time this piece is posted. This is already a devastating loss of life. The time to call for a ceasefire is now.

I understand the drive to wipe evil off the face of the earth. And there are situations where the protective use of force is justified. Bombing Gaza is not one of them. Not when the consequence results in the death of untold numbers of innocent civilians. Not just because it’s wrong and in utter violation of international law, but because it doesn’t work. We’ve seen this strategy tried time and time again, and this is the moment it has brought us to. It is time to try something different.

In my two decades as a peace and justice activist in Israel/Palestine, one of the oft-overlooked tragedies of antisemitism and the Shoah is that many Jews – with our deep seeded intergenerational trauma – do not have the ability to differentiate between Hamas and Nazis. Every violent attack on Jews has the understandable potential to trigger fears of a repetition of the Holocaust, and we are right to be alert to this possibility. 

As despicable as Hamas is, they are not Nazis. In the words of Professor Judith Butler

“I do condemn without qualification the violence committed by Hamas…What if, in addition to condemning wanton crimes, we wanted to create a future in which violence of this sort came to an end? That is a normative aspiration that goes beyond momentary condemnation. To achieve it, we have to know the history of the situation, the growth of Hamas as a militant group in the devastation of the post-Oslo moment for those in Gaza to whom promises of self-governance were never made good; the formation of other groups of Palestinians with other tactics and goals; and the history of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for freedom and the right of political self-determination, for release from colonial rule and pervasive military and carceral violence. Then we might be part of the struggle for a free Palestine in which Hamas would be dissolved, or superseded by groups with non-violent aspirations for cohabitation.”

When I moved to Israel in 2004, I didn’t have a glimpse of this knowledge. I was raised to believe that Israelis were righteous and Palestinians were terrorists. I have come to understand that since 1948, the Israeli state has been depopulating Palestinian villages, demolishing their homes, subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and torture, killing them in wars, and denying them human rights and dignity. I have witnessed the Israeli state fail to engage in diplomatic negotiations in good faith, claiming to support a two-state solution while building more settlements in the occupied West Bank, dispossessing Palestinians of even more of their land, and maintaining a siege around Gaza. The night before the horrific Hamas massacre on October 7, violent settlers killed a Palestinian while setting up a sukkah in Hawara, the site of a settler-led pogrom a few months earlier.

And yes, Palestinians have fought back. I wish that every act of resistance was an act of ethical resistance. I wish that every Palestinian individual and faction adhered to international law. The State of Israel does not adhere to international law, and nor do all Palestinians. Violence begets violence.

I also wish that more Jews were aware of how, for decades, the vast majority of Palestinians have been resisting nonviolently, yet even this nonviolent resistance is repeatedly met with condemnation by Jewish Americans and Jewish Israelis. The call for boycott is a nonviolent strategy, yet when Ben & Jerry’s decided to stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli state described it as a form of “economic terrorism.” 

Palestinians repeatedly put their lives on the line to defend their olive trees from being uprooted, their homes from being demolished, their water wells from being poisoned by settlers. I know this, because I, and many others, have stood alongside them, in Bethlehem, in Hebron, in Ramallah, in Jenin. More often than not, when Palestinians engage in nonviolent protest, the Israeli army shuts them down.

I have countless colleagues – Israeli and Palestinian – who believe in a shared future, who have been working tirelessly for decades to lift up peace and humanity. There is a path forward, as far away as it seems at this moment. Let us bring that future closer, not push it off for another day.

The sooner there is a ceasefire, the sooner we can turn our attention to doing the work that needs to be done: a return of all hostages and prisoners; the unequivocal end of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And years and years of grief, mourning, and reconciliation, so that our hearts can soften and we can treat each other like the human beings that we are.

Tragically, that is not the direction we are heading. The Israeli amy is marching towards genocide. Not the same genocide that was committed against Jews by the Nazis. But legal experts are already warning that we are witnessing a genocide in the making in Gaza.

We Jews may survive, but at what cost? And how will we live with ourselves, once we, too, have committed genocide?

8 thoughts on “Ceasefire Now

  1. Thank you for bravely stating your opinion. I am a former Peace Now and Meretz activist. But my opinion has changed in light of recent events.

    I want you to set aside your current beliefs for a moment and think about a series of different assumptions.

    What if Hamas wasn’t at all interested in having a state where Palestinians could live in peace and prosper? What if their goal is to destroy Israel and kill or drive out every Jewish inhabitant? What if all along, their goal has been to instigate a war that would obliterate us, and commit the most despicable atrocities imaginable to force Israel to respond with their own full force, in order to provoke a war that would once and for all annihilate Israel?

    Unfortunately, this is where we are. I agree, had Israel done things differently in the 90s, it might not be the same reality. But they didn’t, and here we are.

    The fact is, we have a well-armed, very dangerous, and hateful enemy living next door. Given room to breathe, they will regroup, rearm, and attack again. To allow them to exist would be suicidal- and to paraphrase Golda Meir, I would rather be alive and with a bad reputation than pitied and dead.

    I also want to urge you to take it easy with the word genocide. You have now seen how easy it was for Israel to turn off the water and electricity in Gaza. Israel could have committed Genocide any time in the past 60 years- but despite all the conflicts, the population of Gaza has grown, tripling in size since 1990.

    So far, about 3500 Gazans have died. that is about .14 percent of the population of Gaza. Not even close to 1%. To call this a genocide is playing into the hands of our enemies, and is an insult to those communities that have experienced REAL genocide, including, by the way, the European Jewish people who lost 60% of the population in World War 2, a population that was entirely unarmed and posed no military threat.

    Finally, I want to ask you to listen to what people say they want- not what you THINK they want. “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.” What do you think that means? If you have any doubt, read the Hamas charter-

    I too have stood alongside my Palestinian friend in protest. Our war is not with Palestinians, Muslims, or Arabs, but with Hamas. It is truly sad that innocent Palestinians die in the conflict- just as it is heartbreaking to know that many Peace activists were slaughtered by Hamas militants. This is what happens in war. But I believe, is a war that we have to fight.

    I found this to be an excellent, level-headed, and thoughtful article.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and being willing to hear mine.

  2. Hi Adam,
    As I recall, every operation against Hamas in Gaza was perceived at the time as a matter of ein breira, as “now this time REALLY there’s no other option.”

  3. Israel is the only country in the world I know of that allows it uttermost enemies to live within its sovereignty.
    Who. Does. That ????????????????????

  4. Ilana,
    I know that you speak with knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  You have shown me and others the human side and that’s so important.  But I’m afraid your credibility is on the line and your message is thereby diminished.  The situation is disturbing, sympathetic and complicated enough without the skewed picture you’ve set out. 
    – You refer to Israeli bombings over the years without indicating that in each case they are responses to Gazan aggression toward Israeli civilians.
    – You say that Gaza is besieged.  It has been sovereign since Israel withdrew in 2005.  (Your call for the end of [nonexistent] Israeli military occupation of Gaza is inapposite.)  And suffice it to say that Gaza’s weapons procurement and terror tunnels amply demonstrate open borders.  
    – You say that Gaza is impoverished.  Why has it not used the resources (like money, cement and the airport that Israel had once accepted!) to build schools, hospitals, resorts, power stations, green houses, and desalination plants, but instead focused on terror?
    – You gloss over the massacre in Israel by mentioning “murder” and “taking hostages” but not maiming, burning, beheading, and torturing families, and capturing infants, children, infirmed, and civilians; and not calling it a “pogram” as you characterize prior murder by private Israeli citizens.  
    – You give a nod to the many Palestineans that have not resorted to violence (and hopefully those civilians in Gaza are not hiding terror tunnel entrances and remaining silent on either the whereabouts of hostages or on setting up rocket launches from populated areas), but sweep all Israelis together as part of a racist government waging war (even as you acknowledge that huge numbers of Israelis protested that same government and even though as you know Israel is now led by a unity government).
    – You ridicule Israel’s warnings to civilian populations without acknowledging that such an unusual step is intended to protect them.     
    – You imply that Israel is seeking revenge on Gaza.  Nobody actually knows the way to do it, but Israel is chasing terrorists and hopefully destroying every last tunnel.  
    – You don’t acknowledge that the numbers of dead in Gaza on which you rely are not reliable (and let’s pray that they are not).  
    – You say that sometimes protective use of force is justified but an utter violation of international law.
    – You cite devastation of the post-Oslo moment and deprivation of political self-determination (which deprivation Israel reversed in Gaza) without pointing fingers (as I do) of how Gazans squandered that opportunity.  Nothing was a better recipe for peace than Israelis and Palestineans working, policing, learning and shopping together.  
    – You white-wash how these circumstances gave rise to raw terror (i.e., not once using the word to blame terrorists but instead referring to terrorism as “resorting to other tactics and goals” which are neither always “ethical” nor “adhering” to international law).
    – You rationalize the way Gazans have acted based on historical treatment while dismissing “intergenerational trauma” of the Jewish people.
    – You hold up as fact a gross and incorrect generalization that Israel does not adhere to international law.
    – You highlight Palestinians’ non-violent protest without acknowledging their sympathetic quarters in Israel, or that Israelis are also free to boycott.
    – You suggest that peace can come when “all prisoners” are released (even hardened criminals of terror?) and when Israel (alone?) de-militarizes.
    – And I believe that it is especially irresponsible to throw around the term “genocide” in the face of chants around the world that the Jewish nation be wiped off the map.

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