Note: It is difficult to write about an ongoing situation in real time, especially a situation as horrific as the one in Gaza. I wrote this statement on Monday, October 16th. At that time, I was holding out hope that the siege would end before the generators at the hospitals in Gaza ran out of power. What actually happened was worse than I could have imagined: the IDF bombed a hospital in Gaza, killing over 500 people. I continue to pray and work for an immediate end to the siege.
There are almost no words for the images we are seeing from Gaza right now. A million people have been forcibly displaced; drinking water is increasingly scarce; hospitals running on backup generators will become mass graves when the power runs out. The israeli government has dropped more bombs on densely populated areas this week than the u.s. dropped on Afghanistan in a year. They are using white phosphorus, an internationally banned chemical weapon, on civilians. The over 2 million people of Gaza, who have been trapped under a military blockade since 2007, are now constricted even more tightly under a siege that blocks power, water, food, medicine, and all other humanitarian aid. The only word for what we are watching unfold is genocide.
I am the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. I do not use the word genocide lightly. When a state constructs an entire people as subhuman and dangerous, and uses that ideology to justify their mass execution and displacement, then no other word suffices. The israeli government has been unambiguous that this is their intention. israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant declared on October 9th: “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” We are seeing the Netanyahu government’s fascist ideology lead where fascism always leads.
As americans, we have a responsibility not to stay silent. The united states bankrolls israel’s military operations with over $3 billion in aid annually, and President Biden has already pledged billions of dollars more in military aid this week. It is in the Biden Administration’s power to stop this genocide before it’s too late; unfortunately, they seem to have no interest in doing so. israel is a proxy state of the u.s. military apparatus. Our government cares more about holding onto their “foothold in the Middle East” than averting the ethnic cleansing of over 2 million people.
For those of us who are Jewish, the responsibility to speak out is even greater. Our grief and our trauma is being weaponized in real time to justify these atrocities. At last Friday’s Chicago City Council session, I heard leaders from the Jewish community compare the October 7th attacks on israel to the Holocaust. Let me be clear: I am horrified by the deaths of those 1,400 israelis, most of them civilians, and by the kidnapping of hundreds more who remain hostage. That horror is part of why I am speaking out against the israeli government’s actions. I know that violence and death on both sides will continue as long as the Palestinian people are held under an apartheid regime. Justice for Palestine is the only path toward peace, the only way to prevent further mass death.
I want to return to this comparison to the Holocaust. It is vitally important that we never forget the Shoah, and that we hold onto the lessons of that terrible chapter of history. “Never again” is not just a slogan. When we flatten our memory of the Shoah into “Jews were killed,” without asking why, we obfuscate the real historical forces that lead to genocide, hindering our ability to prevent genocide from happening again. The deaths of those israelis were not part of an ongoing genocide; they were a particularly devastating attack in an ongoing conflict. What is happening in Gaza, however, is genocide. It takes careful and serious study of history to understand the difference.
I am using the strongest language I can because I don’t know what else to do in a moment as dark as this one. If you choose to stay silent about what is happening in Gaza, history will look on you exactly as it looks on those who stayed silent during other genocides, including the Shoah.
I know that there are many in the Jewish community right now who, looking at the devastation on both sides, have conflicting feelings. Some of us even have friends and relatives who were killed or taken captive. To my community I say: you do not have to excuse the deaths of israeli civilians in order to call for a ceasefire. The continued buildup of the israeli military apparatus, the continued oppression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, will not keep israelis safe, much less Jews in the diaspora. The Netanyahu government wants war. What do you want? Do you want safety and peace for the Jewish people? Then you must do everything in your power to call for a ceasefire now. And if, up until now, you have avoided looking directly at the uncomfortable facts of israeli war crimes and israeli apartheid, you must face them. Until there is justice for Palestine—until there is an end to occupation, apartheid, forced displacement, and ethnic cleansing—there will never be peace in the land.
To those who want to speak out against what is happening in Gaza, but are afraid of being labeled antisemitic, let me be the first to give you my permission as a Jew to speak as loudly as you can. I implore you to take antisemitism seriously enough not to let it be used as a political football by warmongers. The subjugation and ethnic cleansing of any people is a threat to marginalized people everywhere. Your silence does not keep me safe.
You must look at what is happening, and you must pay attention to how it makes you feel. Do not turn away from these feelings because they are politically inconvenient. There is a part of each of us that understands that all people deserve to live with dignity, safety, and freedom. When we dismiss that human part of ourselves—the part that cries out against atrocities, against the death of innocents—we open wide the gates for fascism.
Reader, you must do everything in your power to shift the political landscape. We must put maximum pressure on the u.s. government to acknowledge israeli war crimes and cease all military funding to israel. This week, the u.s. was the sole veto on a UN Security Council resolution that would have called for a ceasefire. We cannot tolerate this. We cannot stand idly by while the united states enables israel to commit genocide. We must act.
Let me end with the words of my trans Jewish ancestor, Leslie Feinberg: I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Arab and Muslim people around the world in the battle against the real axis of evil: the White House, Pentagon and Justice Department. And with every breath and every sinew, I fight for Palestinian liberation.