Something inside all of us died on October 7th. The survivors’ testimonies, the images of evil, the incomprehensible number of those murdered, the hundreds of hostages. How do we move on from this day? What future do we all have in the Holy Land?
Many of my friends are peace activists who hold the candle of hope, a candle that is in danger of being extinguished. Some of them, like my friend Vivian Silver, were murdered in their own homes during the October 7th massacre.
I have many memories from my visits to the kibbutzim on the border, where together we planned initiatives with partners inside Gaza who, with great courage and great risk to their own lives, reached out to us to communicate their belief in peace.
They told me how hard life was in Gaza, in a prison surrounded by fences. Hamas’s cruel hold has oppressed anyone who dares to believe in a different future for the two million people living in the most densely populated place in the world. How do we proceed from here? Did the evil attack bury any chance for peace between our peoples?
I cannot stop crying. Just two days ago I traveled to visit friends from the Kibbutzim of Be’eri and Sa’ad at the Dead Sea Hotels where thousands of refugees are now living. I looked into their eyes and saw their hollow, mournful, broken gazes. As I left, I prayed that Allah would give them strength, that with time they will be able to live, to love again, and to find joy with their fellow survivors.
Arab-Israeli society has been frozen by shock. The transition from our former lives in which we were preoccupied with the violence within our own society to our current focus on this bloody war has paralyzed us. Hate among many in the Jewish public has turned not only toward the murderous Hamas and their supporters but against Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular. A desire for vengeance and the fear of surging violence within Israel could lead us all into an even bigger war.
But the Arab public has chosen not to sit on the fence. In contrast to the perception of many within the Jewish Israeli population, the Arab Israeli leadership has communicated an unequivocal message: the cruel massacre of October 7th is not our way. Terror is not the way of Islam.
Alongside this message, there are many Arab Israeli solidarity initiatives, all of which clearly signify that we are not the enemy of Jewish Israelis. We are your neighbors. We are with you and standing with those hurt in Israel, as well as alongside the innocent victims in Gaza.
The spirit of solidarity has taken root in many parts of the Arab-Israeli public: initiatives to host evacuees from the north and south, coordinating supply centers for those in need whether Jews or Arabs, volunteering in agriculture, meetings between religious leaders, calling for unity, and condolence visits with the families of those who were murdered.
The leadership of Arab society in Israel has a responsibility to make a historic decision in this moment: we are citizens of the State of Israel and we must take responsibility for our civic obligations both in times of crisis and in ordinary times.
But for such a courageous position to turn into a reality, Jewish society must make a decision that is no less courageous and recognize that a significant part of our essence and identity is in our belonging to the Palestinian people.
The conflict will not be solved if we are made to choose between our Israeli identity and the Palestinian one. We are both. And if the Jewish public can recognize this, we can become a bridge of trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
We must all remember that conflicts are never resolved through force. Hope must become a central component in the management of this war. Countries around the world will agree to help rehabilitate Gaza and its people, and Israel must support this. An international plan to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip is the urgent need of the moment – the alternative is that we will all remain imprisoned in the cycle of violence and fear. From the ashes and destruction, we must build a future of hope.
It is up to us to do this together.