Millions of lives depend on it.
A Jewish Plea: Stand Up to Israel’s Act of Genocide
Originally appeared in Boston Review.
Ihave by my desk a quote attributed to beloved Jewish writer and activist Grace Paley: “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” For over a decade that has motivated my work to build a thriving moment of American Jews in solidarity with Palestinians. But where do you find hope in the midst of utter horror? My only hope in this moment is that my fellow Jewish Americans and people of conscience all across America will unite in a way we never have before to call for an end to genocide.
Israel has dropped more bombs on Palestinians in Gaza this week than the United States dropped on Afghanistan in a full year of the war. Last night the Israeli government issued an evacuation order for the entire northern Gaza Strip, telling residents to evacuate in twenty-four hours. This order forewarns a ground invasion. Israel’s intention is to try to absolve itself of responsibility for what will ultimately be massive casualties among untold thousands who are unable or unwilling to leave. The UN has already deemed this impossible in the narrow strip where for sixteen years Israel has imprisoned 2.2 million Palestinians—nearly half of them children—in a crushing siege of land, air, and sky.
This is genocide.
Text threads, from those who still have an hour or so of battery life on their phones, are full of panicked families trying to discern if they should try to flee. There is nowhere to go. Entire families—grandparents, baby nieces, uncles and aunts, siblings—have been annihilated. Boys are killed as they play soccer in front of a mosque; friends are searching for their families in rubble or getting calls that they were bombed in a crowded marketplace trying to buy food before Israel cut off the supply.
So many children will die who have never seen life outside of the walls of the ghetto that Israel has locked them in, as politicians here in the United States cheer on the carnage, claiming they are doing it to protect people of my own religion.
This is genocide.
Yes, on Saturday, Hamas militants broke out of the prison of Gaza and massacred 1,200 Israelis, including many civilians, taking more than 100 hostages. From the second I heard what was happening I have been overcome by a combination of grief and horror at the massacre itself, and also the sheer, unrelenting terror of knowing how the Israeli and American governments would weaponize these deaths.
And like clockwork, the loss of Israeli lives is being used by our government to justify the rush to genocide, to provide moral cover for the immoral push for more weapons and more death.
For Jews, the pain we feel is not ours alone. Since the founding of the state of Israel, the Zionist movement has positioned the domination and oppression of Palestinians and the colonization of Palestinian land as the answer to the very real question of Jewish safety. They have taken the very real pain and trauma that we as Jews carry and sharpened it into a deadly weapon. We desperately must understand that what is happening is not a cycle of violence. It is a system of violence. Everyone is caught in its teeth.
It is the system of settler colonial apartheid that the Israeli government has built and maintained over the past seventy-five years—with billions upon billions of dollars from the United States. Settler colonialism is a structure, a language, a culture, an ideology—an interlocking, totalizing, system of violence. It is a machine of war and dehumanization against Palestinians. It is this system that imperils the lives and safety of everyone.
While the vast majority of the violence of the apartheid regime lands on Palestinians, there is no safety for Israelis in a system rooted in such dehumanization and oppression. In the words of Holocaust survivor Hajo Meyer, “My great lesson from Auschwitz is: whoever wants to dehumanize any other must first be dehumanized himself. The oppressors are no longer really human, whatever uniform they wear.” The Israeli government has lost any semblance of humanity as they wage a genocide against the people living in Gaza.
It is not Palestinians who have chosen the language of violence for this land. It is the Israeli government and the United States government that have created a state of violence.
Palestinians have remained steadfast in seeking freedom against immeasurable violence. Tens of thousands of Palestinians protested in weekly grassroots nonviolent protests at Israel’s militarized border wall around Gaza during the Great March of Return in 2019, and the Israeli government sent military snipers to murder and maim hundreds of children, women, medics, and journalists. Palestinians launch boycott campaigns to win their rights, and the Israeli government opens an entire new ministry to combat the nonviolent movement. Palestinians work at human rights organizations to document the crimes against them, and they are called and treated as terrorists. Palestinians speak the language of freedom, and the Israeli government responds—every single time—with the language of violence.
The United States government has united to fully support the Israeli war machine. Already the United States sends more than $3 billion in aid to Israel every year. Now Senator Lindsey Graham said, “I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place.” Make no mistake: Israel isn’t defending itself, it is committing mass murder. Biden says, “We’ll make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of itself.” Make no mistake: Israel is waging genocide.
My dear ones in Palestine are saying that they have never experienced such destruction in seventy-five years of occupation. My dear ones are saying there is not a moment to wait. Do not sit back while Israel carries out a genocide fully enabled by the United States. Bring your full body, your spirit, your communities, your humanity, to meet this moment, to call your representatives, to the streets. “Never again” means standing up for Palestinian people. “Never again” means this very moment.
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