Compassion is not a pizza with eight slices

With each horrific new detail that emerges about the massacres and abductions carried out by Hamas terrorists, our pain and grief for the people of Israel deepens.

It is impossible to comprehend the scale of the loss, with 1,400 people killed, including entire families, and at least 200 kidnapped. Our shock and sorrow increases with each chilling account from survivors, from relatives of their last messages with their loved ones, or from the volunteers of Zaka who collect the victims’ remains.

At the same time, we cannot ignore what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. As American author and speaker Brené Brown wrote, “empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more.”

Allowing ourselves to feel compassion for Palestinians does not lessen our compassion or concern for those in Israel, or reduce our horror at the evil of Hamas’s massacre.

Yakov Argamani, the father of Noa Argamani who is being held hostage Gaza, was able to say: “Let’s be honest: In Gaza, too, families are mourning their children. There, too, fathers worry about their children. They have fatalities too. What will a few more deaths achieve? They’re in pain, just like us. These are a mother’s feelings. A father’s feelings. These are the feelings of parents, brothers, sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers. Understand these feelings.”

In Gaza over 4,000 people are reported to have been killed, over 1,750 of them children. Thirty percent of homes in Gaza have been damaged by airstrikes and the complete blockade is leaving families struggling to survive. In the war’s opening days IDF spokesperson R Adm Daniel Hagari said “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy”.

Meanwhile, with attention on Gaza, the UN’s humanitarian office reported that in the West Bank, in the week following 7 October, at least 75 Palestinians were killed by soldiers or settlers. Settlers are also exploiting the chaos to force entire Palestinian villages from their homes.

Hamas’s ability to attack Israel must be stopped and the hostages must be rescued. But cutting off water, food, fuel, medicine and electricity from a population of two million people, ordering hundreds of thousands to leave their homes when they have nowhere to go, and aerial bombardments that focus on damage over accuracy, are not a legitimate way to achieve that aim. It is collective punishment; it is immoral and it is illegal. Nor will it work – today’s Hamas leaders and their infrastructure may be destroyed, but as long as Palestinians live under Israeli occupation and control Israel will not know peace and security.

Audrey Kurth Cronin, author of “How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns”, recently warned in Foreign Affairs: “The history of modern counterterrorism holds a clear lesson: only through the strict targeting of a terrorist organization can a state permanently crush it and avoid a wider conflict. For that reason… Israel must protect innocent civilians, including Israeli hostages. This is not merely a matter of morality and law; it is a strategic imperative.”

I know it is easy for me to write this from the comfort and safety of London. But Yakov Argamani is not the only brave Israeli who lost relatives to or experienced the horrors of 7th October who has shown amazing compassion for those in Gaza and argued that vengeance will not end the conflict.

Listen to the incredible, angry, words of a nineteen year old survivor from kibbutz Be’eri who after the murders of her friends and neighbours manages to ask: what about those in Gaza, for whom this is not over, for whom there is nowhere to escape to? She castigates Israel’s leaders for condemning generations to perpetual war and demands a just peace.

Hear the plea of Noy Katsman, whose brother Chaim was murdered by Hamas: “I don’t want anything to happen to people in Gaza like it happened to my brother — and I’m sure he wouldn’t want that either. That’s my call to my government: Stop killing innocent people. That’s not the way to bring us peace and security.”

There are many others some of whom are listed here. If these victims’ compassion can extend to Palestinians, so can ours. If they can understand that death and destruction offer no way out of the conflict, so can we.

The only way out of the horror is for Israelis and Palestinians to find a way to live together, to share the land that both consider theirs. If this feels impossible at this moment, we can find hope in the joint Jewish-Arab projects happening in Israel and the West Bank.

In the south, Bedouin residents organised to respond rapidly to the crisis. Search and rescue teams, working with the regional councils and IDF, gathered information, found victims, rescued survivors and administered first aid – risking their lives whilst Hamas terrorists were still in Israel.

In the mixed cities, Jewish and Arab volunteers have come together to organise a Jewish-Arab civil guard to help maintain calm, which has managed to avert the vigilante violence of 2021.

Omdim B’Yachad / Standing Together is a grassroots movement of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. Four thousand people have joined their 15 Jewish-Arab solidarity networks across the country to clean bomb shelters, collect supplies for residents of the south and Bedouin villages affected by the Hamas attacks and meet local needs – like covering up racist graffiti.

In the West Bank Israelis like Rabbi Arik Ascherman continue to visit rural Palestinian communities to help defend them from settler violence and intimidation, putting themselves at significant risk, and groups of Israelis are helping Palestinians at risk of violence with their olive harvest.

These partnerships offer a vision of an alternative, brighter, future – one with the potential to bring real, lasting peace.

Yet the willingness of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, to work together, to see each other as partners, is seen as a threat by Israel’s far-right government. Just last week members of Omdim B’Yachad were detained by police for hanging bilingual posters saying “Jews and Arabs, we will get through this together”.

We all want to support Israelis during these dark days. The inspiring pro-democracy protests earlier this year made clear that supporting Israel does not require us to support its leaders. We can instead support those brave Israelis who, despite their unimaginable pain and loss, choose compassion over vengeance, and hope for a peaceful future over endless violence. If they have the courage to speak up for peace, the least we can do is support them and amplify their call. Their way is the way of hope.

About the Author
Anna Roiser is a lawyer with an MA in Israeli Studies who has spent time living in Jerusalem. She is a trustee of the New Israel Fund UK and a member of the national Steering Group of UK Friends of Standing Together.