Thank you for reaching out in the days following October 7th. I told you I was horrified by the brutality of the massacre and devastated by the hostages taken. We shared a moment of terror.
Since then, each time we have spoken, I have focused on keeping our conversations ‘normal’ and moving forward with our work agenda. I have been careful not to let my emotions – my exasperation, my fury, my fear — get in the way of our connection. I have not wanted to make ‘my issue’ your issue.
Over the years, many of us have skirted around the Israel-Arab conflict. With mutual respect, thoughtfulness and sensitivity, we have been able to master the see-saw of these discussions in a way that kept our relationships intact. Almost every conversation on the topic ended with my saying that anyone who thought they had an answer to the conflict in the Middle East, simply did not understand the complexity of the issue. It was a way I had learnt to acknowledge and appreciate the different perspectives we held while being able to move on and order that next glass of wine.
But now we are here, in a world post October the 7th 2023; a world in which the unthinkable happened, where ‘never again’ became ‘yet again’. In a heartbeat, many of you moved from expressing horror over barbarically mutilated Israeli bodies to bemoaning the fate of the Palestinian children. ‘I get that Israel needs to defend itself,’ you say to me as if it is defending itself from a bit of a nuisance on its border, ‘but it needs to stop killing innocent babies. It is only going to cause more long-term damage. You of all people should know that!’
I avert my gaze. I do not trust myself to speak. What do you want me to say?
Yes, I know that. I watch the news and feel sick watching Palestinian babies and children with bloodied bodies. How can anyone not feel the anguish of the mothers wailing over their children’s bodies? The fear in a man’s eyes is palpable as the camera catches him fleeing from yet another bombing. I know with absolute certainty that he is now angrier with Israel than he was yesterday. Yes, I see this. I am human and I feel queasy.
But dear colleagues, if I feel queasy watching the ‘normal’ ravages of warfare (the dead babies in Ukraine and Myanmar and other war zones are as deserving of our humanity), I feel the bile rise in my throat with each passing day that a hostage remains in captivity, every time I hear about another gruesome discovery of how an Israeli or Arab or Bedouin body was dismembered, raped, burnt or tortured by Hamas on October 7th 2023. And I feel fury. Fury at the international organisations who appear to be doing nothing to help bring these hostages home (the International Red Cross), cannot admonish these atrocities (the United Nations) or have enabled the screaming of slogans that actively support the murder of all Jews such as ‘Gas the Jews’ and ‘From the River to the Sea’ (college campuses and cities across the world).
This is not the moment for me to direct you to media links that would provide you with an alternative perspective on the war to the ones you probably watch. But it is the time for me to remind you that I have never supported the government of the day in Israel and neither did many of those who were massacred. From 80-year-olds to 18-year-olds, many of them were peace activists, which in Israel means real time support not champagne socialism. I want to remind you that every Saturday night, from January to October 2023, thousands of Israelis marched in the streets to challenge the government’s proposed judicial process, because they believed that nothing was more important than maintaining Israel’s democracy.
My Jewish colleagues and I are utterly exhausted by those of you who lecture us about how Israel should conduct itself but cannot tell the difference between an army that bombs military sites and a terrorist organisation that target civilian populations. We feel rage at so many of the leaders in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion roles who blatantly support pro-Palestinian rhetoric, somehow forgetting to check their biases, or even worse, realise they have any. And we are endlessly disappointed by CEOs who uses their intellect and empathy to communicate a ‘balanced perspective’ on the issue, with no condemnation of terrorism or even a mention of the hostages in their messages, thereby saying actually nothing at all.
Dear colleagues, I no longer believe that if you have a firm view on the Middle East, you do not understand the complexity of the issue because the situation in the Middle East is crystal clear at this moment. You either stand with Israel or you stand with Hamas. Such polarities are dangerous, I know that. But a lack of moral clarity is equally so. You either support Israel going to war, with all the horrific consequences for innocent individuals on all sides, or you support Hamas in turning a hospital in into a military fortress, hoarding fuel and medical supplies and using Palestinians in Gaza, including children, as human shields. Yes, I know that there are innocent Palestinians dying; and no, that is not fair. War never is and the sooner it ends the better for everyone. The return of the hostages would be the first step towards a solution. If you want to help, please support us in doing so.
I hope we can continue to have glasses of wine. I hope we can get back to a place of multiple perspective and skirting around issues. I have realised that is one of the privileges of peacetime. But right now, we are in war we have to win.