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Sahar Vardi
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Dual loyalty

It's so hard to have humanity here. It's exhausting, and it feels like time after time the world is just asking you to let go
Left: Palestinians search the Khan Yunis municipality building after an Israeli air strike, in the city of Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, on October 10 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90); Right: The scene in Ashkelon, where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists hit an apartment building. October 9, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90): (Composite image by The Times of Israel)
Left: Palestinians search the Khan Yunis municipality building after an Israeli air strike, in the city of Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, on October 10 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90); Right: The scene in Ashkelon, where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists hit an apartment building. October 9, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90): (Composite image by The Times of Israel)

We on the left are often accused of dual loyalty. And on days like this, I really feel it. Even if loyal isn’t exactly the right word here, as I’ll explain, the sentiment is right.

In Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market this morning, a street musician sang “Am Yisrael Chai” in a mournful register. The market itself was nearly empty and a woman was talking to her friend about her regular vegetable seller who was not allowed to come and open shop today. All stalls owned by Arabs are closed.

On a street in the Rehavia neighborhood, families get out of two cars. Most of them were already crying, the rest with an indescribable sadness in their eyes, as they knock softly on the door of one of the houses. Family of someone who died? Of someone kidnapped?

You open a video of a sanitation worker who was beaten in the city center because he is Arab and try not to avert your gaze.

“Dual loyalty” is seeing both this and that with tears in your eyes.

It’s that moment when you talk to a friend who doesn’t know whether their relatives are dead or kidnapped and what they should even hope for, and to see the helplessness, the fear, the deep pain. And a moment later, it’s talking to a friend from Gaza who can only say that every night is now the scariest night of his life; that he calculates his chances, and those of his daughters, of waking up alive the next morning.

“Dual loyalty” is feeling the heartbreak of this and also of that.

It is to hold this moment between the heartbreak and pain and shock over the total destruction of Nir Oz and to think about all the people there, and at the same time, to feel the horror over the impending total destruction of Shuja’iyya and to think about all the people there.

It’s feeling the urge to donate blood and organize food packages for the south, and also to be in the West Bank village of Susia when settlers shoot any shepherd who dares to leave the village.

Loyalty may not be the right word. It’s dual pain, dual heartbreak, care, love. It is to hold everyone’s humanity. And it’s hard. It’s so hard to have humanity here. It’s exhausting, and it feels like time after time the world is just asking you to let go. It’s so much easier to “choose a side” – it almost doesn’t matter which side, just choose, and stick to it, and at least reduce the amount of pain you hold. At least feel part of a group and less alone in all this.

As if that’s really an option. As if we don’t understand that our pains are intertwined. That there is no solution only for the pain of Ofakim without a solution for the pain of Khan Yunis. And we know it and recite it, and feel the pain of it all over and over again.

So what am I saying here – and why? What’s the point, except to try to express this feeling of having two worlds that look so contradictory from the outside and feel so much the same from the inside. I think the closest I’ve come to an answer to why I’m writing is because somehow, in a heartbreaking and soul-crushing way, it also feels like the only optimism I can hold onto right now. Optimism that’s based on the fact that it exists, and that it’s possible. And this pain that some of us in our small community hold, this “dual loyalty,” may be the biggest hope for this place.

About the Author
Sahar Vardi is a Jerusalem based anti-occupation activist.
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