“What did you expect?”
Since October 7th, these words continue to echo in my mind. On the day of the attack, a now former friend, a Palestinian activist, wrote to me. I remember seeing in his Instagram story celebratory posts with photos of abducted Israelis, and not fully understanding what I was supposed to feel or how I was supposed to react. I still don’t think I fully understand. Can we still be friends across such a deep divide?
I think that after the horrors carried out by Hamas – horrors that have kept me awake every night this past week, that have had me weeping like a baby at a friend’s funeral – I will never be able to look him in the eyes knowing that he saw these same horrors, the same senseless loss of life, the same terror on the faces of children and teenaged girls and babies being violently carried away, and celebrated.
What did I expect?
I don’t know.
I knew that the situation in Gaza was intolerable, and has been for years. I knew that this was, in part, due to the Israeli blockade. I knew people in Gaza were slowly going mad because of how densely populated the Strip is, because of the lack of mobility, because they were at the mercy of the Israeli government’s decisions pertaining to everything from who gets to enter, leave, or return to Gaza, where their electricity comes from, and up to regular bombings by the Israeli air force toppling buildings and killing dozens at the push of a button. I can only imagine what living with that fear, that helplessness, that grief, does to a person.
I also knew that Hamas was a radical, militant, religiously extreme organization which has demonstrated, time and time again, that human life is not sacred to them. I know that if I were to ask Hamas leaders what they would expect would happen to Gaza and Palestinians in general following their barbaric attack, especially given Israel’s current extreme-right government, their predictions would probably be similar to – if not more violent than – the current reality on the ground in Gaza. I also know, firsthand, that Hamas was not hesitant to use their own citizens as human shields.
Perhaps it was this knowledge of their brutal, violent nature that made the footage of Israeli women being dragged through the streets of Gaza open such a deep, gaping pit at the bottom of my stomach when I saw it. I knew I could expect no decency or mercy from their captors.
But I did expect decency and mercy and value for human life from my Palestinian friend. A self-proclaimed Marxist and socialist and freedom activist, I thought that we shared values. I thought that his reasons for opposing the occupation and mine were basically aligned – but to see him posting the virtual equivalent of gleefully clapping as atrocities were taking place against innocents, simply because these innocents were Israeli, made me doubt his claims of holding humanistic values – and demanding freedom for Palestinians in their name – were ever sincere. Instead, I now think this former friend has been weaponizing humanist, socialist discourse in support of a nationalistic cause.
I feel I can say this with confidence because despite my criticism of the Israeli government, despite my deep revolt at their religious zealotry, if I had to make the decision for anyone at all under which regime they needed to live, it would still be this broken, corrupt, racist, occupying Israeli government, and not Hamas. The hashtag #HamasIsIsis may be simplistic, but it is essentially true, and anyone claiming the freedom, human rights and wellbeing of the Palestinian people are at the top of their priorities could never make a serious claim that Hamas are liberators in any real sense of the word.
And so, I would like to turn this question back to my former Palestinian friend: when you saw the attacks, what did you expect would happen? How could you look at the barbaric acts of the Hamas terrorists and not immediately distance yourself – as an activist, as a freedom fighter – from them? How was your reaction joy and not grief for the loss of Israeli life you’ve just witnessed, and the loss of Palestinian life you surely must have known would soon follow?
International friends: if you see yourself as someone who values democracy, human rights and human life above all else, and are now bemoaning the unfolding tragedy inflicted upon Gazans for these reasons – as I am – please don’t do them the same disservice my former Palestinian friend has done them. Israel’s attacks on Gaza are not happening in a void. If your position is opposed to the killing of innocents – women, children, babies, teenagers, and people in general – the conscientious “side” to take is not Hamas’, just as it is not the Israeli government’s. This is not a football match with teams to pick and cheer for. Until you realize that standing with Palestinians also means standing with Israelis in opposition to corrupt, insane leadership and the nationalism that enables it (and that if you must make the comparison, that Palestinian leadership is more corrupt and more insane) you will continue to be a part of the problem, not of the solution.