For Jews and Palestinians these are painful and difficult days.
On Oct. 7, Hamas gunmen indiscriminately murdered about 1,200 Israelis. The victims were not settlers. They did not live in the West Bank or any disputed territories. In fact, many were peace activists. Their deaths break my heart.
Israel’s military action in the weeks since have killed many thousands of Palestinians. Most of the casualties are civilians. Their deaths also break my heart.
Many of the loudest voices in our community want to apportion blame to one side or the other, to deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state or deny the legitimacy of a Palestinian national identity. I want to suggest something else, something more difficult: If we truly want to find a just resolution to this conflict, we have to recognize that both sides are right — and both sides are wrong.
We have to hold the pain and the suffering, as well as the national aspirations, of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. We have to acknowledge the validity of the Palestinian experience: the trauma of the Nakba and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. We also have to acknowledge the truth of the long history of antisemitism that pushed Jews to demand their right to national self-determination, as well as the existential threat of destruction that has shaped Israel since its creation.
Because neither Israeli Jews nor Palestinians are going anywhere. The children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are not going back to a Europe that once murdered their families. The Jews who were expelled from Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Morocco and Algeria cannot return to those countries. Their ancestral communities no longer exist. Israel is their only home. To think otherwise is a fantasy.
The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, either. Palestine is their homeland. They deserve the right to self-determination. As a Jew, I understand the desire to be a free people living in your own land.
If you really care about achieving a just solution to this conflict, then let’s talk about a compromise that gives each people some of what we each want. I know it seems like a fantasy right now and, these days, compromise is often seen as capitulation. But there is no other path.
We must have that conversation not only in the Mideast but around the world, including here in the Bay Area. For if we can’t figure out a way to come together here, far from the fighting, and refuse to hear the legitimate needs and fears of the “other side,” how can we expect that to happen in Israel/Palestine?
Unfortunately, rather than engage in that constructive conversation, the same division is fueling the anger here.
The Richmond City Council’s resolution affirming solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza is an example. At the Oct. 24 meeting where it was passed, Israel was trashed during hours of public comment, and the Jewish experience erased. The City Council could have brought Richmond residents together to find common ground. Instead, they divided our city. They alienated many of their Jewish residents who felt unseen, their needs unrecognized.
Other groups, such as the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee and the Oakland Teachers Association who have condemned Israel and demanded a ceasefire without condemning Hamas’ killings, offer more of the same. For Jews, ignoring or minimizing the terrorism of Oct. 7 amounts to dismissal of their experience, perpetuating the cycles of hatred that are at the root of the problem.
I am not criticizing condemnation of Israel’s actions. Israel needs to change course. The civilian slaughter in Gaza is unacceptable. But when you refuse to also condemn Hamas’ indiscriminate murder of Israelis, when you justify their attacks as resistance and refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, you are endorsing Israel’s destruction. When Jews hear that, we hear genocide all over again.