There have been many dark hours in Gaza since war broke out on October 7, but on Friday, that darkness became literal: for 34 hours, internet and phone services were shut down, cutting off Gazans from one another and from the outside world. As the violence continues into a fourth week, we asked writers to share their perspectives on the unfolding crisis from across the globe — from the West Bank to Berlin to New York.
Before October 7, Israel and Gaza had been locked in a bloody equilibrium for about fifteen years. It was, effectively, a permanent state of quasi-war. Israel controlled Gaza’s borders by land, sea, and air, imprisoning its two million-plus residents. Every couple of years, the IDF would respond to the rockets fired by Hamas and other militant factions with aerial bombardments of the Strip. These served as a form of bloodletting, returning casualties many times over, culling resistance leadership and armaments, maintaining a state of immiseration in the Strip, and “restoring deterrence,” as analysts and military leaders often proclaimed. In spite of his bombastic speeches at the United Nations, in which he has made — and then retracted — nuclear threats, Prime Minister Netanyahu avoided direct, prolonged military confrontation with his other regional enemies, namely Iran and Hezbollah, throughout this period.
That regime of control seemed largely sustainable for Israel. For Netanyahu, and for the United States, the conflict was the solution. So long as Israel was fighting a war that was neither too hot nor too cold, its government could gain the benefits — in military funding, in the absence of pressure toward political concessions — of war without the costs of combat. This was manifest in the Israeli policy of “mowing the grass” in Gaza: regular bombing campaigns to destroy infrastructure in the strip and cull Hamas’s military capacity. This policy had the added benefit of revitalizing Hamas’s political popularity. Netanyahu was explicit, at least to members of his party, that propping up Hamas was in the state’s interest insofar as it kept Palestinian secular nationalists, who draw much more international sympathy, out of power. The regular assaults accomplished just that: Hamas tends to lose popularity in Gaza when it has to govern, but gain popularity when it defends against Israeli aggression.
But the sheer scale of the recent Hamas assault, which killed at least 1,400 Israelis, has made Israel’s normal calculus impossible. Its pattern of responding to armed threats with wildly disproportionate violence in the name of deterrence is not quantifiably possible within the quasi-war framework. Imposing a total siege and carpet-bombing civilian infrastructure, which has been the approach so far, will be too nakedly genocidal for even the United States to support beyond the short term, and it will do little to disempower Hamas. Achieving the latter will require a long ground campaign — a real war, not a quasi-war — which risks drawing in regional players, widening the theater of conflict and further destabilizing the state. It may also bog down the Israeli military for years.
The other option — and the principal demand coming from the left — is to de-escalate the conflict and negotiate the release of the roughly 200 prisoners and captives held by Hamas. The organization has indicated a willingness to work out a ceasefire deal that would return civilian hostages. Families of some hostages have also endorsed a deal, but negotiations have stalled. The problem, for Netanyahu, is political. The Israeli public blames him for the security failures that enabled Hamas’s attack; in recent polls, his approval ratings have plunged. Some have also criticized his support of religious extremists and the illegal settlement movement. If he were to de-escalate now, he would likely bear public responsibility for the crisis without achieving any military objectives. While allowing the hostages to die would be politically devastating, so would be granting the concessions likely necessary for their release.
So far, Netanyahu and his war cabinet have pressed forward with a ground invasion. The hope, apparently, is that with enough violence, the status quo ante can be salvaged. But this is a fantasy underwritten by vengeance and bloodlust. For now, the bombardment of Gaza has garnered near-unconditional backing from the United States and European governments, but citizens around the world are sounding the alarm on the devastating humanitarian consequences, and mass dissent is brewing. The Biden administration’s blanket support for Israel’s military tactics is wavering on the question of a ground invasion. It’s not at all clear that the Netanyahu regime will survive this crisis. Regardless of who is at the helm of the Israeli state, they will eventually be forced to contend with the fact that there are no military solutions capable of restoring the old equilibrium.
Even if Netanyahu de-escalates this war, he or his successor will need to take a categorically different approach to repressing the Palestinians of Gaza. This paradigm shift will bring about a broad range of changes to the regional and international order, most of which are not yet predictable. What is already evident is that, from the points of view of the United States and Israel, the tools of the old paradigm are no longer capable of responding to Palestinian resistance. The Israelis and their allies have not yet reckoned with this shift in terrain. For the most part, Palestinians and the solidarity movement behind their struggle have not yet either. We have all been humbled by history. A new paradigm will emerge — but for now, we remain on the edge.
— Dylan Saba, civil rights attorney and writer based in Queens, New York
On October 7, Hamas militants breached the $1.1 billion border fence — featuring seismic sensors, automated guard towers with remote-controlled machine guns, and hundreds of cameras and alarms — that cordons off the Gaza Strip from Israel in 29 different places. Small drones bombed state-of-the art surveillance systems, blindsiding the military personnel on a nearby intelligence base and allowing a thousand gunmen to lay siege to southern Israeli towns, taking 220 hostages and killing more than 1,400 people. It would take the rest of the army — which had dispatched many of its soldiers to the West Bank to protect illegal Israeli settlements — hours to reach the besieged communities. The heads of Israel’s security establishment themselves admitted that their inability to prevent the atrocities constituted a massive intelligence failure.
Israel’s military has leveraged Gaza as a symbol of its technological prowess ever since it imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on the roughly 140-square-mile strip in 2007. As the tenuous promises of peace brokered during the Oslo process faded, buzzwords like “cyber” and “high-tech” replaced shaky commitments to a two-state solution. Over the past sixteen years, battle-tested predator drones, signal-jamming black boxes, reconnaissance satellites, and fighter jets have been joined by automated drone swarms, A.I.-augmented tanks, and spyware.
Supercomputing algorithms and generative A.I. were said to provide the army with “surgical” precision and to minimize casualties on all sides. Generals assured the world that faster drones, better cameras, and smarter border walls could effectively quell regional violence. New technologies were purported to reduce the number of troops deployed to combat and limit the number of civilians killed in military operations. Military leadership bragged that A.I. could pinpoint and destroy more targets in a day than entire units of soldiers could in a year. All the while, the Israeli government marched progressively to the right: ministers called for entire Palestinian towns to be wiped off the map, and bombardments of the Strip became almost annual events.
The image proffered by Israel’s military of a sleek, efficient, and humane war machine has always been at odds with the reality of life in Gaza — and has served as a distraction from what Tareq Baconi has called a “violent equilibrium” in the region. Israel’s blockade deprives Gaza of sufficient electricity, gasoline, and medical supplies, and isolates millions of Palestinians from the global economy. Unemployment rates in Gaza are among the world’s highest, and unending war only compounds this economic catastrophe. Israeli airstrikes killed more than 3,000 Palestinians in the strip between 2008 and the start of this month, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands more were displaced between 2008 and 2022, their homes damaged in attack after attack.
If, before October 7, the IDF was touting innovations that supposedly made its wars on Gaza less bloody, any pretense of technological efficiency and humanitarian restraint has now dissolved. Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “crush and destroy” Hamas, Israeli airstrikes have killed over 8,000 Palestinians and pulverized entire neighborhoods in more than two weeks of bombardment. Netanyahu announced in mid-October that Israel “will not allow humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicines from our territory to the Gaza Strip.” Israel has stopped many critical supplies from entering the Strip since the onslaught began; hundreds of thousands of people could die from starvation or dehydration. Rida Sahyoun, a forty-year-old mother of two from the a-Nisr neighborhood of Gaza, told the Israeli human-rights organization B’tselem that “Gaza has been completely transformed.” She added, “The roads, the buildings, nothing is the same as it was, and all the good memories I’d had have disappeared.”
As algorithmically determined precision strikes give way to a policy of widespread destruction in Gaza with no end in sight, the bloodshed simply highlights the obvious: investments in violence will always yield more violence, no matter how advanced an army’s technological arsenal. The atrocities of the past few weeks make it clear that, without a lasting political solution, civilians across Palestine and Israel will be the ones who continue to pay the most brutal price.
— Sophia Goodfriend, PhD candidate at Duke University who reports on automated surveillance and digital rights from Tel Aviv
When I was sixteen, driving with my boyfriend around our California suburb, he said to me in Hebrew, “Our lives would just be easier if Palestinians didn’t exist. That’s just true.” This statement, that “our lives” — Israeli, Jewish — would be better if a whole nation of people had never existed or somehow ceased to exist, was said casually, calmly, to pass the time on a boring afternoon.
In the community in which we both grew up, a pocket of upwardly mobile Israeli immigrants, such explicit anti-Palestinian utterances were not controversial. While I stayed in the U.S. after high school, the rest of my cohort, including this boyfriend, returned to Israel to serve in the IDF. In the past few weeks — since Hamas brutally massacred 1,400 Israelis and took 240 hostages, and since Israel began to murder Gazans at a scale impossible to comprehend — I have found myself thinking of what he said that day, and how it speaks to the role of Jewish Israelis in the struggle for freedom and democracy between the river and the sea.
For the past couple of years, I have been organizing against Israeli apartheid alongside other Israeli anti-Zionists in the U.S. Participating in anti-apartheid groups before October 7, many of us bracketed our Israeli citizenship and families as irrelevant or inconvenient factors. Now, we feel an urgency to speak out against apartheid as Israelis, publicly and collectively.
Within Israel, there is a strong and unprecedented distrust of the government and anger at its failures — especially its abandonment of the hostages — across the political spectrum, which gives the anti-apartheid left an opening to introduce an alternative vision. But opponents of the ongoing military operation can only criticize the government at great personal risk, with Palestinian citizens of Israel facing the most danger for voicing dissent. Outside Gaza, politicians, racist mobs and West Bank settlers and soldiers spread political repression and fear. Police are cracking down on joint Jewish-Palestinian initiatives. Jewish Israelis have been beaten, threatened, arrested, fired, and sanctioned for criticizing the government.
Here in the U.S., anti-Zionist Israelis face minimal backlash. Some Israelis contend that it is easy for us to call for freedom from the comfort of our American homes. They’re not wrong. It is precisely because it is easier for us that we protest not only against genocide in Gaza, but also against the nationalist ideology that justifies it. Yet I sometimes find it hard not to give in to the cynicism shared by some on the American left who disregard Israeli leftists because they assume that change will never come from within Israel. Others are nihilistic, refusing to imagine a day after apartheid. Anti-apartheid Israelis are crucial to the struggle for a free Palestine: beyond solidarity, we have personal stakes in ending apartheid. We are in this for the long haul, because we are motivated by deep, endless love for our families and communities. We believe that Jews and Palestinians must stay on the land. Long before October 7, apartheid made Israel a dangerous place for us all. Regardless of the shape of military alliances and leftist coalitions, we will continue working against a regime that doesn’t value Palestinian life.
On Friday, Israel unleashed its most intense air attack and cut all communication with Gaza. As we rally for ceasefire and a hostage exchange, I try to hold onto hope for a postcolonial Palestine — which does not mean calling for the death or displacement of Jews, but instead envisioning a place where my loved ones can live safely and thrive. I hold onto hope for a secular and democratic polity, with equal rights for all residents, a Palestinian right of return, and true transitional justice that accounts for both the Nakba and the ongoing violence. When I shout for a “free Palestine” with my Israeli peers, this is what I mean.
— Hadas Binyamini, doctoral candidate at New York University who writes about Jewish politics, religious conservatives, and social movements in American history
Many college-age newcomers to the movement for Palestine quickly become familiar with Canary Mission, a website dedicated to doxxing students and faculty who have voiced support for the Palestinian liberation struggle. The purpose of such a blacklist is twofold: first, to jeopardize the future job prospects of college students; and second, to produce a climate of surveillance and intimidation that encourages self-censorship.
Though the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S. has historically relied on nonviolent tactics such as advocacy, protests, and civil disobedience, it has nevertheless faced criminalization and efforts to redefine solidarity as terrorism. In recent years, Zionist activists have responded to the campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel with hundreds of bills across dozens of states that seek to chip away at the constitutional right to engage in political boycotts. They have also pushed to legally redefine anti-Semitism to include criticism of Zionism and Israel. Such efforts not only promote the dangerous conflation of Jewish identity with the colonial state ideology of Zionism — they also aim to render the Palestinian historical narrative definitionally illegitimate.
Three weeks into Israel’s campaign of retribution against the Palestinians of Gaza, which has already taken over 8,000 lives, anti-Palestinian fear-mongering in the U.S. has never been worse. Student organizers at Harvard and Columbia have been targeted by Zionist groups, their names and photos plastered on trucks circling the campuses. One law firm rescinded job offers to three law students who voiced solidarity with Palestinians. Starbucks sued its workers’ union for trademark infringement after the union tweeted in support of Palestine. Senator Marco Rubio introduced a resolution calling on Biden to revoke visas from alleged “terrorist sympathizers,” while Senator Josh Hawley proposed a resolution smearing student activists as “antisemitic” and “morally contemptible.” (The former was blocked by Democrats, but the latter passed on October 26.) In keeping with the bipartisan consensus of unconditional support for Israel, the Biden White House has dismissed calls for a ceasefire as “repugnant.”
The same pattern of repression and criminalization holds in Palestine itself, but the consequences for civil resistance are far greater. For decades, Palestinian disobedience and protest has been met with violent suppression and deadly force. In 1976, when Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrated against land expropriations in the Galilee region, Israeli police responded by shooting six protesters dead. During the First Intifada, between 1987 and 1993, Palestinians took to the streets in overwhelmingly nonviolent demonstrations against Israel’s military occupation. The Israeli authorities responded with a policy of “force, might, and beatings,” and ultimately killed over a thousand Palestinians. Even the most innocuous forms of protest have garnered an apoplectic response: in 1988, after the residents of the village of Beit Sahour purchased eighteen cows to break their dependence on Israeli dairy products, the army declared the animals a threat to Israel’s security and tried to confiscate them.
In subsequent years, the criminalization of Palestinian civil disobedience and national aspirations has continued. In 2018, the poet Dareen Tatour was placed under house arrest for “inciting violence” against the state in poems she posted on Facebook. That same year, Palestinians in Gaza staged the Great March of Return, a series of peaceful weekly demonstrations along the Gaza boundary fence, in which protesters sought to draw attention to the inhumanity of Israel’s blockade, and to affirm their right to return to the lands from which they were expelled in 1948. The Israeli army responded by turning Gaza into a firing range. Over the course of a year, Israeli snipers killed over 200 Palestinians — including 46 children — and wounded an additional 8,000 with live ammunition. 68 percent of those killed were refugees, most of whom were living just a few dozen kilometers away from their former villages.
The Palestinian organizers and attendees of the march had wagered that the international community would respond to the suppression of civil resistance by challenging Israel’s impunity and applying diplomatic pressure to halt the machinery of dispossession. Such hopes were soon crushed. International human rights organizations and governments offered statements of consternation, but Israel’s crimes went unpunished. Years later, on October 24, 2023, an Israeli airstrike hit the home of Ahmed Abu Artema, the writer and activist who cofounded the Great March of Return. The strike killed five members of his family — including his twelve-year-old son — and left him severely injured.
The only acceptable response to colonial violence, in the eyes of Israel and its Western backers, is for Palestinians to lie down and die quietly. Yet Palestinians in Gaza, across Palestine, and in the diaspora refuse to accept this. The international movement in solidarity with Palestine has a responsibility, in the face of genocide, to speak out and righteously confront the consequences of dissent. Our duty is to cultivate both communal and individual courage — built on respect for, and defense of, Palestinians’ right to resist their own annihilation.
— Nasreen Abd Elal, a member of the
Palestinian Youth Movement based in New York City
Before the war broke out; before Hamas killed more than 1,400 Israelis; before the Erez military checkpoint crossing was ripped in half; before thousands of Palestinians were killed in Gaza, thousands more injured, more than a million made homeless; before nearly a hundred Palestinians were killed and over 1,500 injured in the West Bank, where I live; before the West Bank was put on military-imposed lockdown; before Israel’s minister of national security purchased 10,000 assault rifles for civilians in illegal settlements in the the region — before all of this, I was reporting a story on the children of Gaza.
My focus was the children who had survived the Israeli military aggression of May 2021, dubbed “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” which killed at least 236 Palestinians in Gaza and 77 in the West Bank. That year had been the deadliest for Palestinians generally and for children specifically since 2014. Operation Guardian of the Walls disrupted Eid, a three-day celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Instead of festivities came bombs. In August, the Tamer Institute, a Palestinian educational nonprofit, opened an exhibit that displayed children’s paintings alongside recordings of them explaining what they endured in 2021. The children’s memories were simple: they recalled being denied a special trip to the ice-cream shop or the opportunity to wear clothing that had been purchased for Eid.
I interviewed the exhibit’s organizers, including Mohamed Zaqzooq. “What’s the most painful are the stories of the loss of immediate family members,” Zaqzooq explained to me. The children depict “moments of life from inside a reality drowning in travesty.” Although we were only about 45 minutes away from each other, I interviewed Zaqzooq over Zoom because it was, even at the time, impossible to cross the Erez checkpoint, which stands between my home in Ramallah and his office in Gaza.
Long before the outbreak of war, the Israeli military maintained strict control over the entry and exit of products from the Strip — even children’s paintings. Bringing the works from Gaza to hold a show in the West Bank, I was told, took several months; the transports were stopped many times. The Tamer Institute workers thought it was crucial to do so, for the sake of the children. “They want their voices to be heard,” the project coordinator told me.
Before I was able to speak with the children themselves, Gaza was once again getting bombed. I was still reading the children’s testimonies from the last war when this one broke out.
Between the year 2000 and October 7, more than 2,200 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli settlers or military operations. As of October 30, over 3,100 more children had been killed. Nearly half of Gaza’s 2.2 million people are children, and a sixteen-year-old in the Strip has by now faced at least five large-scale military aggressions. Every year in the West Bank, meanwhile, between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by the Israeli army and taken to military detention camps or interrogation rooms.
In the book produced by the Tamer Institute, a child remembered going out to get bread and seeing a warplane above: “I kept looking behind me and above my head, debating whether I should bring war-flavored bread home to my family, or let the warplane end my dream of returning home.” Two years later, there isn’t even enough bread. And if you spend hours on line and manage to get a loaf, meeting any of your other needs — like finding a bathroom to use, or getting clean water — will require journeys that risk death.
“Today, my little niece called me screaming, ‘they’re bombing us,’” said Amal Zaqout, who was forced to escape Gaza City to Rafah, in the southern part of the Strip. “Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, and entire families have been wiped from the civil records,” she said. At least 45 percent of Gaza’s housing has been destroyed or damaged, and its health facilities are on the brink of collapse. Doctors are performing surgeries without anesthesia because 90 percent of medical reserves have been depleted, the head of Gaza City’s Shifa hospital said last week. Access to telecommunications is limited, too: Israeli military forces bombed telecommunications towers and damaged the electrical grid in the first week of the war. Radio is one of the few ways to find out what’s happening, through a few broadcasting channels. The only sounds children hear are bombs and screams; they smell rotting flesh and ash; the air is hot from all the bombing.
Over 8,000 Palestinian voices erased from Gaza’s soundscape. An estimated 2,000 wait under the rubble of buildings. No cries, no laughter, no worries, no joy, no eagerness for Eid. It’s “bombardment day and night,” Zaquout explained. With “no electricity, and the darkness of the night, accompanied by the sound of explosions, the feeling of fear is indescribable.” Days later, she messaged me a plea: “Please, we need the whole world to get its act together, because we cannot handle this anymore. There’s barely time to mourn one victim before he’s followed by another one.”
— Mariam Barghouti, a journalist and policy analyst based in Ramallah whose words can be read in The Guardian, The New York Times, and Middle East Eye, amongst others
Since Hamas’s Operation al-Aqsa Flood on October 7, riot police have packed into the Arab-majority street of Sonnenallee in the Berlin neighborhood of Neukölln, where I live. I’ve seen police stop and search Arabs for carrying materials deemed pro-Hamas, including the Palestinian flag and the keffiyeh, symbols that represent the Palestinian struggle for justice and predate Hamas and even the Israeli state. Police pulled over a woman carrying a Palestinian flag on her moped; arrested minors wearing black, green, red, and white; and mishandled and detained protesters in countless other incidents. Politicians from the popular Christian Democratic Union suggested that dual citizens who allegedly supported or celebrated Hamas’s incursion should have their German citizenship revoked. A law is now being drafted that would regard anti-Semitic acts — the specifics of which have yet to be defined — as grounds for the denial of naturalization. The stakes of this crackdown on activism are high: Germany has one of the largest diasporas of Palestinians in all of Europe.
In Berlin, the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is largely institutionalized in school policies and government and police language — and is used liberally to justify anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism. German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser collapsed the two when she declared “no tolerance for antisemitic or anti-Israel agitation.” Even before the October 7 attack, in 2022 and 2023, the Berlin Assembly Authority had banned demonstrations for Nakba Day, which commemorates the mass displacement of most Palestinians from their homelands. Police have claimed the Palestinian protest slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” is illegal to chant publicly in Germany on the grounds that it is anti-Semitic. On October 11, after “Solidarity with Palestine” and “All Political Prisoners on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day” protests planned in Neukölln’s Hermannplatz were banned, peaceful would-be attendees were kettled by riot police for hours, and at a similarly banned action two days later, two dozen were taken into custody. A vigil for Palestinians slain in the explosion at the al-Ahli Baptist hospital in Gaza City — for which Israel denies culpability, despite having warned the hospital to evacuate and raining down rocket fire on the area nearby — was disbanded at the last minute; videos of the vigil’s violent dispersal captured riot police stomping out tealight candles. Defying the ban on even peaceful assembly, protestors took to Sonnenallee, hurling flaming liquids and stones at riot police, leading to 174 arrests and some sixty officer injuries. An Egyptian friend of mine said he was beaten by a group of policemen, who later hurled racist epithets at him while he was under arrest. Marches that have the best chance of authorization by police are those that make no explicit mention of Palestine or Palestinians in their organizing materials, like the successfully executed “Decolonize! Against Oppression Globally!” on October 21 and “Global South United” on October 28.
Even when these demonstrations are organized by Jews and specify that the target of their condemnation is Israel’s actions, German outlets like Bild and Taz have called them Judenhass Proteste, or Jew-Hate protests. Demonstrations — including one organized by a group called “Jewish Berliners Against Violence in the Middle East” — were forbidden for posing a risk of “seditious, anti-Semitic exclamations,” and the “glorification of violence.” An open letter signed by over 100 Jewish artists and intellectuals based in Germany expressing their full solidarity with their “Arab, Muslim, and especially Palestinian neighbors” described the police’s actions as “pretext for racist violence.”
But the repression isn’t limited to those who attend protests. The senator for education, youth, and family in Berlin sent a letter to the state’s educational institutions prohibiting the same markers of Palestinian identity in schools that police have vilified on the streets. Headmasters were granted the power to prohibit all phone usage if posts or messages in support of Palestine were found on an individual student’s phone, supposedly “to protect students from terrorist propaganda and ensure school peace.”
Discrimination has infected the cultural sector, too. On October 13, the literary association Litprom canceled the ceremony at the Frankfurt Book Fair in which Adania Shibli, the Palestinian author of Minor Detail — a book that references the well-documented rape and killing of a Palestinian Bedouin girl by an Israeli army unit — was to be celebrated for winning a prestigious literary prize, citing “the war in Israel.” Berlin’s Maxim Gorky Theatre removed from its schedule a play called The Situation, which details the story of Palestinian actress Maryam Abu Khaled. Several newspapers and media sites, including Die Zeit and Taz, issued accusations of anti-Semitism against artist Juliana Huxtable, curator Edwin Nasr, and the DJ collective Room 4 Resistance for their criticism of Israel, which could jeopardize their visa statuses, reputations, and professional livelihoods.
The crackdown comes amid the proliferation of a racist narrative that anti-Semitism has been imported to Germany by migrants. On October 20, the front cover of Der Spiegel was emblazoned with a quote from an interview with Chancellor Scholz: “We Finally Need Large-Scale Deportations.” Scholz has used alleged criticism of Israel as justification for his pledge to admit fewer refugees. The causality here is warped: according to Germany’s ministry of the interior and community, 93 percent of anti-Semitic offenses in Germany in 2019 were perpetrated by German right-wing extremists.
Casting anti-Semitism as a foreign threat in Germany is flagrant ahistoricism, of course. Looming above these controversies is the legacy of the Holocaust and the Erinnerungskultur — the culture of remembrance — that surrounds it. As one policeman, who threatened to arrest me if I didn’t stow away my Palestinian flag, explained, he treated the flag the same way he would a swastika. Germany’s support for Israel may be intended as atonement, but it has led to another form of cultural bias and moral panic towards an ethnic group — this time Arabs. In an anonymous statement published on Verso’s blog, a group of cultural workers in Berlin wrote that “The German state’s support for the siege on Gazans does not absolve its historical crimes, but runs the shocking risk of reproducing them.” During that violent police crackdown on Sonnenallee, amid noise from loudspeakers and the eye-watering residue of pepper spray, I saw a cardboard poster that put it well: “Free Palestine From The Sickness of German Guilt.”
— Bobuq Sayed, an Afghan cultural worker based between Miami and Berlin whose first chapbook, Terror and Panic in Australia, is forthcoming from Common Room Editions in 2024
To be an anti-Zionist Jew descended from Israelis is to live as a traitor. Since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge — in which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, a quarter of them children — my Israeli family has been aghast that I could stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Watching me speak openly about my opposition to Israel’s assault on Gaza after October 7 was, for them, the last straw. In a D.M. from one cousin: “you are not family to me. I’m repulsed.” And from another relative: “Shame on you!!!!! Your family was fighting for their life in the holocaust. That’s what happening again in Israel now!!!”
This rupture in my family reflects a widening divide between Israelis and diaspora Jewry, one that, after participating in this month’s mass demonstrations, I’m convinced is not merely heartbreaking — it’s productive. In Pew polling, the percentage of Jewish Americans who deemed U.S. policy toward Israel “too supportive” doubled from 11 percent to 22 percent between 2013 and 2020. Among those under thirty, that number had reached nearly forty percent. Support for adding conditions to U.S. military aid and comfort with calling Israel an apartheid state are similarly increasing, again driven by younger Jews.
A mass movement of anti-occupation Jews, led by organizations like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, is working to oppose Israel’s bombing of Gaza, chanting “not in our name” and protesting in Washington. Images of billowing tallitot on arrestees and clips of mournful shofars on Capitol Hill at the October 18 rally for a ceasefire serve as powerful counterweights to clips of Israel’s National Security Minister distributing firearms to ultrareligious settlers over the past few weeks. “If the fate of the Jewish people is tied to the nation-state of Israel,” says the theorist Fred Moten, that fate “will be more brutal than anything that has yet been done.” Today’s Jewish left rightfully sees that this brutality — both inflicted by Jews, but also, tragically, inflicted on Jews — is already underway.
There have been hints of leftist Jewish dissidence before (met, as a rule, by censure and threat) but never at such scale. Noam Chomsky used to have campus and city police follow him to his car after he gave anti-Zionist talks at MIT. The career of Norman Finkelstein, another leftist academic, was derailed by his public stance against Israel. In a clip from a 2009 documentary that has recirculated in recent weeks, Finkelstein invoked his parents, both Holocaust survivors, to compare the Israeli occupation’s horrors with those perpetrated by the Nazis. “It is precisely and exactly because of the lessons my parents taught me and my two siblings,” he said, “that I will not be silent when Israel commits its crimes against the Palestinians.”
At the time, these perspectives were rare among the Jewish left. But when Jews march in D.C., New York, and Los Angeles, and when hundreds occupy the Capitol wearing shirts that read “JEWS SAY CEASE FIRE NOW,” it’s clear that Jewish anti-Zionists are forming a bloc. The larger this bloc grows, the louder “not in our name” resounds.
Why didn’t we see comparable outpourings of stateside support for Palestinians during the 2008-2009 Gaza War, or when thousands were killed in 2014, or during 2018-2019’s Great March of Return, an event in which over 150 anti-blockade protestors were killed and over 10,000 injured by Israeli forces? Israel’s rightward lurch in recent years has undoubtedly spurred increased scrutiny and critique of the state and its policies, but there’s more than that at play.
There is a real sense among the young Jewish-American left that incrementalism is not enough, that we cannot go on waiting for a solution to emerge. It is difficult for a generation that witnessed 9/11 and the War on Terror, came of age as the promises of the Obama era gave way to the election of Trump, and spent early adulthood watching the government mishandle the Covid-19 pandemic to continue to put our faith in the same institutions, rhetoric, and strategies that have failed to deliver peace for so long. The George Floyd protests in 2020 represented an alternative model for demanding change — and it’s clear some young leftist Jews are drawing on the experience of that summer in organizing and attending protests now, taking inspiration from the collective insistence, in that moment, on full-throated appeals. During the seventies, Israel was known as America’s “cops on the beat,” guarding U.S. interests in the Middle East; we can insist on defunding those police, too. On the streets, American Jews are no longer trying to win fights with their families: having cast off the mask of respectability, we may be shunned by our relatives. We are traitors to our former selves. We say Kaddish, and we march.
— Natan Last, poet and regular crossword puzzle contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Times, who is writing a forthcoming nonfiction book about crosswords and works on refugee policy and advocacy in New York