Let’s talk about empathy

Let’s talk about empathy. The capacity of a people to feel and express sadness, anger, and regret for civilian deaths on the other side of a war. Since October 7, it seems to me there’s one thing that has flooded social media on a regular basis without anyone giving it the attention it deserves: the empathy of the pro-Israel community toward the other side.

In the face of the world calling for intifada, for our country to be eliminated from the river to the sea; in the face of Hamas pledging to commit October 7th again and again; in the face of a masked protestor holding up a sign saying “Kill Hostages Now,” we continue to be have empathy for the civilians of Gaza.

Most recently, on May 26, the IDF conducted an airstrike in Rafah, targeting two Hamas senior officials; a Hamas munitions compound nearby caught on fire, which led to the death of three dozen Palestinian civilians. This is, by now, not news. The interesting part is that as soon as the deaths were reported, before anyone knew exactly what happened or who was responsible, my news feed was filled with pro-Israel activists expressing sorrow.

Hen Mazzig wrote that “none of” the Hamas activity that led to the fire “can ever justify the heartbreaking tragedy of Palestinian civilians losing their lives.” Eylon Levy reposted Avi Mayer’s tweet that said “none of this makes the heartbreaking results of the fire any less dreadful.” IDF International Spokesperson Peter Lerner laid out the information we knew up until then that caused “the devastating result of loss of civilian life,” and even the official IDF social media pages announced the opening of an investigation into “the fire that tragically took civilian lives.”

The same thing happened in the immediate aftermath of the IDF strike that erroneously killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, and the Al Ahli Hospital misfired rocket, and every other major incident during this war that resulted in the deaths of Gazan civilians being and captured international attention. We, the pro-Israel people of social media — even the IDF itself, which is surely unprecedented in the history of warfare — go out of our way, as quickly as possible, to make sure that our followers know that we are saddened by civilian deaths on the other side of the war we’re in.

All the while, I have never seen a “pro-Palestinian” social media activist post a single word about the 120 Israelis still being held hostage in Gaza.

So why do we do this? Why do we continue to express empathy for civilians on the other side?

And more to the point, why do I believe that it is critically important that we continue to do this?

Because we owe it to ourselves to stand defiant in the face of the hatred and not let it change us.

Because we deserve to be the people with the impossibly high moral standards that we were taught to believe in as children.

Because we can never allow our hearts to be hardened.

Because the one thing Hamas, Iran, or the college campus anti-semites can never take away from us is our humanity.

Believe me, I’m not saying it’s easy. If, 241 days into the war, you feel like you have no emotional capacity to care about anyone but your own people, no sane person would blame you. I certainly wouldn’t.

But there’s an analogy I heard when I was younger that I recently co-opted in light of current events. Empathy is like a flame: you use one candle to light the next without the flame of the first candle diminishing at all. So too do we have the capacity to feel sadness, anger, and regret about the deaths of innocent Palestinians without diminishing the suffering of the Jewish people who are still mourning October 7th and praying for our hostages to be released.

No matter how long this war lasts, we should always strive to maintain — we deserve to maintain — every bit of humanity in us that we had on October 6th.

Now let me be clear: this is not about pro-Israel advocates “showing the world” our side. The (depressingly large) part of the world that hates Israel and hates the Jews is either not following Hen Mazzig, Eylon Levy, the IDF, or me on social media, or their opinion of us is not going to be swayed by our never-ending empathy for their side. When I post something about the tragedy of Palestinian suffering — at the hands of Hamas and the war Hamas started, but real suffering nonetheless — I don’t expect it to reach outside of my pro-Israel echo chamber.

No, I believe this is about showing each other that our side still has the strength to have empathy.

It’s about loosening that suffocating feeling that comes with every push notification of news about this war by being reminded that we, the people who support Israel in destroying the genocidal terrorist organization Hamas, are the good guys.

It’s about knowing that despite everything the world says about us, we’re still proud of the morals we have.

Even at our most heartbroken, we haven’t lost the ability to feel empathy for the other side. And we never should.

And you know what? I don’t care anymore that this empathy is a one-way street. That just reinforces my belief that I’m proud to be Jewish and I’m proud to be pro-Israel, and I’m never going to let the other side take that away from me.

I’m going to continue using social media to express empathy for the civilians in Gaza. I hope you do too — not for their sake, but for ours.


About the Author
Rachel Lester served in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit for four years, creating videos for the IDF's millions of social media followers and running the international video department as creative director. She was called into reserves on October 7 and stayed for six months. Rachel is an alumna of the University of Southern California and holds a Masters in Government from Reichman University.