Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

Our Burden and Our Hope

A few days ago, I was listening to the radio when I heard the song Habaita (Homeward) in its original version, sung by Yardena Arazi, and my eyes swelled with tears.

The song was originally composed to speak of soldiers returning from war. It has become the unofficial anthem of the movement calling for the return of all the hostages from Gaza without delay.

There is a recent version, which 1,000 musicians from all over Israel joined together with the families, at the Caesarea amphitheater, to perform. It breaks the heart and warms the heart at the same time to watch and listen to them. There is so much love and so much grief. There is still hope.

Hope is what we need.

The chances of these people, who were snatched from their homes or a music festival while posing no threat to anyone, members of families and communities who love them, returning safely diminish every moment. It is hard to maintain hope – but we must, for the sake of the families.

It is no wonder that since October 7th, I have found myself on the verge of tears many times.

The day in question was particularly difficult.  A former friend from my Zionist youth movement days in Australia called me a Nazi.

This is not the first time I have been abused and slandered because I love this Land and will defend my right to live here. When I was a university student, the catch-cry on campus was “Israel is Palestine” and to support Israel was seen as abandoning left-wing values – the values a student was supposed to hold – and siding with our imperialist enemy, the United States.

Even while pointing out that Australia was a country of immigrants who had no previous connection with the land in which they were now living and who displaced an indigenous population who did, we had to work very hard to maintain our left-wing credentials and to demonstrate that we were not trying to oppress the weak and disinherited but that we were building a socialist society based on respect for the dignity of each person.

Israel has not quite lived up to the reputation we tried to make for it then but to acknowledge that it is not utopia is not to acknowledge that it is evil – or a mistake.

Yesterday was the first time that the verbal abuse came from someone who once shared my idealism. I did not cry because of the words used against me.  I cried because of our failure to tell our story. I cried because the global media – ironically, in Nazi propaganda, under Jewish control –  has set up a paradigm of good and bad, weak and strong, victim and perpetrator, without any nuance and without any context.  The people of Gaza all are the former; Israelis are the latter. Hamas, which perpetrated the horrors of October 7th, is part of the former; peace-activists in Israel, or those fighting to protect their homes or rescue their loved ones, are the latter.

A decades’ long campaign is having success. Even some former Zionists have fallen for it.

To be quite honest, my former friend did not actually say I was a Nazi. He said, “Zionism was intrinsically racist from its very first conception.” He said, “Comparisons between Zionism and Nazism are now inescapable.” I take it very personally because I am a Zionist.

Had he said, “All forms of nationalism have elements of racism” I might have agreed. But when he goes on to suggest that the “solution” is a bi-national state, he tacitly suggests that other people’s nationalism is acceptable and that diluting our nationalism with a more acceptable brand will solve our problem. He has no problem with Palestinian nationalism – only with ours.

Nationalism may well be an ideology that has outlived its value but if that is so, it must be true for all forms of nationalism – not just for ours.

To compare our desire to have a nation state with the most despicable ideology to ever exist – an ideology that dehumanized and committed genocide against those who were not born into the “correct” ethnic or racial categories – is heinous.  It was our families the Nazis murdered, in a systematic attempt at extermination.

To suggest that the tragic loss of life in Gaza is an attempt at genocide is outrageous. It is so demonstrably untrue that it would be a joke if so much were not at stake. The Gazan population has been growing steadily over the years. That is not genocide. And when this war winds up, as it undoubtedly will, there will still be a Gazan population who identify with Palestinians in other places and with whom Israel will have to deal.

I deplore war. It never resolves issues. It forces us to dehumanize the enemy in order to fight him and, as a result, our humanity is diminished. Equally bad, though, is standing by while evil is perpetrated. After the Shoah, we insisted that bystanders were complicit. They were not innocent. Those who do not try to rid the world of evil are themselves evil.

Hamas is an evil ideology and it must be fought.

That is our burden, as it has flourished on our border and has threatened our way of life and our very right to live.

But we cannot just kill everyone who is associated with Hamas. That is not an option and not a vision for the future. And we must not confuse our need to fight Hamas with making our lives more secure. Security will not come as a result of war. The best that war will do is deplete the power of the enemy for a period of time. Security will only come from a diplomatic resolution of differences.

We have to fight in order to disarm Hamas – to remove the immediate threat. Then, we have to work towards our future. We have to re-educate a population that has reason to fear and hate us after they have been brainwashed for generations and after we have destroyed their homes. We have to negotiate a political settlement that gives incentives for everyone to support. It may be two states. It may be some other model.

We pray every day for peace to come. We need to transform our prayers into plans of action, in order to turn the vision of the Prophets into reality. That, too, is our burden. It is also our hope.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.