We must not lose our humanity

Image from video produced by Omdim B'Yachad
A child in Gaza. Reproduced with permission from a video by Omdim B'Yachad published 7 March 2024 https://x.com/omdimbeyachad/status/1765742548276916690?s=20

Children in Gaza are starving to death whilst a couple of miles away people eat lavish meals. These are deaths that have been warned of for months.

This is no longer about politics, this is about humanity.

You can believe Hamas is evil and should be destroyed and also that allowing civilians to starve to death is evil and an illegitimate way of achieving Hamas’s destruction.

You can want more than anything in the world for the hostages to be returned home safely and think that allowing civilians to starve is both a hopelessly ineffective as well as a wholly illegitimate way to try to achieve this.

You can believe that this is all Hamas’s fault, that it is solely Hamas’s acts that have led to the starvation of their own people – and still believe that Israel, as the power now in effective control of the territory, has a responsibility (moral and legal) to prevent the starvation of the people living there.

You could even believe that Palestinians have no right to be on the land, that it all belongs to the Jews, that they should be deported – and still speak up against their mass starvation.

I am ashamed that most of our communal leaders are silent. When the dust has settled and we look back on this episode, there will be ever-growing horror at what the world allowed to happen, about how many stayed silent, about how synagogues urged us to show our “full and passionate support for Israel” –  as its leaders abandoned the hostages and starved Palestinian civilians.

Speaking up against the death and starvation of people in Gaza doesn’t make you disloyal to Israelis. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the hostages. It means you are a human who is pained by the suffering of other humans.

At a time when Israel is at war, at a time of rising antisemitism, our communal instinct is to defend Israel. But uncritical support risks our humanity. Defending Israel shouldn’t mean making ourselves immune to the horror and outrage we should feel when we see images of emaciated children lifeless in their parents’ arms. Our instinct should be to call for whatever is necessary to save even one more child, not to deny what is happening, to argue about responsibility, or to look away. Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg has shown how concern can be expressed with sensitivity and nuance.

I beg our all of our leaders – Rabbis, teachers, heads of communal organizations, newspaper editors – to show brave leadership, to refuse to look away, to help save our community’s humanity.

About the Author
Anna Roiser is a lawyer with an MA in Israeli Studies who has spent time living in Jerusalem. She is a trustee of the New Israel Fund UK and a member of the national Steering Group of UK Friends of Standing Together.
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