Opinion: My Israeli cousin was killed by a Hamas terrorist. But I still have hope.

By BENJI ROSEN

Published: 10-17-2023 5:00 PM

Benji Rosen was a reporter at the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript before he joined the staffs at The Christian Science Monitor and MIT Technology Review. He now lives in his hometown of Los Angeles and works as a cybersecurity marketer.

When I was a young reporter cutting my journalism teeth in the Granite State during the 2016 presidential primary season, I cannot recall ever telling anyone this gut-wrenching piece of my family history: My cousin was the victim of a Hamas terrorist attack.

Her name was Anat Rosen-Winter, and she was murdered by a suicide bomber at Tel Aviv’s Café Apropos in March 1997. Anat was killed shielding her six-month old baby, sacrificing her life for my then-infant cousin Shani.

I was eight years old at the time, and learned of Anat’s death when I discovered my mom sobbing in the kitchen of our Los Angeles home. As a young American Jew who attended Jewish day school, this was my first memory of modern-day Israel. It defined my relationship with a country and region that is in my blood, that I love with all my soul.

Ever since I can remember, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been to me about the bystanders, those killed, injured, and broken by the state of Israel and Palestinians’ Sisyphean cycle of war, violence, negotiations, and war again. It’s a childhood thesis that has stood the test of my current lifetime, through more wars, more terrorist attacks, a journalism internship in Jerusalem, reporting from a desk in Boston, and, many times, of disillusionment over all of this.

I share all of this with readers in New England and beyond to implore you to change the paradigm. No matter which “side” you align yourselves with — Israel, the Palestinians, or somewhere in between — prioritize these bystanders and their humanity above all else. Above politics, above regional stability, above being right among your peers. Above all of it. To do this, I sincerely believe you need to first and foremost reject the brutality of the last several days, of the past, and of what’s to come.

Let’s start with the facts, as we know them now. On the Shabbat, Saturday morning of October 7, Hamas militants (journalism correctness for terrorists) breached the Israeli border by land, air, and sea. What then ensued chokes me up inside and brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.

These terrorists murdered 1,300 Israelis, injured 3,300 more, and kidnapped an estimated 150 hostages. These atrocities occurred while Israelis observed the Jewish day of rest with their families, while they slept in their homes, and while they danced in the desert during a music festival celebrating peace and love. Among the dead were infants, the elderly, Holocaust survivors, and even pets.

I plead with you to call October 7 what it was: monstrous acts of terror carried out by monsters. October 7 was a day of genocide. October 7 was the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, when six million of us were systematically murdered.

I must acknowledge that it’s harder for me (and maybe some of you) to reject all of Israel’s response in the days that followed. I can easily find deep and heartfelt sympathy for the thousand-plus Palestinians killed in Gaza and countless more injured during Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas. No civilians should have to die in the pursuit of an enemy. But that’s also a sad fact of war, as acknowledged by New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella in a joint statement on October 12 that he released with his peers from other states:

“We regret that Israel’s pursuit of justice and self-defense will cost lives,” reads the statement. “But responsibility for every life lost in this conflict can be laid at the feet of the cowardly Hamas leadership, residing in comfort in Doha, and their murderous servants. We pray for peace and safety for Israel and the rest of the Middle East.”

However, as Israel’s military strategy for this air assault becomes more apparent, we can collectively demand that its forces proceed in a way that values the lives of Palestinian civilians.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict has never been black and white. It has always been complicated, fraught with nuances that have thwarted the efforts of even our most famous world leaders. Even before this war erupted, I didn’t believe there would ever be peace as a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people. But I have always believed in the human, inalienable rights of the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Whenever I think of the region now, I think of the people I met while I was an intern at The Jerusalem Post, the country’s largest English daily newspaper. I think of the “lone soldiers,” an Israeli term for foreign-born citizens serving in the Israel Defense Forces, many leaving their homes, families, and comfortable lives to protect the state of the Jewish people.

I think of the African migrants I met on reporting trips, many of whom fled horrific conflicts in Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia for a new life in a democracy in the Middle East. I think of the nomadic Bedouins whose tribes roamed the desert and plains of Israel for generations. I think of the Palestinian olive farmers, who tended trees that have stood in the West Bank for centuries. I think of the same-sex Israeli couples who adopted children from Southeast Asia with the promise of giving them a better life in the bustling city of Tel Aviv.

If you follow Israeli news, you will know that most of these groups have suffered in some way under the Israeli government. Israel is not perfect, just as the United States is not. But I watched these people smile, laugh, cry, and love. They showed me their humanity, and I’m asking all of you to see it too. Stand up for them. Stand up for the Israelis and Palestinians. Stand up for what is right.

Before I moved to New Hampshire, I spent three months at a small newspaper in Vermont. Every Friday, a woman coincidentally hoisted a Palestinian flag on the sidewalk outside the newsroom and held up a sign in support of the Palestinian territories. She and I did not see eye to eye. But our conversations about the conflict remained civil until one day she uttered a statement that seared my heart.

She is the only person in upper New England that I remember telling about my cousin, Anat. I asked her how she could support a movement that supports suicide bombers who leave infants motherless. This woman from Vermont who had never been to Israel or the Palestinian territories said that the ends justify the means in this conflict.

At the time, I was so disgusted by her response that I walked away from her and never engaged with her again. I wish now that I instead asked her to think about the bystanders in this longstanding conflict. Think about my cousins. Think about all of those who have died since October 7. Think about the infants, mothers, fathers, and children. Think about the region’s future. If you do that, first and foremost, maybe it will change the paradigm.