by Haviva Ner-David
(Kibbutz Hannaton, Israel JTA) — One of my son’s close friends was fatally wounded fighting Hamas in Gaza this week. Yair Nafusi was his name. He would have been 21 next month. He was born on Hanukkah, thus his parents chose the name Yair, to “light up.” Indeed, he lit up many lives.
As we said goodbye to Yair’s physical presence and buried his body, I felt deep reverence and gratitude to this young man who gave his life to protect me and the more than 1,000 people standing around his grave, as well as the diversity of people living in this country and Jews around the world. They count on Israel to be a safe haven. Especially in times like these. Violent anti-Jew hatred is very much alive.
The Oct. 7 “Black Sabbath” Hamas massacre triggered a deep fear for our survival as Jews — and justifiably so. What reinforced our fear was the hailing of that massacre by much of the world, including the progressive (even Jewish) left, as a necessary step towards “freeing Palestine.”
Like many of the thousands of victims of this massacre (some who died, some who were wounded, and some who will suffer trauma for the rest of their lives) and of the almost 250 hostages taken by Hamas, I am an activist who believes in a vision of Jews and Palestinians living on this land in partnership and peace. I devote much time and energy towards building a shared society among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis, especially in the Galilee, where I live. And I continue to believe in this vision.
I also believe terror and war are not the solution to the ongoing conflict. Only once we all (Palestinians and Jews) recognize one another’s suffering, acknowledge the truth in both our narratives, and take responsibility for the conflict and its solution, will we be able to have a true and lasting peace. I recognize Israel’s contribution to this conflict, and I hold our current government partly responsible for the ‘“success” of Hamas’ attack, although certainly not for its brutality.
The events that have unfolded since Oct. 7 have been eye-opening. My work building Palestinian-Jewish coexistence has always assumed partnership: a belief in the humanity and rights of both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples. That is why my novel, “Hope Valley,” about the friendship between a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli woman, is told from their alternating points of view.
And yet, when I watch the pro-Palestinian protests by “progressives” from London to New York to Washington, I see activists crossing a line from struggling for peace and Palestinian rights into promoting a hateful, terrifying, dangerous anti-Jewish agenda.
It is a line crossed when they blame the conflict on Israel and Jews alone; when they call Hamas “freedom fighters” who were justified in using barbaric violence to achieve their goals; when they distort the complicated history and present reality of Israel-Palestine into a black-and-white story of white colonialist Jews invading Palestine to commit genocide on an indigenous Palestinian population.
It’s the same dangerous line crossed by those who say innocent Israeli citizens deserve to be butchered, burned, raped, maimed; who glorify Hamas as a progressive humanitarian group when its covenant specifically calls for wiping Israel and the Jewish people off the earth; who call Israel’s retaliation against Hamas “genocide” — as if the IDF’s intention is to wipe out the entire Palestinian nation.
Hamas is no good for Palestinians and no good for Jews. It wants a fundamentalist Muslim dictatorship on the land from the river to the sea, devoid of all Jews. And Christians. And LGBTQ folk. It is no good for anyone who believes in democracy. It is simply no good for humanity. What Israel faces now in Gaza is a moral dilemma. Hamas wanted the IDF to retaliate so it could make Israel look bad. It worked. What Israel is doing is bad — killing thousands of innocent people, including children. But not evil. Hamas is evil. And while so many across the globe who promote Palestinian rights don’t want to see the difference, I do.
I do spiritual companion work for clients around the world, including liberal rabbinical students and rabbis. They report among some of their peers a lack of knowledge of historical and political facts about Israel-Palestine, as well as about anti-Jewish tropes and their underlying theories, that concerns me immensely. I grew up Orthodox Jewish Zionist in New York, where the Palestinian narrative was omitted from my education. That was highly problematic. But so is teaching only the Palestinian narrative, or not balancing the progressive world’s bias towards the Palestinian narrative with the Jewish one. Future Jewish leaders especially need to understand both narratives, and not simply go with the tide of the times.
Human rights include Jewish human rights. It is possible to believe in human rights for both Jews and Palestinians. It is possible to cry for the innocent Palestinian lives lost in this war (from Israeli bombs, Hamas and Islamic Jihad missiles and Hamas using their own citizens to protect their terrorist cells) while believing in Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’ attempt at the annihilation of Israel and all Jews.
It is even possible to demand from Palestinians truthful examination of their leaders’ culpability.
Devoting time and energy towards building Palestinian-Jewish partnership and fighting for equality, justice and peace, I have had to hold many truths. I have had to find a way to deal with feelings of guilt over Jewish Israelis’ part in the injustices inflicted upon innocent Palestinians (blame that must also be shared with Arab countries and Palestinian leaders) without losing my sense of self, self-respect and a belief in my right to live here, and even exist.
It has not been simple, but it is possible. I expect my Palestinian and progressive Jewish counterparts to go through a similar process. Some have, but not all, and unfortunately the voices of those who have not are reverberating loudly throughout the world (ironically, less so in Israel, where advocates for Palestinian rights and a lasting peace more often hear and heed the voices of the “other” side).
I do believe if we remove Hamas and replace our leaders — the Palestinian and Israeli leaders who stand in the way — with worthy ones who will talk and be willing to compromise, we can build a lasting peace. Then no more soldiers like Yair, or victims of terror, or casualties of war, will have to pay the price for our inability to do so.