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For 14 hours, on Saturday, we were texting with my aunt as she hid in her attic and begged for help that never arrived. She witnessed her neighbors, whole families with children and babies, bound and killed on their lawns. Children were shot in their mothers’ arms, then the mothers were taken hostage. Other children were taken hostage after watching their parents executed. On a nearby street, my other aunt would not answer our messages. The next morning, we learned that she and her husband had been burned alive. Other loved ones are still missing as of this writing. Children and the elderly were marched in tandem to the spot where they were murdered. A few minutes away, at the nature and peace festival, young women were raped and then shot to death, while tractors driven by the terrorists piled the bodies of over 200 young women and men to set them ablaze in a big fire. In the neighboring village, heads were chopped off.
Our family’s small kibbutz, home to my childhood summer memories, is a leftwing community that had always placed itself on the forefront of the fight for Palestinian rights and independence. 110 bodies have already been removed from that kibbutz. Not a single house remains standing; all are reduced to rubble and stone, burned to the ground. The bodies of eight children were found yesterday in one room. In Tel Aviv, my mother currently sits in a shelter as thousands of rockets rain down from Gaza. She weeps for her loved ones, and there is no way to bury them. Around us, it feels like the end of the world, a paralyzing horror, but we try to embrace the survivors and fight for the safe return of the hostages. This was not a terror attack but an organized extermination of entire communities, an entire region. In this case, peace-loving leftwing communities.
No one knows yet if the chain of events that began with the war in Ukraine will lead to escalation with Iran, Russia and the Hezbollah, resulting in a broader war. Let us pray it does not. World wars can break out from the assassination of a single man; they do not require genocide. What I do know is that our lives cannot remain unchanged. I’m drowning in the ocean of faces and stories, of hundreds of babies and children murdered, kidnapped, wounded. The pain of my personal loss pales in comparison. What kind of society can we be in the future? These are the kinds of trauma that grow the monster within, that shape and scars, with dangerous impulses we will be fighting for decades, praying to remain empathetic and sane. I will never forgive myself if I remain the same person and learn nothing. I try to promise myself I will find ways for this tragedy to change me for the better, because otherwise, it will change me for the worse. History shows that such a wound breeds dangerous darkness in the soul of any society.
My pain has never seen race or religion, my heart weakens and sheds tears for any innocent killed on either side of the border, always, but I know one thing for certain: When the world has been forgiving, for years, toward regimes or organizations who, in the name of religious extremism, have executed members of the LGBTQ community and women accused of adultery, who have slaughtered the secular, the opposition, human rights activists and reporters — when the world confuses such men for freedom fighters, it does not promote freedom or save human lives, but rather assures further escalation of terror and death.
Sixteen years ago, Hamas took control of Gaza by force, installed a theocratic regime, and brutally persecuted secular people who opposed it. This happened after Israel retreated from Gaza and evacuated its settlements within it. Gaza became a dark religious dictatorship. Europe and Israel continued to view Hamas as a partner, to engage in talks with it, to funnel endless funds to it, which were put to use in buying rockets and missiles and preparing for war. This could in no way liberate the Palestinian people; it has only made them victims and prisoners in an ISIS-like territory. All those countries and movements which methodically slaughter, for example, gay citizens, yet are respected and legitimized by the world, will then turn and murder others groups, as soon as they can seize the possibility to do so. This is the dark road to a land where babies are bound and executed in their mothers’ arms.
The increasingly shallow nature of our international political discourse, which is ill-equipped to tackle complexity and is drowning in fake news, hinders our ability to find a stable, peaceful solution, to save human lives. Those who say “End the Occupation” must also be attentive to the intricacies of the search for a solution, and familiar with the deeper, layered facts. Many of those who celebrate Hamas in the liberal world are the first victims that Hamas would passionately slaughter. We should call for Palestinian independence, but not under Hamas or Jihad in any way.
If one listens to them in their own language, they explicitly say they will slaughter Jews until Islam controls the entire land, and Israel is fully exterminated. Queers and Christians will be next. Hamas is not engaged in the true liberation of Gaza.
At the moment, the world must prevent further escalation. In order to stop the cycle of violence, it must apply maximal pressure on Hamas to immediately release the hostages unconditionally, and to deter Iran and the Hezbollah from expanding the scope of the war. Sane forces within the Arab world must work to free the Palestinian people from the tyranny of a fundamentalist, ISIS-like dictatorship in Gaza. Israelis who experienced a brutal genocide and completely lost any sense of security this week must know the world is understanding and empathetic, willing to ensure their safety, and mobilized to restore sanity and provide a sliver of hope. The world cannot stand silent before such savagery. It is the only way to lead to Palestinian independence, prosperity, safety, and a life alongside each other.
Our friends have been murdered and kidnapped, including filmmakers and devoted journalists. We, as artists, have been trying for many years to act as a bridge to peace and dialogue. Now, we are paralyzed by the shock, as everything we have believed in all these years has been rattled to its core, possibly shattered for good. We will try to occupy our minds with the work of storytelling, alongside our beloved Palestinian writing partners, in order to soften hearts and promote compassion and the desire to reach out and hug each other. We must keep believing that art can transform the world with the truth. It is becoming so hard to keep believing. We who could not save our children; We, who watched our loved ones brutally slaughtered on a livestream, and realized that no one would come to save us when we are tortured, must keep on believing.
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