Palestinians Are People, Too
I have never been to Gaza, but I have made several Facebook friends there over the years. I have real-life friends in San Francisco who have relatives in Gaza and the West Bank, and I have mentored young Palestinian English-language writers.
Everyone I’ve met IRL or online has been intelligent and caring. They live in a prison under total blockade and may express anger and grief, but almost never hatred of their jailers. All they want is for their children to have freedom and a decent life.
At this moment (Nov. 7 2023,) I don’t know if they’re alive or dead. Their relatives in the Bay Area don’t know either, until a loved one’s name shows up on a list of victims of Israel bombings.
I don’t recognize the Palestinians I love in the hateful caricatures corporate media presents of them. As prize-winning British journalist Jonathan Cook wrote a few days ago, “The media’s uncritical promotion of Israel’s “Hamas as savages” narrative has achieved something sinister. It has been used to demonize a whole people, presenting them either as barbarians or as the willing protectors and enablers of barbarism.”
The Israeli government never stops their dehumanizing rhetoric about Palestinians. They may talk about Hamas, but Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the whole population of Gaza is responsible for the October 7 attacks on Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, called Palestinians “human animals.”
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) release videos calling on Israelis to “Finish them off and don’t leave anyone behind. Erase them, their families, mothers and children. These animals can no longer live.” Western media repeats such genocidal rhetoric. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Israel is entitled to do whatever it takes to uproot this evil, depraved culture that resides next to it.”
The fact that media and government can talk like that about the young mothers I know horrifies me. My friend Rina, (names changed and adult pictures withheld to protect them from reprisals) has three children age 10, 8, and 5. I set up a Go Fund Me for her a few years ago and have seen her children grow in the pictures she sends. She shows us pictures of life in Gaza, always with good wishes and prayers for the people reading her on Facebook.
I’m always amazed at how many donations Rina receives from around the world. I think it’s because she makes friends with the donors, sends good pictures and stories, and helps her neighbors with the money she receives. Thanks to the Israeli blockade, there are no jobs, so everyone in Gaza needs money, but Rina keeps their 2-room apartment clean and the kids always look beautiful.
I haven’t heard from her in two weeks now. I’m scared.
Ahed, another internet friend, is a nurse, as am I. I connected with her in 2018, when she was acting as a medic on the Great March of Return, a nonviolent daily protest near the border fence. IDF snipers reacted by shooting the protestors from behind armored vehicles, sometimes to wound and sometimes to kill.
According to the UN, the IDF killed 214 Palestinians, including 46 children during the March of Return. Over 36,000, including nearly 8,800 children were injured. (Remember that the next time someone asks, ‘Why don’t the Palestinians do nonviolence?’)
Ahed was out there every day bandaging wounds, helping people stay hydrated and getting them to hospital when needed. A lot of her work was ongoing wound care. But her own health suffered; her husband was shot in the leg and couldn’t walk for some weeks, and she struggled to care for family. When the bombing started on October 9, Ahed took in relatives and neighbors whose homes had been destroyed. She had 39 people living in her home the last I heard.
Another young mother for some reason seems to have better internet access, and she wishes me Good Morning, How are you, most days. She says she can’t sleep for the noise of the planes and bombs. She says everyone’s food and water are running out and asks ‘Why can’t we have peace?’
Those who answer such questions with ‘Ask Hamas why you can’t have peace’ are ignorant. Israel has supported Hamas for years. Hamas helps Israel keep order in the prison camp of Gaza. They can be brutal, sometimes executing their own people, but they keep the lid on for Israel. Meanwhile, the IDF and armed settlers have gone on a killing rampage in the West Bank, where Hamas barely exists.
This is not a war against Hamas. The people can’t have peace because Israel wants their land and wants them gone.
Glowing reports on Palestinians as people are easy to find. All my friends who have been there have such stories. Journalist Chris Hedges posted a video called The Miracle of Kindness, reporting how they and other Arabs helped him survive during wars that Americans had started. After a visit to Palestine, journalist Kim Iversen called Palestinians “a group of generous and warm people being persecuted for living on land Israel wants.”
Iversen said she had had generally positive views about Israel before her trip, but afterward was outraged and deeply depressed about the oppression she had witnessed. “I couldn’t turn on the light or get out of bed for days,” she wrote.
I saw a video today of an American nurse, Emily Callahan, who has been working in Gaza the last 26 days and has now been evacuated. She tearfully told Anderson Cooper she wants to go back and help the “most incredible, heroic people I have ever met. My heart is in Gaza.”
Palestinians and Jews are so alike
One of the sad and ironic things about this horrible conflict is how much the two groups have in common. Both love education and value scholarship. Both are big on cooking and will share food with anyone who comes to them, in need or not. Many in both groups are intensely creative and can be very funny.
Neither group as a whole is especially religious. The founders of Israel were mostly atheist Jews; the Palestinian resistance was secular until Hamas took over in Gaza, and even they say they don’t intend a theocratic state like Iran.
You may have seen pictures like these of Palestinians dressed like Santa for Christmas. A lot of Palestinians are Christian. The founder of Christianity, St. Paul, and its Messiah Jesus of Nazareth were Palestinian Jews. Both groups have experienced generations of oppression and been driven from place to place, and tend to succeed and add to the societies in which they wind up.
This is not a religious war, and it’s not about hostages or revenge for Hamas’ October 7 atrocity. Those are cover stories. It’s about driving Palestinians out of Gaza, to the desert or to their death.
Most Israelis are not doing this violence. Just like Palestinians, Israelis are people, even if some like PM Netanyahu don’t act like it. Neither side deserves to be massacred in their sleep. The war needs to stop.
I ask readers to call their congress people at 202–224–3121 and the President at 202–456–1414 and tell them to demand a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and release of prisoners now. The massacre would stop in a day if the US demanded it, because we’re supplying the weapons. Please save these lovely people. I want my friends alive, fed and housed.
Thanks for reading. Please comment, share, or repost, with or without attribution. Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook , my Substack community Make Earth Sacred Again, or my blog The Inn by the Healing Path. Hire me for freelancing, editing, or tutoring on Linked In