Today marks two months since Hamas’ terrifying massacre in Israel, which has since precipitated the ongoing war in Gaza and cost thousands more Palestinians to lose their lives, homes, and security. Many Israelis are still reeling from the loss of loved ones whose lives were brutally and unjustifiably taken while nervously awaiting the fates of hostages remaining in Gaza. Every day, Palestinians in Gaza are being forced from their homes, exposed to a myriad of dangers – not the least of which include aerial bombings, a ground invasion from the Israeli army, food and water shortages, widespread disease caused by the destruction of public infrastructure, as well as internet and electricity blackouts, amongst others. Over 15,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7th, a majority of them women, children, and elders. Thousands more have been irreparably injured and lost loved ones, homes, and so much more.
Though it may be tempting to treat the horrors of the last two months as isolated incidents, this conflict has long and complex historical roots. No single written statement, and certainly not this one, can do justice to that history in a way where everyone’s experiences will be sufficiently seen, heard, understood, and valued. Instead, I ask for your grace in recognizing that this context is being shared to frame a specific message about what’s being lost in this moment: our collective humanity.
To borrow from Fearless Future’s Hanna Naima McCloskey, “This post does not express what this subject demands. Please do not fill in the blanks with blanket assumptions if something in this short space has not been explicitly expressed.”
Personally, as a non-resident citizen of Israel, I have felt paralyzed in trying to articulate a personal and professional response to the loss of life, humanity, and empathy exhibited both in the Middle East and around the world. Like you, I am a human being with hopes, fears, doubts, and a whole range of emotions that these events have stirred up. Like so many others, I’m trying my best to build a more just and equitable world for everyone – a world that feels increasingly out of reach when violence, death, and terror loom large.
Part of what has made this moment so challenging – beyond the horrific loss of life and safety - is just how easy it can be to dehumanize and pathologize the ‘other side.’ Every day I feel inundated by the widespread, selective dehumanization and othering happening on social media, on college campuses, and in our workplaces, both in the United States and around the globe. And while I can’t change what’s happened, the barrage of horrors reminds me, again and again, that people are not their governments. Let me say that again:
People are not their governments.
Reducing the centuries-long historical, cultural, political, religious, and interpersonal complexity of what has happened into “Israel and Palestine” overlooks not only the diversity of experiences and perspectives of those directly impacted by the atrocities of the last few months (as well as centuries), but conflates our individual humanity with the actions of the political entities that purportedly represent them.
There is real danger in operating this way because when people are seen solely as the extension of their governments, we erase their humanity. We transform them from feeling and thinking beings with their own dreams, gifts, relationships, achievements, and emotions into political entities that can be judged and dehumanized. To justify and legitimize our positions, whatever they may be, we must position ‘the other’ (whoever they may be) as deserving of the fate that befalls them. And in so doing, we distance ourselves from the very humanity - including our own - that we claim to cherish and advocate for.
Drawing on the wisdom of john a. powell, Director of the Othering and Belonging Institute, we must find ways to “turn towards one another rather than turn on one another.” A first step in that process is to remember that human beings and governments (though comprised of people) are not one in the same. If we continue to treat people as representatives of the political entities and labels we have applied to them, we forgo desperately needed opportunities to connect as human beings. If every person were to be treated as an extension of the political entities that represent them, no individual would be free from scrutiny. We are thus all vulnerable to dehumanization. I, for one, would not want the track record of the American government, historic or current, to be the litmus test for how others treat me or value my life. Not all Palestinians (or Muslims) support the actions of Hamas. Not all Israelis (or Jews) support the actions of the Israeli government. In each polity, there are as many perspectives as there are people. And NONE of them is fully reflected by the actions of their governments.
Let me be clear. As an organization, IDEAS Generation fervently believes in everyone’s inherent worth and common humanity - for our universal right to live with dignity and safety. Just as the Inclusion Allies Coalition articulated in a recent statement, we also believe that "the targeting of innocent people, especially children and seniors, and the notion of visiting collective punishment on a civilian population anywhere is unacceptable. We fully support the development of a process that leads to the cessation of hostilities and can allow Palestinians and Israelis alike to live without fear and deprivation."
At the same time, we caution ourselves and others from selectively applying our empathy and thereby foreclosing opportunities to build understanding and relationships with those on the ‘other side.’ Perceived ‘innocence’ of individuals, evaluated through the conduct of their government, cannot be the measure for support. We must stop negating the humanity of the other, lest we lose sight of our own in the process.
If you feel you must choose a side, I hope it will be the side of humanity.