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  • samchris51

How to resist dehumanization

The Ides of March came into my life a little prematurely. On March 4th, I got word that a close friend in Buenos Aires was dying. On March 5th, I learned that my maternal cousin in Israel had passed away unexpectedly. On March 6th, I flew to Buenos Aires, hoping to see my friend before she passed. I didn't make it.

I was in Buenos Aires for five days. I attended my friend's funeral. While in Buenos Aires, I did not pay any attention to the news; I was not compulsively checking news items about Israel or Gaza. I wanted to be 100% present in the time and space I was in. It was good to be there despite the sadness of the occasion. I was able to spend time with old childhood friends in the city where I spent the first 13 years of my life.

I came home to Chicago on Tuesday of this week. I resumed my obsessive scouring of the news about Israel and Gaza from a variety of sources. Within 48 hours, I was aware again of the low-level chronic anger that I have carried in my body since October 7th.

Since coming home, the Jonathan Glazer speech he gave when he accepted the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for The Zone of Interest has been the focus of much of what I have read and listened to. I am shocked at the attacks on his short speech by Jews, both Israeli and diaspora Jews. I had not heard his speech, nor was I aware of it until returning to Chicago, so I had to look it up.

For those who might still be unaware of his speech, let me quote the key controversial phrase; "Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims, this dehumanization, how do we resist?"

His words resonate with me. As many of you know, I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors whose experiences during wartime in Poland marked them for the rest of their lives. Both my parents were haunted by what they witnessed: the suffering of others whom they could not help. Their experiences have shaped me into a passionate social justice activist incapable of turning her head in the face of perceived injustice. This compulsion has not always served me well, nor has it always made me an effective advocate. I may have won a battle on more than one occasion only to lose the war quickly after that.

I believe that Israel is conducting its war against Gaza in a way that is consistent with a policy that has disregarded Palestinians from the outset. In the immediate aftermath of the brutal Hamas attack on Israel, Israeli politicians began using dehumanizing language to describe Hamas and Gazans. "We are fighting human animals declared Yoav Gallant, Israel's defense minister, when he ordered a complete siege of Gaza. I was at my cousin's house in Tel Aviv, still trying to grasp the extent of what happened earlier that morning, when I heard his words. Similar words had been used against my family members in Poland by the Nazis. Jews were not humans. They were vermin. I knew what that language implied and what acts it would justify. I could not wrap my head around how those who had been victims of such thinking were now invoking it against others.

That is why I rage and weep.

It has been the people of Gaza who have disproportionately suffered the consequences of this war, first, through an unrelenting bombing campaign that destroyed most of the strip's civilian infrastructure, including hospitals as well as housing stock, displaced about 2 million Palestinians, and killed 30,000 most of whom were women and children. At the same time, Israel has used security concerns and the possibility of Hamas appropriating humanitarian aid as a pretext for preventing adequate assistance from reaching the strip. In addition, Israel has undermined both the Gaza police and UNRWA, claiming that they were Hamas collaborators. This, in turn, has left a vacuum in Gaza that has allowed chaos to thrive and prevented the efficient distribution of what little aid gets through the complicated process of security checks to which all aid into Gaza has to submit. The result of Israeli actions in Gaza has created a humanitarian crisis, and the world is seeing images of malnourished and starving children in Gaza.

Most Israelis either don't want to acknowledge the reality of what is happening in Gaza or, if they do accept it, they think that what is happening is unfortunate but necessary. Some deny the extent of the destruction and severity of the humanitarian crisis, arguing that Hamas is manufacturing it.

The Israelis I know are good people; they are family members or married to family members or friends of family members. They are not monsters who I can dismiss. On the contrary, they are kind, generous, loving people who I believe are simply overwhelmed by the enormity of the immense violence, agony, and loss they have suffered and which continues to surround them.

Israelis blame Palestinians for their losses, and Palestinians blame Israelis. I am not Palestinian; I am of Jewish heritage. I am of the Israeli Jewish tribe, and therefore, it is the actions of my tribe that impact me most. It pains me to hear family members assert their belief that they can only survive if Israel annihilates Palestinian life in Gaza. No, they do not argue in favor of ethnic cleansing or genocide but rather focus their attention on Hamas as the manifestation of what they fear. They cling to the idea that they can destroy Hamas, and no cost is too high.

What they fail to see is the impact that this is having on Israel, on Israelis, that by refusing to acknowledge the devastation that they are causing in Gaza, they are betraying the moral claims that Zionism once made to create a utopian state. Most Israelis don't want to look at the devastation in Gaza because they do not want to recognize what that says about them or who they have become.

I am a therapist who specializes in trauma. Over the years, I have treated both perpetrators and victims of trauma. In my experience, virtually all perpetrators of trauma have been victims of trauma who are unable to recognize that they have transitioned from victim to perpetrator. Numerous complex psychological mechanisms prevent them from seeing that truth to protect themselves from the devastation such knowledge would cause them. I see the same phenomena operating on a macro level in Israeli society, and it fills me with sadness.

I am glad that someone of the stature of Jonathan Glazer dared to stand up and challenge Jews around the world to see what Israel, the country that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust and is home to many and whom many more see as their haven, is doing to others it perceives as a threat. He joins many others inside and outside Israel who see that there is only one righteous way toward sustainable peace. Israelis, like Palestinians, must recognize how the suffering of one is the root of the other's suffering. Israelis need to find a way to acknowledge the legitimacy of Palestinian claims.

Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Chair of the Department of Jewish Philosophy and Talmud at Tel Aviv University, has written that; "For Israel's rising jingoistic, messianic religious right, the war in Gaza is about recovering pride and projecting power… This is not an authentic expression of Jewish tradition but rather a new type of Judaism, one that glorifies power and scorns the weak and needy. It is a reversal of the Jewish traditions I have dedicated my life to learning and teaching."

I was not raised Jewish; I was raised Catholic. I have tried to learn about the teachings of the Jewish faith and, not surprisingly, have found that Christ drew on his Jewish faith for many of his teachings. When Christ calls on his followers "to love thy neighbor as yourself," he is quoting an ancient Jewish scripture: Leviticus 19:18. "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

I hope and pray that the Jewish State of Israel finds its way to the aspirational principles it was founded on.

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