Hamutal Gouri

An Open Letter to Prof. Judith Butler

War is not healthy for children and other living things by artist Lorraine Schneider.


We’ve never met. But I eagerly studied your writings as a graduate student of cultural studies some years ago. Back then, I was inspired by their revolutionary and liberating energy.

I went back and read them in these days of devastation for my people and for the people in Gaza. I have heard and read you express yourself – with the same powerful rhetoric – on the issue of the Israel-Hamas war. But what I heard was not a text of liberation, at least not for me and my people. What I heard was a theoretical voice that repeats itself while stubbornly refusing to look at reality with eyes that have compassion for all lives, Palestinian and Jewish. I watched you as you justified your refusal to define the Hamas attack on Israeli communities of the Gaza Envelop as “barbaric”, since, in your opinion, barbarism can only be used to signify the violence of the white colonizer, Israel.

But the very soul of critical theories is the commitment to deconstruct popular political and cultural concepts, including our own. Especially at times when we cannot deny the fact that these concepts have failed us. I couldn’t help but think that in the case of your recent statements, a long-held position prevailed over the intellectual drive.

Like you, I am a Jewish woman.

Like you, I am a Jewish woman who speaks out for peace.

Like you, I believe that Palestinian lives matter and should be mourned.

Unlike you, I am Israeli. I was born here.

Unlike you, I insist on holding on to all the markers and ingredients of my identity as a woman, as an Israeli, as a Jew, as an anti-occupation activist advocating for peace and reconciliation. As someone committed to the idea that all lives matter and that we all mourn our loved ones with the same shattered heart.

Unlike you, I find that it is possible to mourn the lives of innocent Palestinian citizens, and still cry out for the 1400 dead, 239 kidnapped, including 30 children, and over 100,000 uninvolved civilians who are now defined as internally displaced people. They are not all Jewish but are all on the Israeli side.

Unlike you, I say out loud that Hamas is a terrorist organization that wants to wipe me out from the face of the earth because of my Jewishness. And, in the same breath I say that people in Gaza have the same right that I have to self-determination, a sovereign state, and a life of prosperity and security.

Unlike you, I have been haunted for three weeks now not only by the images of the horrific devastation in Gaza. I am haunted by images of Israeli women and girls who were brutally raped. Images of Israeli mothers who were murdered in front of their children at gunpoint. Images of children orphaned as their parents protected them with their own bodies. I am haunted by the photo of my friend who was kidnapped to Gaza from her home, and she has been a peace activist all her life, no less, and maybe more than you.

What good are all the theorizing and conceptualizing if in one moment of horrific devastation for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people you are unable to say: “Yes, the Palestinians deserve freedom from oppression, they deserve life, they deserve a state. But monstrous violence against innocent people – including brutal sexual violence – is something I cannot justify or support”.


About the Author
Hamutal Gouri is a consultant, facilitator and storyteller for social change and a longtime feminist peace activist. Her MA thesis in cultural studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem focuses on the political agency of poetry written at the margins.
Related Topics
Related Posts