Sun, Jul

Pro-Palestine Allies Need to Speak Up for Israeli and Palestinian Lives


GUEST COMMENTARY - Bombing or killing civilians is wrong. That is true whether you have been suffering under an occupation for over half a century. And it is wrong if you are retaliating for your people being murdered.

It has been heartbreaking for me how that basic principle has been so hard for people to hold onto in the current battle between Hamas and the Israeli government. 

United National Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 120 countries in the United Nations General Assembly and many human rights organizations are all calling for an immediate ceasefire. 

Civilians are being murdered in Gaza while Hamas hides in tunnels. Israeli civilian hostages remain captive while their government prioritizes destroying Hamas over working for the freedom of those hostages. 

Those of us on the U.S. left need to call for an immediate ceasefire and we need to speak out against those on both sides who favor murdering civilians.

House Resolution 786 calls for an immediate Ceasefire in Gaza. My member of the House, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), has declined to sign HR 786 arguing that it allows for Hamas impunity. Out of alignment with most of the rest of the world, the U.S. government is supporting and arming Israel while only quietly asking them to minimize civilian deaths. 

While much of the mainstream in the U.S. continues its unwavering support for the brutal acts of the Israeli government, some on the left appear, mostly through silence, to overlook the brutal acts of Hamas. 

Those of us on the U.S. left need to call for an immediate ceasefire and we need to speak out against those on both sides who favor murdering civilians. I am following Naomi Klein’s imperative to “side with the children over the guns.” 

I first learned about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in 1984. At that time—for a progressive Jewish person—our position was fairly simple. The Palestinian leadership had accepted a two-state solution and so, on a practical level, discussions of Israel’s right to exist were as irrelevant there as they are in my home country.

For many years I have spoken out for an end to the occupation, for an end to U.S. military support for Israel. I have had quite a few difficult conversations over the years, but they were always with people whose politics I fundamentally disagreed with. So while I might have dealt with hostility and nastiness, those arguments were never personally hard.

But now I am finding myself disagreeing with friends on the left almost every day. A progressive organization I support put out a statement on the crisis days after the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians which denounced Israel’s planned attack on Gaza but said nothing about the murder of civilians by Hamas, and instead framed it as an act of liberation. Almost every day, I receive an email with a statement on the conflict that is somewhere between silent and gleeful about the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians. 

I feel isolated in mourning both the Israeli dead and the Palestinian dead, and I wish for more people speaking out for that position. Leftist Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari recently published a letter calling on the global left to join in an “unequivocal call against indiscriminate violence towards civilians on both sides.” We need to follow his call. 

This summer I went to a pro-Palestine demonstration that was called to protest evictions of Palestinians from their homes in Israel. I agreed with almost everything at that demonstration except for a few chants: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Palestine is ours alone.” I wondered what those giving those chants thought should happen to the Jewish people who live between the river and the sea. If it is yours alone, what rights will the people from other ethnic and religious groups who live there have if you achieve your goals? 

When I asked people in the progressive Jewish contingent I was part of what they thought of those slogans, I was told that we are in solidarity with the Palestinians and shouldn't micromanage their voices. But it is not micromanaging to work through to find a common set of values when forming a coalition. I continue to speak out against the actions of the Israeli government, but I am increasingly uncomfortable being part of demonstrations that do not make space for voices like mine. 

It is so easy on the left to project our beliefs onto those fighting against oppression and imagine them to be fighting for the forms of liberation we would be fighting for if we were them. Hamas opposes women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and democracy. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

The victims of oppression are never a monolith. And while we need to be humble and listen and understand the complexity of the situations of others, we also can't give up our moral compass and support organizations which don’t share our broad vision of liberation. It is crucial that we raise our voices and ask hard questions as part of our acts of solidarity. 

The position of the left in the U.S. should be simple, even if it is not easy. We need to stand with the children against the guns. We need to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, which means passage of HR 786. We need to speak out clearly and forcefully against any organization or state that murders civilians. 

Life is sacred. Why is that so hard to hold onto?

(Cynthia Kaufman is the author of "The Sea is Rising and So Are We", "Challenging Power: Democracy and Accountability in a Fractured World" (2020), "Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope" (2012), and "Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change" (2016). She is the director of the Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action at De Anza College. Her website: cynthiakaufman.net. This article was featured in CommonDreams.org.)