Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Losing our humanity

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“Israel Sending Troops to Rafah Amid Famine Warnings.” “The View Within Israel Turns Bleak.” Protestors block the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza to delay trucks bringing humanitarian aid; Israel closes the Philadelphia border crossing between Egypt and Gaza; Egypt prevents humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza though Sinai in protest of Israel’s Rafiah offensive.

In insisting on the Israeli version of this war, which becomes more inhumane by the day, and refusing to consider any alternatives, we are ignoring the lives of the Israeli hostages and close to two million innocent civilians whose only crime is to live in Gaza.

It is painfully clear that our grim march into Rafiah will not win us the war. Even as we gain some ground there, we are losing ground farther north. In disturbing news reminiscent of the most brutal African civil wars, there are reports that the Hamas is conscripting teens to replace its fallen members, offering them money and food in exchange for almost certain death or capture.

Even as the military – as well as our American friends, Egypt and the other Arab countries aligned with the US – beg for a “day after” plan that might hasten the war’s end, Bibi refuses to broach the subject. He blithely tells us he will not talk with Palestinians on any sort of alternative ruling coalition for Gaza. Spouting empty slogans, he says he won’t trade “Hamastan” for “Fatahstan,” reminding us that we, ourselves, are now living in “Bibistan.”

We are willing to adopt hunger as a weapon

In this endless bloody conflict, humanitarian aid has become a weapon used by both sides. Hamas took control of its distribution from the beginning, reportedly earning hundreds of millions of dollars by selling it on to the Gazan refugees waiting just on the other side of the distribution points. On Israel’s side, we insist on pushing into Rafiah without a proper plan for ensuring the safety and welfare of those same people. We are willing to adopt hunger as a weapon.

Displacement is another weapon both sides have adopted. It is a cruel, but ultimately weak weapon. Although the scenes of destruction in Gaza and Israel’s North and South are heartrending, infuriating and anxiety-inducing, we all know everything will be rebuilt. The photos of children playing in ruins, families walking together on foot, their possessions piled on a cart – those are meant for the foreign press, and yet they are real people undergoing real suffering.

Our partial plans involve displacing Gazans a second or third time. They do not include, for example, a controlled return for these people to their homes in the North with guaranteed food distribution there. They don’t even extend to even proper humanitarian aid in the new tent neighborhoods we are erecting. They certainly do not include sending in non-combatants to provide proper medical care for those who fled Gaza’s hospitals, creating alternate means of organization, helping displaced children or ensuring all have proper sanitation.

I will say here that Hamas never had real humanity. It was a terror organization, based on religious fanaticism, meant to attack Jews living in their own country. Once they were in charge, they built up their army and created an underground city, all for the purpose of attacking Jews living in their own county. At the same time that they were receiving huge amounts of aid, many of their own citizens remained unemployed – or dependent on the Jewish state for their livelihood. Their rule has been based on fear and surveillance, nepotism and curtailing freedom.

Our own government, in meagre contrast, once had a bare shred of humanity – at least a rosy-hued mask simulating care about its citizens – but it has apparently dropped the mask and lost all semblance of human feeling.

To win a war, it will stoop to starving innocent people. To win, it will turn its back on the hostages still held in Gaza.

We know the price of releasing our hostages – the ones who are being held in inhuman conditions, the bodies of those slain on Oct 7 being held for ransom. That price will include ending the war. Far from ending the war, Israel’s army is entering Rafiah, with or without open borders for humanitarian aid. It will, they tell us, put pressure on Hamas to release hostages. And yet it looks as though we have simply fallen into another trap they have set for us. As we move our tanks and guns forward, our government slips another notch, our prime minister appears more depraved each time he appears in the media.

Humaneness, whether it is involved in working on better solutions to end the war and free the hostages or ensuring the safety of citizens in Gaza, Lebanon or Israel, becomes a secondary consideration; the inhumanity we think is needed to “win” takes over.

We are told Hamas has educated its young people with hatred for the Jewish state and its citizens. We are thus encouraged to see them not as human beings, but as brainwashed zombies who will happily kill Jews if given a gun and a quick chance. Yet we have not given them any reason to think their view of us is false. Up to now, we have refused to show Gazans our human side. By insisting on drawing out the fighting rather than considering the shape of a peaceful resolution, we are fanning the flames of hatred on both sides.

It’s true we are fighting a regime that lacks humanity. It’s true that war is brutal and de-humanizing, and that innocents are hurt and killed on both sides. It is true we are not required to lose our humanity in order to win a war.

It is a fact that the war will come to a halt, whether through a negotiated deal or mutual destruction. I persist in my belief that truly winning the war will require a return to our common humanity. We can set ourselves up for endless cycles of inhuman war, or we can change the channel. To make Hamas irrelevant, we have to find a way to make human rights relevant for all Israelis and Palestinians – in Gaza as well as in Palestine. If hatred is fed by inhumanity, we must find a way to be human, once again.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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