Penny S. Tee
May You Live in Peace, שלום and سلام.

Peacefully Walking the Tightrope of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict—Isn’t

PEACE with Penny

Being a Peace activist is often difficult yet rewarding for my soul. To be open, stay aware of my experiences and my internal thoughts, it’s a goal, not a given. Sometimes I fall short, take a step back, regroup, and then move forward. The attempt is where life happens.

I started writing this TOI Blog about what I saw on college campuses, especially at my alma mater, USC, where I went for my undergrad and MBA. Although I had previously mentioned this plague, it seems to be spreading and escalating. USC college students were protesting any university association with Israel. I could understand why, and it hurt my heart. The numbers killed and the daily showing of parents holding their dead children in their arms, screaming in abject pain, shock, and I’m sure pleading in their hearts that it wasn’t true, is horrific.

The scene appearing at many college campuses is repugnant. Jewish students are being attacked, frightened for their lives, and at Columbia University, the campus rabbi told them to go home, they are not safe on campus. Of course, he was trying to protect them, but why should the innocent Jewish students be forced off campus instead of those threatening genocide and attacking the Jewish students? Chanting that Jewish students should go back to Poland or Zionists don’t deserve to live, is the First Amendment gone too far. Yet, as we were told at a recent lecture on choosing colleges, Don’t choose the college according to antisemitism on campus, they’re all like that! What would happen if these same acts were against people of color? Rightly so, there would be outrage. Why if you are Jewish, the age-old hate serpent raises its malicious head, is predictable, and seems to be accepted? Status quo. Silence is complicity.

The festering antisemitism throughout the world has come out from the underground once again and now seems not only rampant but treated with impunity. These perpetrators aren’t removed from campus for their disgusting beliefs, but rather for trespassing illegally. What they say and do is hidden under free speech. Some protesters who refused to leave the demonstration on campus were arrested. Not all the protesters were students.

Perhaps they were paid demonstrators like I recently endured when we went to our temple’s women’s retreat? After years of attending our annual retreat at various locations, this was a new experience. The Hilton chain was being picketed by hotel union workers. The demonstrators were at the entrance that we had to go through to get to hotel registration.

2024 Women’s Retreat Hilton Union Protesters

They had extremely loud blow horns and bullhorns, shouting their demands and rhymes of indignation. It was impossible to escape the noise anywhere in the hotel and especially at the entrance, when the automatic doors opened and closed for people entering and exiting. I felt sorry for those working the front desk having to listen to that throughout their shifts, as well as the complaints from the guests. Every morning at 7am we were greeted by the noise, which continued throughout the day. No need for setting an alarm, but waking up to the incessant roar was not pleasant.

Yet, on campuses too, perhaps initially a valid effort, repulsively crosses the line. If they believe Israel is inflicting genocide and it’s wrong, then why do they believe calling for the genocide of Jews is correct? At what point does tit for tat, need to stop? What do they think “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, means? Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that all these students don’t know what they are saying. I’m sure many do, but others?  And if so, shame on them, these are the smart next generation?

Why do people justify solely using their talking points when defending their positions? So many partial truths are screamed from the top of their lungs. At the same time, it’s effective, disingenuous, and often destructive.

Unfortunately, there is too much horror to go around. We also mustn’t forget the hostages, nor the boundaries of humanity crossed on October 7th when women were gang raped in front of their husbands and children before the husbands and children were then murdered, and the women were sometimes killed as well, and then their corpses were raped. Or the women were taken as captives, to endure more unimaginable torture. I wondered if the victims thought the cruelest offense was that they weren’t killed, and that they would remember the pain of their loved ones, as well as themselves, for as long as they lived.

And the perpetrators filmed, then proudly called their parents on their phones to show their accomplishments. Their calls were not met with horror from their parents, but rather pride of a job well done.

I went to Shabbat services Saturday morning and the Israel Matters Committee had put a welcoming table, set this week for a Passover Seder, in the lobby. At each place setting was a picture of a missing hostage and a paragraph about who they are. Other hostage pictures were placed throughout the sanctuaries and hallways. The contrast between the warmth and caring that you would make for a family meal, and the missing hostages broke my heart. How must their families feel after over six months with them missing? They don’t even know if they are still alive, and given the stories we’ve heard from other hostages, if when they return, who they used to be, will have survived. BRING THE HOSTAGES HOME!

As a Peace activist, it’s truly important to keep the feelings of both sides in mind. It can be difficult, and essential. This is some of how my day unfolded recently…synchronicity? I think so.

I was scheduled to attend a monthly zoom session of interfaith members of a group I belonged to. When I got on the call, I learned that on the agenda were two speakers, who had received fellowships from a Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, called New Ground. They were two of the twenty recipients of fellowships from the New Grounds Fellowship Program. I was excited, given my Peace activism, I seemed to be in the right place.

The first speaker was Jewish and emotional. Why? She had finally found her peeps in New Ground. I’m sure it’s hard to be an activist of any kind, but now it’s particularly challenging. As you might predict, working on Peace during the Israel-Hamas War presents additional challenges. Believe me, I live it.

Naama, who is Jewish, told us that she had spent years working on major conflicts like in Darfur and the South Sudan where 10,000 Muslims and Christians were murdered each month! Looking at the statistics of death online, Wikipedia stated:

“The Darfur genocide is the systematic killing of ethnic Darfuri people which has occurred during the War in Darfur and the ongoing War in Sudan (2023–present) in Darfur. It has become known as the first genocide of the 21st century.[2][3] The genocide, which is being carried out against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups, has led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to indict several people for crimes against humanity, rape, forced transfer and torture. An estimated 200,000 people were killed between 2003 and 2005.[4]

In 2023, ethnic violence against Masalit people flared up again as a side effect of another war in Sudan, resulting in many of those affected fleeing to Chad[5] and beginning another escalation of the genocide. As of December 2023, over 8 million people require humanitarian aid.[6].

Naama has two Masters degrees, both in Anti-genocide and studies of genocide. Obviously, given the accusations on both sides, between reports from Israel, as well as Gaza, I was curious if she thought Israel’s actions equated to genocide and how she felt about the calls for genocide from the demonstrators.

She had worked on the massive Eastern Congo sexual violence that had occurred. My eyebrows raised. One of the commentaries that I had written for the Peace Haggadah mentioned below was called, “Why Are We Ignoring Peace’s Most Valuable Players?” It’s about the impact of wars on women including sexual violence, as well as the importance of including women in Peace work, the difficulties they face when they do, and how their impact on Peace improves with their involvement. Once again, her words rang in my head, another coincidence. My final TOI Blog during Passover will be about this subject.

Naama said she had built her career to get Americans to pay attention, but Americans were not prepared to hold the US government accountable for these issues. The American public was interested in jobs, the economy and abortion rights.

She felt although the affordable care act in health care had shown results, it was a disappointing anomaly that didn’t spark a continuous pattern of change. Her heart was in the right place, but she didn’t feel anyone was listening. I could discouragingly relate. She was hopeful that culturally changing peoples’ mindsets would yield better results.

Her co-speaker was a female, Muslim lawyer named Afsha. She told us that her alma mater was USC, and I couldn’t help but blurt out, our USC cry, “Fight On!” Apparently, it had been on her lips and mind too. She proceeded to describe how when she saw the protesters being arrested at USC, she and other lawyers immediately went down to the police station to help them until the early hours of the morning. OK, this time I was stunned. What was I being taught?

I knew immediately that I had to make sure I stayed open to both sides. What one person thinks can be very different from your perspective, even though there are other things you have in common.

Both women indicated that due to the Israel-Hamas War, conversations immediately turned intense. This was unlike previous cohorts where it took many weeks of interactions and learning about the proper way to have difficult conversations to get down to the nitty gritty, more risky, authentic discourse. From the looks of things, both survived and they said they have become “besties.” You could feel the affection they had toward each other pop through the screen. It always amazes me how speaking with people perceived as different from you, so often breaks down the walls just by conversations with one another. I’ve seen that happen consistently within the many Peace organizations I speak with. It’s simple and so effective. Now, just speaking doesn’t make all the differences of opinion go away, but if offered with respect, it lays the foundation to work on resolution.

These women were in a program I would love to explore. The Associate Director, Andrea Hodos was on the zoom session as well. Later, I reached out to all three of them, hopeful that we could talk, maybe even become friends. Along the way, I met Ben Ginsburg, their Communications & Operations Coordinator. When I read his bio online that read, “Ben is passionate about innovative storytelling as a vehicle for opening up these conversations in surprising ways.” I knew we could have an interesting conversation someday.

This year I had committed to myself that I, too, would look to find more peeps that had my same passion for Peace.

Recently, I wrote another couple Times of Israel Blogs, informing readers that a number of us Peace activists had written a Peace Haggadah and 4/7/2024, held a Peace Seder.

A Haggadah is a booklet of prayers or service that is used during a Passover Seder (meal). It is a tale of freedom, when the Jews were slaves in Egypt and after suffering ten plagues, the Pharoh finally let the Jews leave, being led by Moses to our promised land. Over the centuries thousands of Haggadot (Hebrew plural for multiple Haggadahs) have been written with many varied themes in the commentaries. In addition to the prayers and commentaries, special music had been chosen as an accompaniment. The backbone of the Haggadah was the usual fifteen sections of tradition. IMO, it was a great effort of deep thinkers with Peace in mind. Since it was a Peace Haggadah, commentaries were presented from many sides, Israelis, Palestinians, Gazans, and people living in both diasporas (Jewish and Muslim). At times it was challenging. If you read my Times of Israel Blog,  “Birthing a Peace Haggadah and Peace Seder”  about them, I’ve described the challenges in detail. These are sensitive subjects and emphasizing Peace was my interest in participation. As those who know me would predict, it was irresistible.

Thankfully, most of the comments of what I write about are met with approval and that was true, as usual. However, in one Facebook group that interestingly enough has Progressive in its name, began to attack, and sadly, this was from fellow Jews. Over the years I’ve learned when writing, the myriad viewpoints is vast and can be a surprise, and this was a true case in point. The surprise was not as much what some said, but in this synchronicity, they were using some of the same concerns I had posed to the writers in the Peace Haggadah group, but we felt we had resolved.

Some of what they said, I had also previously confronted the group of 17 involved in writing, editing and laying out the document for printing the Peace Haggadah. A Haggadah, no matter what theme, would always be a Jewish document. The fact that we also invited others to participate in writing the commentaries who were Palestinians/Gazans and others who weren’t Jewish, would mean that they would be guests at our Jewish Seder table. I was gratified that some of the Jews involved who were interested in making Palestinians equal in Peace, had to at least hear from me that while I understood their position regarding Peace, the essence of a Haggadah being a Jewish document made them welcome guests, but impossible to be “equal” in the context of both making observations or participation.

I believe any negative comments these self-described progressive Jews made, had the right to do so. But as is the case in today’s world, so much of what they said was inaccurate, they were just spouting their opinions and it was clear, some without even looking at the Peace Haggadah, were just making up stories that mostly entertained their own egos.

Some were offended by putting anything that wasn’t Jewish within a Haggadah. Others lamented the timing, feeling it was disrespectful and worse. What especially struck a nerve was Unity is Strength’s logo, who was the initial sponsor of the Peace Haggadah. It has both the Israeli flag and Palestinian flag shown within the Peace Haggadah, with the rest of us who sponsored the Peace Haggadah, with our own logos. Honestly, before this, it never struck me as anything other than being appropriate for a Peace Haggadah. Using flags to demonstrate the two sides, Israeli and Palestinian seems unavoidable for a Peace Haggadah about the IP conflict. Several equate Hamas with all Palestinians and therefore, it was clear, the Palestinian flag under any conditions upset them, and especially on a Jewish document. When I tried to explain that Hamas, not all Palestinians, caused October 7th,  reminded them that Hamas’ flag was green, and showed it to them, let’s just say I dug my hole deeper.

Some contributors to the Peace Haggadah, had written a commentary believing that a memorial should be built at the site of the music festival acknowledging the death of innocents on both sides. That was offensive to some who then accused all of us (regardless of the Peace Haggadah’s disclaimer that each of the writers was only responsible for their own writing), of equating what happened October 7th with what Israel was doing to defend itself.

One biting comment from a man in this progressive group attempted to chastise us and say that we equated October 7th with Israel’s response. I don’t believe that to be accurate, and even if it were, did he skip the disclaimer? “Every person who contributed to this should feel deeply ashamed of themselves because this is an affront not just to Jews but to everyone who hopes for a more just, peaceful, and humane world. The “Peace Haggadah” (actually a Terrorism Rationalization Haggadah) may be useful to study by those who want to better understand the mindsets of people who become unwitting (or perhaps not so unwitting) apologists for terrorism.of equating what happened on October 7th with what Israel did.”

Ouch, I am even more grateful than before for the atta’ girls I had received for my diligent, well-intended work.

Well, you can’t say we didn’t hit a nerve, but it is insulting. Unfortunately, some of what was said were just made up in their own imaginations, like that I was a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, or that writers who wrote commentaries for the Peace Haggadah didn’t believe Israel had a right to exist—these ideas were fabrications in their own minds. Such a shame, but when one works on Peace you have to be ready for differing opinions, even if the assertions of the others don’t match the accuracy nor reality of what is said. Especially in today’s world, lies can be dangerous.

May You Live in Peace, שלום and سلام  Amen.



1 Gingerich, Tara; Leaning, Jennifer (2004). The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the Conflict in Darfur, Sudan (PDF). Harvard School of Public Health. p. 16

2 Williams 2012, p. 192.

3 The Bambuti genocide predates the Darfur genocide.

4 “Darfur”. Retrieved 2023-08-02.

5 “Ethnically targeted violence worsens in Sudan’s Darfur, rights monitors say”. Reuters. 11 July 2023.

6 “Explainer: How Darfur became a ‘humanitarian calamity and catastrophic human rights crisis’ | UN News”. 2023-12-14. Retrieved 2024-04-14.



About the Author
Penny S. Tee is a vodcaster, speaker, author, and educator. She interviews Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, together forging a better future. Why? Read her book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel,” which describes her 2014 family vacation in Israel—daily touring sacred places, and cowering in bomb shelters at night. The missiles blew up her comfortable world—today she devotes her life to Peace.
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