Opinion: Israel-Palestine: In search of our shared humanity
|Published: 10-30-2023 5:00 PM
Dan Weeks is a co-owner and vice president at ReVision Energy. He lives in Nashua with his wife and kids.
Like so many people around the world, my family has been quietly mourning the unspeakable suffering of Israelis and Palestinians since October 7th. On that day, which will live in infamy as Israel’s 9/11, Hamas terrorists from the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza murdered some 1,400 Israelis, both civilians and soldiers, and took hundreds more hostage.
In short order, Israel unleashed a brutal bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which has so far claimed the lives of over 7,000 innocent Palestinians, according to the World Health Organization, and forced more than 1.4 million Palestinians from their homes. A full-scale Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is expected in the coming days, with no end to the human suffering in sight.
Sitting in the safety of my home, thousands of miles from the Middle East, I have read article after article in hopes of thinking my way to a right understanding of the conflict and potential pathways to peace. Many writers seem caught in a partisan battle to defend their side against the “evil” other. Some provide a nuanced geopolitical analysis yet seem to lack the human dimension. Others are simply at a loss for what to do.
Only through personal contact with close friends on both sides of the sectarian divide, through feeling a portion of their pain, have I started to gain perspective.
One friend fears for his Jewish family as antisemitism rears its ugly head yet again. “It’s a frightening time,” he told me. “I’m scared.” Seeing footage and hearing accounts of Hamas’ heinous assault on Israeli civilians, as well as the rash of antisemitic incidents that have followed here at home and around the world, I can’t help thinking of my own German grandmother who fled the Nazis in World War II while other family members were killed in the Holocaust on account of their Jewish heritage. With my friend’s fears come the simple affirmation that killing innocent Israelis, or targeting Jewish people anywhere, is always wrong.
At the same time, a Palestinian friend shared with me that the war has already brought unspeakable suffering to his family in Gaza. “It’s been awful,” he said. “Several young cousins murdered, many others pulled from rubble with burns and broken bones, most have lost homes, all are displaced. It’s beyond belief watching our government support a genocide.” Those young cousins are counted among the more than 2,360 Gazan children who died in the first 18 days of Israel’s bombardment, according to UNICEF.
His words called to mind a group of young Palestinians I met some 15 years ago during a heart-rending tour of Israel and the occupied West Bank, not long after I visited the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. The Palestinian youths had turned out after Friday prayers to protest a portion of Israel’s recently constructed border wall that annexed large swaths of Palestinian land for Jewish settlers in the West Bank (over 840,000 strong today), even after the International Court of Justice had found the settlements illegal under the Geneva Convention. Their chants and stones were met with tear gas and rubber bullets by the Israeli Defense Force. With my Gazan friend’s pain comes the affirmation that killing innocent Palestinians or denying their human rights through an apartheid-style occupation is also wrong.
I mention these personal associations not to claim some special connection to the tragic conflict unfolding in Gaza today. Rather, I believe we are all more connected to, and affected by, this war than we may imagine, regardless of whether we have seen the Holy Lands or even read the news. That is especially true of Americans like me, whose national government has long been Israel’s leading defender on the global stage. But why?
In a dark period of our nation’s not-so-distant past, when American communities were consumed by racial tension, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
King’s call to see ourselves in one another – especially the racial or sectarian “other” – helped guide our country to a vital, if incomplete, peace through landmark Civil Rights legislation in the wake of centuries of enslavement and segregation.
His words gave expression to the ancient South African concept of Ubuntu – “I am because you are” – which animated Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters in their decades-long struggle to forge a “rainbow nation” out of the ashes of colonialism and apartheid. Both struggles continue, their success predicated on an enduring practice of Ubuntu.
How might we apply Ubuntu in this context? I won’t pretend there is a simple solution to such a complex conflict, but one thing is clear: Ubuntu demands we treat Israeli and Palestinian lives as equally sacred, equally deserving of protection, and align our policies accordingly. One simple way we can individually affirm the humanity of those suffering is by sending life-saving aid to innocent children and their families on the frontlines of the war in Gaza and demanding the safe return of Israeli hostages held captive there.
But humanitarian aid alone will not suffice. As citizens of the most powerful nation on earth and Israel’s primary backer, we should demand of our elected leaders a just and balanced response that treats Palestinians as human beings who deserve protection alongside Israelis.
A good place to start is that proposed by the pro-Israel and pro-peace organization J Street, to which I was first introduced by a Palestinian Christian friend. J Street’s clarion call includes “Supporting Israel’s right to defend its citizens and respond to Hamas’ attacks, in a manner consistent with international law” and “Insisting on the need for Israel and the US to take all necessary steps to provide desperately needed humanitarian relief and assistance to Palestinian civilians” and “Making clear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can ultimately not be resolved by military force, bypassed, or ‘managed’ – but can only be resolved via a long-term solution that guarantees the rights and aspirations of both peoples, and brings an end to the ongoing occupation.”
That such a path is far more humane than the manner in which Israel is presently conducting the war is reason enough to pursue it. But it is not the only reason. For the sake of Israel’s own long-term security, it must not let its justifiable fury at Hamas and thirst for revenge lead it on a path of such indiscriminate destruction of Gaza that future generations of anti-Israeli extremists are sure to emerge from the rubble. Is there another way to truly end Hamas than by ending the desperate conditions under which it flourished?
Easy for me to say, my family safe and so far away. Yet our nation is party to this conflict and Americans, too, are suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Inasmuch as we enable the relentless killing of innocent people in Gaza, we too risk our own safety as a surefire target of future Islamist terror.
For the sake of our shared security and humanity, we must work with both sides to end the violence and the conditions that undergird it; tend the wounds of all who suffer; and forge a just peace free from terror and continued occupation.