Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Days of Tears and Awe

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Wednesday marked four months since the terrible events of Oct. 7. It was a day for tears, and one for awe, as well.

I went into my online meeting wiping away tears, having just watched seven women, all of them freed hostages who have loved ones still being held captive, speak to the cameras. I watched as one broke down, telling the viewers about her students who had been taken together with her – young people who were undergoing unbounded suffering underground, 122 days of it.

And I watched in awe as another, a woman formerly soft and smiling, a grandmother and kindergarten teacher, had been transformed into a beautiful, steel-faced tower of strength. She reached over to the crying woman, put a hand on her shoulder, gave her the courage to get through what she had to say.

I went into the online meeting prepared for further horror stories, yet nothing prepares you for opening yourself to the personal suffering of others. I listened as a Palestinian refugee living in the US described learning of the 24 members of her family who have been killed in the war, while she, living half a world away, can do nothing to help.

“I wake up every morning and wonder who I will lose today,” she says. She told us the story of her brother’s family, who had left their home in Northern Gaza for that of a family member in Khan Younis. He opened the door one there morning to find IDF soldiers shooting at him. Thinking it was a mistake, he closed the door and opened it again. They were still shooting. He grabbed his wife and children and ran, on foot, to the crowded tent camps in Rafiah, trying not to look at the parts of bodies they passed along the way.

I watched in awe as she told us she begins her day by trying to call her brothers and parents, and then goes to work for peace.

She was followed by a doctor who had been in Gaza treating children in July, as he had done every few months for the past few years. He told us about colleagues who had been killed, some along with their families. That included some of the doctors he had worked with in a clinic – a center in a refugee camp, which is no longer there. He told us of courageous doctors who continued to treat the patients who could not be moved, even as Israeli troops stormed their hospitals in search of Hamas fighters. He told us about the medical staff who had been arrested, 100 of them still being held.

He spoke to us about the few hospitals left, the doctors trying to treat tens of thousands of wounded without access to enough medications or surgical supplies. When he manages to get in touch, the doctors there tell him of facing problems they had never before seen on this scale: diseases of malnutrition and starvation, lack of sanitation and overcrowding.

I listened in awe as he told us he speaks with some of those colleagues daily, giving them advice as best he can on dealing with a huge humanitarian crisis they are helpless to solve and giving them hope that the war will end and medical help will return.

There is no “yes, but,” here. There is no competition to decide whose suffering is worse, whose trauma is greater. Both are unfathomable, unconscionable and both need to be stopped, as soon as possible.

We need to end this war as quickly as we can, in a way that will end the suffering on both sides. That is, we need to find a way to reframe the issues, to look for hope, rather than acting out of blind rage and hatred, to forget “winning” and think about concluding. All of the speakers, Jewish and Palestinian, revealed to us their attempts to act in the face of hopelessness, and we must add to their power, reduce their helplessness. We need to open our eyes to the complexity – to the human beings on both sides. Anthony Blinken, our sometimes-annoying national conscience, warned against the dangers of dehumanizing. Too late. We all need to rehumanize.

I found three awesome heroes yesterday – three people who will refuse to stop speaking out until all the hostages are released, until entire families stop getting killed, until the wounded and sick can be cared for, until a Palestinian refugee who works for peace can visit this country without fear of arrest. I am counting on those three and others like them to keep pushing for peace, and to help the rest of us shape that peace once it appears on the horizon.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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