Robby Berman

Did October 7th change my politics?

I have been living in Israel for more than thirty-five years. I’m a tour guide, a journalist and a Jewish Zionist, who speaks Arabic and has many Palestinian friends. I often protest injustices committed against Palestinians by the Israeli government, the Israeli Defense Forces and extremist settlers. Since the war of October 7, many people have asked me if the Hamas attack has changed my politics.

How could it not?

On that awful Simchat Torah morning, Hamas – in the name of “freedom” – slaughtered more than a thousand men, women, children, and the elderly. They shot men and women in their genitalia. They raped women and cut off their breasts. A second wave of unarmed non-Hamas Gazans came over the border to loot, kill and kidnap as well. (I met a Jewish woman in the burn unit of an Israeli hospital who was attacked in the second wave by a mob of unarmed civilians from Gaza who plundered her house on her kibbutz and who tried to kill her family with sticks and fire.)

As a journalist, I watched the horrific 47-minute Hamas GoPro film showing the uncensored and un-pixelated footage of the beheading of civilians and soldiers. More than 250 Israelis and foreigners – from babies to the elderly – were kidnapped and are still being held and tortured today, more than half a year later. And to top it all off, more than 70 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank report that they support the October 7 attack.

How could the events of October 7 not affect the political positions of any rational person? I dare say that if they don’t, that person is either an ideologue or delusional. I waited until now to write about how the attack affected me because I wanted the magnitude of the massacre to sink in and inform my political positions without letting it emotionally hijack them.

And so here it is…

On an individual level, my attitude towards Palestinians has not changed one iota.

The Hamas massacre did not decrease my desire to condemn Israeli killing and abuse of innocent Palestinians, which, since the war began and under this racist-riddled Israeli coalition, has dramatically increased.

The IDF soldier who murdered Belal Selah in the West Bank while he was picking olives in his orchard in front of his children needs to be in prison (the video is available on-line). The extremist settler from Havat Maon who shot an innocent unarmed Palestinian in the village of Twanna needs to be in prison (the video is available on-line). The IDF soldier who killed 62-year-old Sameh Zeitoun who had his arms in the air needs to be in prison (the video is available on-line).

Those soldiers committing ethnic cleansing in the West Bank need to be in prison. Those soldiers protecting extremist settlers as they perpetrate pogroms upon Palestinian villages as they did in Huwara and the soldiers who protect Israeli cement trucks filling in Palestinian wells in Msaffer Yatta need to be in prison.

I will continue to protest these actions because they are wrong. I will continue to protest these actions because, as an Israeli Jew, I am responsible for my brothers perpetrating crimes in the name of my supposed security. (It boggles the sane mind to imagine that an IDF soldier thought taking away a generator from a Palestinian family living in a cave in the West Bank was vital to Israeli security – to the point where he shot the family member holding on to the generator, paralyzed him and he ultimately died.)

And no, not even the slaughter of 1,200 Israelis by Palestinians justifies the deliberate murder of innocent Palestinians by Israelis. Immoral and illegal is immoral and illegal, no matter who is doing it to whom. As Mrs. Frank taught me in first grade: two wrongs do not make a right.

We Jews are the majority in Israel and as such we have the obligation to defend the minority. This is common sense. In addition, it is what we learn from our own history. In exile, we Jews were often victims because the silent majority enabled it. And if our obligation to protect the minority is not self-evident, the Bible repeats this commandment more than thirty times: protect the stranger, i.e., the minority living amongst you because you remember that you were an oppressed minority in Egypt. Do unto others….

So, from the perspective of the individual Palestinian, nothing has changed for me. I will continue to protest the ongoing abuse of innocent Palestinians on the street, on social media and, most importantly for me, at the Shabbat table.

From the perspective of Palestinian peoplehood, however, October 7 has changed my politics.

Prior to that cursed day, my political opinions vis-à-vis the Palestinians were in line with Brit Shalom, an organization founded in 1925 that believed a bi-national state was possible, a state where Jews and Arabs could and would live together peacefully. Whatever symbol was to be put on our flag and whatever modified (i.e., inclusive) lyrics were to be chosen for the national anthem did not really matter as long as equal rights were granted to all and the rule of law was applied. I believed that ultimately this country did not have to be Jewish for Jews to flourish in it, but it could be like the United States, a country inclusive of all its residents.

Brit Shalom was initially supported by the likes of Ahad Ha’am, Albert Einstein, Gershom Scholem and Martin Buber. But as the Palestinian Arabs repeatedly massacred Jews in Palestine in the late 1920s, this utopian vision all but vanished. Almost a hundred years later, the October 7 massacre has sobered me as well.

In spite of our relatively good relationship with Israeli Arabs, I no longer believe that Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza can live together in one state from “the river to the sea.” Maybe we could have in the past, maybe we can in the very distant future, but we cannot now. I was hopeful. I was naïve. I was wrong.

The extremists on both sides have won, and the inept, corrupt, myopic, jingoistic, illiberal and dysfunctional Israeli and Palestinian governments have made it so. My position now is good fences make good neighbors. We need separation.

Another change I have undergone is the blunting of my emotions. Since the massacre of my people, I have noticed that I am less sensitive to Palestinian suffering due to Israeli security policies. If there are more random pat-downs for Palestinians due to simple racial profiling in the Old City, I feel less bad. If more random road-blocks are thrown up in the West Bank inhibiting freedom of Palestinian movement, I feel less bad. I still feel bad. Just less. Widespread Palestinian support for Hamas has made me feel as if they have invited the suffering upon themselves.

The old me, pre-October 7, would have said “look at all the murder and abuse the Palestinians have borne over the past few decades and one can understand why they are glad Israelis got slaughtered.” (I would not have condoned it; I just would have understood it.) No more.

The old me would have attacked the surveys of Palestinian support for the October 7 massacre with a Talmudic eye, analyzing how they were worded. Perhaps they just asked Palestinians if they supported the Hamas strike against Israel in general without mentioning the murder of more than one thousand civilians. The old me would have suggested that these Palestinians really believed no civilians were murdered or raped. That was the old me. But the old me is no more. Chalas [enough]. I am done bending over backwards trying to give Palestinians the benefit of the doubt. They support Hamas… let them eat the fruit of the violence they support.

I will no longer let my values, wishful thinking and naïve faith in the goodness of humanity blind me to facts. In spite of my aspirational views, we clearly cannot just all get along.

Feeling less unhappy about Palestinian suffering than I used to is an awful thing to admit. I am not proud of it. It is not desiderata. I am simply being descriptive and honest and sharing how the massacre of October 7 has affected me.

Parenthetically, I am acutely aware that there are many Palestinians who have also said chalas. Decades of Palestinians not getting building permits, the IDF destroying their “illegally” built homes and depriving them of freedom of movement, the IDF and extremist settlers abusing them and occasionally murdering them… I am sure many of them have also said chalas.

As far as our future is concerned, I don’t have any suggestions. I don’t see a neat solution. And even if I did, I have been wrong many times in the past. For example, I thought unilaterally pulling out of Gaza in 2005 would be a grand gesture towards the Palestinians and a giant step towards peace. I was wrong. We know how that turned out: nearly twenty years of missile fire and terrorism.

I only see three options moving forward, and none of them are moral or feasible:

  1. Expel the Palestinians from “between the river and the sea”: This is unjust, morally unacceptable, and the world would not let it happen.
  2. Continue a repressive apartheid-like regime in the West Bank and continue to live with Palestinian terrorism: neither are acceptable to me.
  3. Remove most (not all) of the Jewish settlements from most (not all) of the West Bank and separate from the Palestinians completely, enabling them to create their own state. This option, in my mind, is the best one, but herein lays the rub: this path is constantly hamstrung by Israeli governments and Israelis and the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians.

The corrupt Palestinian Authority continues to promote hatred of Jews, continues to give payments to family of terrorists and has continually failed to nurture a liberal democratic society. The Palestinian people have yet to accept Israel’s right to exist (calling the Israelis in the Gaza envelope “settlers” even though they are within the Green Line) and continue to ignore Palestinian responsibility for the wars of 1948 and 1967. They continue to demand complete justice (as they see it) and are not willing to compromise in spite of signing the Oslo Accords. Palestinian terrorism continues daily with rock and Molotov cocktail throwing, stabbings, shootings and car ramming attacks against Jews.

And from the Israeli side: in spite of the Oslo accords, consecutive Israeli governments have continued to build Jewish settlements on land they do not own in the West Bank, thus preventing a contiguous geographical boundary for a future Palestinian state. Israelis refuse to recognize the injustices they have inflicted upon the Palestinians in 1948 and 1967 and that the dispossession of the Palestinians (some justified, some not) has been at the core of anti-Zionism and not antisemitism.

Israelis and their government continue to ignore the abuses the Palestinians suffer daily: murder, ethnic cleansing, destruction and theft of their property and the wanton killing of their livestock. There are Israelis who have never heard of administrative detention. They are unaware that more than 1,000 Palestinians have been languishing in Israeli prisons for years who have never had a trial and are not allowed to know why they are in prison. And these clueless Israelis are voting in Israeli elections!

I want to be clear: I am not saying the blame for the Israeli Palestinian conflict is equal. How can it be exactly equal? One side is clearly more to blame than the other. And the Jews think it is the Arabs and the Arabs think it is the Jews.

The war has humbled me. I am ignorant. I have no real solution. The war has turned me from an optimist into a pessimist. When I am I asked how I envision our future, I unwillingly envision the last scene of the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes in which Charlton Heston spots the broken Statue of Liberty on the beach and realizes that the “maniacs” (i.e., humans) have ruined the world.

Post October 7, I only know two things for certain. First, I am no longer willing for us Israelis to take security risks in order for the Palestinian people to obtain their statehood. The Palestinian people have lost me on that one. And, secondly, I will continue protesting the ongoing abuse of innocent individual Palestinians at the hands of IDF soldiers and extremist settlers.

Good luck to us all… and luck we will need.

About the Author
Robby Berman is a tour guide and journalist living in Israel for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government, MPA), Baruch College (MBA) and Yeshiva University (BA). He is also the author of the book Min Taq Taq: A Collection of Arabic Idioms and Expressions in the Palestinian Dialect.
Related Topics
Related Posts