October 7 stands out in the lived experience of every Jew. This wasn’t just another violent event among many; it was the bloodiest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. The victims were mostly non-combatants; they were babies, kids, elderly and families, and international young people at a music festival. Over 250 were taken hostage, more than half of whom are still being held in captivity.
The statements by some in our community and elsewhere that justify Hamas’ acts of horror are unintelligible. These are acts that deserve nothing but our unequivocal condemnation. And yet the response from the populist Left has been to ignite a roaring flame of antisemitic Jew hatred. Instead of building international solidarity on universal claims to dignity and human rights, many activists defend atrocities committed against Jews or deny the reality of proven facts.
One clear account is Hamas’ use of gang rape and torture against Jewish women. Rather than call out such acts as evil, some activists elect to deny video, testimony and medical evidence verified and reviewed by officials from the U.N., U.S., France, EU, and others. Evidence of the evil perpetrated on Oct. 7 is plain as can be.
Human suffering by Jews, Palestinians, Druze and many others in the region has been an ongoing condition for so long it makes the heart break. Beyond the claims by extremists that erase the other, at core we have a conflict of identity, of narrative and of the love of a single land. Two peoples, with two different stories, each have legitimate claims to the same land. The heroes who are working diligently for a shared society are too often silenced by extremists within, and by the supposed allies in the international community, who choose sides as if this were a sports match.
Since well before Oct. 7, there has been a tendency for people discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to retreat into the comfort of blame to absolve themselves from feeling compassion for the “other’s” grief or indignation about the injustices they’ve experienced. Whether it’s the dismissal of Palestinian death and displacement in Gaza with the claim that there are “no innocent Palestinians,” or the justification of Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 as “liberation by any means necessary,” the voices that are “pro” tend to express their position through a callousness about the grief of the other. If you actually care about the lives of Israelis or Palestinians, it’s time to stop being “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestinian” and start being “pro-humanity.”
One branch of criticism labels Israel as founded through settler colonialism, and therefore considers it illegitimate as a country from the onset. This critique equates the founding of Israel to the colonial projects of Europeans, in which people voluntarily left their homeland and sought advantage through taking lands far away. Those who would criticize Israel must understand that for Jews around the world, and certainly those who live there, the country represents thousands of years of hope for a return from exile and freedom from persecution.
Even after the Roman Empire kicked Jews out of their homeland, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land for over 2,000 years. The fledgling state of Israel absorbed displaced refugees from Europe who had literally nowhere else to go after World War II. Israel has accepted hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and Ethiopia after those governments engaged in ethnic cleansing or collapsed under war and famine. There is no home “colonial” state for the millions of Israeli Jews to return to. They have faced unrelenting rocket-fire from Hamas.
At the same time, Palestinians have a legitimate, ancestral claim to the land. They also have the trauma of displacement, exile and unrecognized grief, and — increasingly, even in the West Bank, which is not at war — Palestinians face land seizure and violence at the hands of Jewish extremists, including in the Israeli government.
Neither Israelis or Palestinians are leaving, nor should they. They deserve better than a zero-sum understanding of their situation. To pretend that either people are expendable actively undermines any long-term vision of peace and justice.
What actually helps is raising up the voices of those on the ground there who are working for a shared society. The path to peace lies in creating frameworks for both Israelis and Palestinians to live in security and peace, the return of the hostages and difficult, long-term work of removing extremists from power and empowering those who seek coexistence.