Uncategorized · October 10, 2023 1

Reflections on An Atrocity

Marty Levine

October 10, 2023

I woke up Saturday morning to the news of Hamas’ bloody invasion of Israel. It left me shaken. The feeling of dread I felt then has stayed with me as each day adds more detail to a picture of wanton violence and killing, with no distinction between soldier and civilian.

This morning I listened to an Israeli grandfather describing how his daughter and son-in-law had been killed in their home leaving behind a small child who had been shot in the stomach. He described them as workers for peace and reconciliation. The tragedy of this makes me shudder, seeing myself in those shoes.

The dread arises from the part of me that remains so connected to the land of Israel. It is a link that was formed years ago on the first of many trips there. Being on that soil, walking that land, tied me to my Judaism by giving legend and myth a physical reality.  I feel it as I write these words, I feel it every time there is violence and war telling me that it is I who is being attacked. I am worried about people who are connected to me only because they, like me, identify as Jews. A part of me feels my very existence is threatened by the attack.

There is no excuse for the horrors that are emerging as the story of the day. Killing children has no justification. Killing civilians has no justification. Taking men, women, and children as hostages has no justification. Celebrating the death and destruction of others has no justification. The Hamas fighters who did this cannot be justified or excused.

I know the horror of this moment makes it easy to see Israelis as the only victims. It makes it easy to see this violence as the totality of the situation.

As I write those words, I cannot end with just this thought because there is more to say. As much as I reject violence as a tool of political action, and as much as I am feeling this moment as an attack on me, I know I cannot ignore the larger reality of this moment.

There are millions of Palestinians living in a sliver of land called Gaza, living in an overcrowded, impoverished cage that is controlled by Israel. There are millions of Palestinians living in the “territories” as non-citizens under Israeli control. Almost all of them are not Hamas or supporters of Hamas. And all of them have been left out of our conversation. They have been ignored and denied a future. They too have been brutalized and dehumanized by Israeli policy and action.

And, very critically, any attempt to protest their status non-violently has been, by many of the same voices today screaming about terrorism, described as behavior that is out bounds and often labeled as antisemitic. 

I have asked often of those who have been strong supporters of Israeli policy and practice, what their plan is for these people? How do they see ending a situation that has festered and gotten more and more dismal over seven decades.  How do they want to reconcile the heritage of these two peoples who see this small place as their homeland; who tell stories of ancestors with roots in the soil? The silence has too often been deafening.

And when there is an answer, it is so often one that gives Israel no responsibility and blames the Palestinians for their dismal situation. It ignores a history of displacement; it ignores a history of violence; and it ignores the step-by-step taking of a people’s homes, lands and history. It sees a world in which Palestinians are others standing in the way of progress, as others who have fewer rights and are always wrong to ask that their reality be recognized.

It is very easy to damn the violence of Hamas’ actions. How can you justify the killing of civilians, the celebration of their deaths, and the taking of hostages that have made this moment so horrific. I cannot justify these actions.

Does Hamas’s brutality now allow us, even require us, to forget that on Friday, I and many others saw a situation that we believed met the definition of Apartheid? Is it insensitive to point this out and question if it too must be considered as Israel responds?  Is it wrong to react with horror to the Israeli Government’s declaration of war on the two million men, women and children who live in Gaza, a war that begins with the cutting or power to them; the cutting of water to them; the blockading of food to them and a campaign of indiscriminate bombing?

Hamas has committed an atrocity. Does that now justify the committing of new atrocities against the Palestinian people of Gaza?

In this moment there are so very few voices in the American Jewish Community that are brave enough to recognize that condemning Hamas is not enough and will not end the ongoing harm being done to innocent Palestinians or prevent the next terrorist atrocity from befalling Jewish Israelis. Oh that they would be more who could be brave enough to say what Ofer Cassif, a member of the Israeli Knesset said in a recent conversation with Amy Goodman:

“…two days ago, I got a WhatsApp message from a very good friend of mine, who was hiding with her husband in the kibbutz. And she told me she was very afraid and she could hear the Hamas fighters outside. Unfortunately, those were probably the last words she ever wrote, because she was murdered with her husband just after she sent me that message — a very good friend of mine who was also against the occupation, a voter with our party. What I’m trying to say is that innocent people, innocent civilians on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, pay the price of the arrogant, criminal, ongoing occupation that Israel refuses to end. Nothing, absolutely nothing, justify — can justify or legitimize the carnage that Hamas carried out in the towns and kibbutzim and the villages in the southern of Israel. Nothing can justify it. It is appalling. And even the occupation crimes, the crimes that Israel is guilty of, crimes of occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and the Nakba, those, either, cannot justify such carnage. At the same time, nothing, and absolutely nothing, can justify the massacre that the Israelis carries out now in Gaza, not even the crimes of Hamas…the Palestinians deserve their rights. They deserve their national and individual rights. They reserve their rights to be realized, the right of self-determination, to enjoy their own independent sovereign state, their own government, their freedom of movement. They deserve to live in peace and security without the daily pogroms by fascist settlers under the auspices of the occupation forces and the encouragement of this fascist government of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israelis deserve peace and security. They deserve to live in a state which doesn’t occupy, which doesn’t oppress, a state whose government is not a fascist and racist one.”

There are very few voices in our political leadership who are willing to go beyond the horror of the moment and see what is occurring is a tragic failure to see what was happening right in front of us, what was happening because we looked away, and what was happening because we continued to hold Israeli leadership immune from the consequences of their actions.

When this war ends, many more will be dead or wounded but there will still be millions of Palestinians who are not affiliated with Hamas living under Israeli control. Has this horror given us all an excuse to continue to ignore their reality? Are they all to blame for Hamas? Are they now deserving more years or decades of collective punishment and limited rights? Will this horrific tragedy see no end for Israelis or Palestinians… or perhaps, will it open a path for new directions?