Hearing the fear and pain of his Palestinians friends and colleagues, LIEL MAGHEN finds it’s possible to feel solidarity with both sides.
Since the horrifying events of October 7, we are living in the fog of pain and trauma. The air is blurry, heavy, with no visibility of what the path ahead is holding for us. The public sphere has changed and relationships have been transformed dramatically.
With Israeli friends, I saw the impact of the destruction in their villages and see others working hard to release the hostages.
Terrible news continued to arrive with more bodies identified, including well-known peace builder Vivian Silver. Within this pain and with the ongoing criticism of Israel from around the world, I have also seen Israeli society harnessed in support for each other. Somehow, out of the horrors, Israeli society has shown solidarity on various levels, slowly taking steps towards dealing with the impact and forge a path out of this crisis. Volunteering, supporting, fundraising – the Israeli public and the Jewish diaspora have generated mutual hope in these harsh days.
But over the month that has passed, the public sphere for my Palestinian partners and colleagues has been completely changed into one of fear and uncertainty.
I spoke with Tareq, founder of an important environmental centre that reaches thousands of local residents. With tears in his eyes he told me that the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem are completely shut down. People are scared to walk the streets for fear of being attacked by the police or right-wing extremists. The fear in the streets permeates shared spaces, causing longstanding working relationships and partnerships to end. Harsh checkpoint policies create unbearable travel times, leading staff to stay away from their workplace and social ties in Jerusalem. For years, Tareq worked side-by-side with residents from the Jewish neighbourhoods of the city. Such polarisation is something he never expected.
As I speak with more friends and colleagues, I understand that they avoid speaking over the phone about recent events for fear of potential indictments over statements that may be tapped and mistranslated. Arrests and the dismissal of activists and university lecturers for social media posts has produced a fear of sharing their experiences about the war.
My close friend Maysaloun told me that her family is unwilling to discuss the war by phone, while her village in the Galilee was under night-time curfews for several days, imposed by local police. This reminds the Arab community of the military regime that controlled their lives in the past and they are scared that this will be their future. With social media full of Israelis calling for revenge and politicians calling for a second Nakbah, these events are frightening them. With rising violence from settlers in the West Bank, dozens of Palestinians killed and hundreds displaced, this fear has roots in reality.
For my friends from Gaza, their situation is beyond any comprehension. I first manage to get hold of Yousef, who lives in Washington D.C. His family is alive but not safe, trying to find shelter, moving around from one bombing to another. Within this horror, he thanked me for contacting him, as other Israelis have not contacted him, even after a decade of working together and even though he called them on October 8.
I know that for many Israelis and supporters of Israel, such solidarity seems like normalising, balancing or even criticising the Israeli army’s actions. But for me it’s not
Another fellow alum, Majd, posted about the loss of his brother. Yet another colleague, Mohammad, lost his family in an airstrike and another colleague Majed, is trying to get her family, who travelled to Gaza for a wedding on October 5, out. For a month they have moved from building to building, seeking a way out of Gaza. They were twice saved from gunfire in the last moments.
And then there is Haneen, whose building was bombed, and all of her childhood memories lost. Since the war started, she dreams of lost souls, of injured and dead people and how she helps them to cross the gate into the light. She remembers the war of 2014 vividly. The past month has opened that trauma, as she experiences horrible recollections from 2014 on a regular basis.
Hearing these painful experiences from my Palestinian friends, I find myself hesitating, just for a second, in facing their pain. I feel a need to explain, to rationalise, to present reasons for these bombings. A small version of a familiar logic – representing my side of Israel without being compassionate to their suffering.
This is natural when we choose to stand with one side blindly. We tend to think that every morsel of humanisation of “the other” can harm our side. Within this difficult interaction, I remember how speaking with my Palestinian friends brought me rays of light in the utmost darkness of the first days after October 7. I ask myself if I can manage to do the same for them? What would it say about me?
Especially in times of war, I try to answer this not from a place of being right but from a place of hope for a better future. I try to find a way to remember our shared human connection within this violence and polarisation and to find a way to show solidarity across the divide.
Eventually, I see that it gives me a breath of fresh air to be there for my friends. To be sorry for the pain and for the loss, wish it to stop as soon as possible and hope for a better future for all people living in the land.
I know that for many Israelis and supporters of Israel, such solidarity seems like normalising, balancing or even criticising the Israeli army’s actions. But for me it’s not. It is insisting on making contact despite the forces that want us divided and apart. It is about insisting that there is a way out of this violence.
As Mahmoud Darwish wrote in State of Siege:
Me or him
This is how the war begins
But it ends in an embarrassing encounter of
Me and Him
I continue to believe this is the only way to form a better future for us in this country. To remember our shared humanity. For them, as for me, these are the only rays of light through this fog. Finding the connection despite all the violence, is our only way out.
Now it’s my turn.
‘This is Bisan. I’m still alive’: The Gazans reporting from the ground on social media (Haaretz)
On the ground during Israeli bombardment, Gazans such as Bisan Owda and Muhammad Smiry expose the harsh reality of Gaza to the world.