Oct 12, 2023

Nonviolence Is a Light of Possibility in Times Like This: on the Current Escalation in Israel and Palestine

"Amid all this insanity, we are deeply moved by and thankful for all Israelis and Palestinians who remain committed to nonviolence, even now that another violent chapter is opened. True courage lies in breaking the cycle of trauma, in refusing revenge, in loving in spite of it all."
By Sabine Lichtenfels, A’ida al-Shibli, Uri Ayalon and Martin Winiecki / filmsforaction.org
Nonviolence Is a Light of Possibility in Times Like This: on the Current Escalation in Israel and Palestine
Photo: Meditation for the Global Grace Day on November 9, 2005 at the Separation Wall in the West Bank

We mourn the killings in southern Israel on Saturday and the violence against both Israelis and Palestinians that has followed. What has unfolded in the last days is nothing but unspeakable horror. Our hearts go out to all the families and relatives of the murdered, injured and kidnapped ones. Our prayer is for the bloodshed to end as soon as possible, for the hostages to return home safely and that a broader regional escalation will be avoided.

While we believe that people suffering colonization have a right to resistance, nothing can justify this kind of intentional brutality against civilians, including women, children and elders.

This attack adds one more chapter to a millennia-old story of Jewish trauma, which counts with repeated pogroms, decimation and the holocaust. That Jewish people have survived this massive antisemitism in so many places over such a long time is testimony to enormous resilience. Their need for a place to be finally safe and to be acknowledged in their pain is more than understandable.

On the other hand, however, Hamas’ attack doesn’t just come out of nowhere. If we truly want to end violence, we need to wholeheartedly look at what prompts people to act in such ways. Saturday’s events can’t be taken out of the context in which they stand: The continuous, normalized, day-to-day structural violence of Israeli settler colonialism and occupation against Palestinians. Acknowledging this doesn’t condone or justify Hamas’ actions — to the contrary, it seems necessary to possibly prevent such escalations in the future.

Although it may be hard for many to accept, the sad truth is that the state of Israel was established and has maintained itself through the expulsion, oppression and erasure of Palestine’s Arab inhabitants. Israel’s foundation came along with what Palestinians refer to as “Nakba” (Arabic for “catastrophe”). About 530 Palestinian villages and cities were destroyed and about 15,000 Palestinians killed in more than 70 massacres. Between 1947 and 1949, some 750,000 Palestinians were violently expelled from their homes and made refugees.

In recent years, several well-respected human rights organizations have called out Israel for imposing an apartheid regime on Palestinians. According to a 2022 Amnesty International report, for example, Israeli practices include land expropriation, unlawful killings, forced displacement, restrictions on movement, and denial of citizenship rights.

Life in Gaza has been particularly dire. Israel’s siege, with the support of Egypt, has made conditions in Gaza increasingly unlivable. For 16 years, Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants have been held in the world's biggest open-air prison under absolutely inhumane conditions (limited food, medical, water, electricity supply) and been subjected to massive bombing campaigns in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021, which left several thousands of civilians dead and wounded, maimed and traumatized tens of thousands.

We wonder: If Western governments had reacted with the same outrage and solidarity to Palestinian suffering, would Saturday's events actually have taken place?

The Israeli government now responds to Hamas’ actions through collective punishment against the people of Gaza. And once again, as is usual, the victims there will grossly outnumber those in Israel — unless the international community intervenes early and strongly enough. But the idea that brutality could be eradicated is what provokes and creates brutality in the first place. It’s not just vicious and inhumane, it has also never worked. The atrocities that were committed against Israelis are the actions of people who feel like they have nothing to lose.

We don’t identify all Israelis with their government, as little as we believe all Gazans support Hamas. We’re grateful for all Israelis who continue to stand up against the occupation and apartheid. We’re also aware of how the war in Israel-Palestine is financially, politically and militarily supported by Western and other governments, who have remained silent for too long about the crimes committed with the weapons they delivered.

Any political ideology that dehumanizes any group and/or justifies cruelty as a pathway for liberation or security will only perpetuate more oppression and war. Every human life is sacred. The pain of losing a child, a parent, a relative, a lover, a friend is the same everywhere, regardless of anyone's religious, cultural, national or political background.

True courage lies in breaking the cycle of trauma, in refusing revenge, in loving in spite of it all. What’s escalating in the Fertile Crescent is a worldwide traumatic pattern, in which we’re all involved to greater and lesser degrees and in which we respond to the possibility of pain returning with defense and attack. We need deep determination and each other’s solidarity to leave this automatism of patriarchal systems behind.

We remember Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who, before being killed in the concentration camp, wrote in her diary, “One day we shall build a whole new world. Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness, drawing strength from within ourselves. We may suffer, but we must not succumb.” Or nowadays, the Gazan doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish who lost his wife to cancer and shortly after, three of his daughters in Israeli airstrikes. Despite this immense loss, he vowed, “I shall not hate” and committed his life to love and service. He says, "You can't fight disease with disease or death with death."

Amid all this insanity, we are deeply moved by and thankful for all Israelis and Palestinians who remain committed to nonviolence, even now that another violent chapter is opened. It’s hard to imagine what it must be to go through all this loss and pain and not give in to the corruption of hatred but we do know that everyone who takes such a stand is a light of possibility so urgently needed at a time like this. From the bottom of our hearts: Thank you!

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