David Lehrer

Why should we care?

Gazan refugees in Rafah. Photo source: Ibrahim Abu Raida and the Women’s Gaza Initiative

For the rest of the world, October 7th took place last year. For Israelis, October 7th is still going on. Every day, through evening news interviews with survivors, family members of the kidnapped, the announcements of the fallen soldiers, broadcasts from their funerals, and the trauma of the displaced Israelis, we are reexperiencing the some of the most traumatic events of our country’s life. We turn on the news every night holding our breaths until we are assured that we do not recognize the name of the latest soldier killed in Gaza. We then feel the pain of the mother, the father, wife, the partner of that young person and imagine what it would be like if they were ours. Sometimes we recognize the name and then the pain is overwhelming. We go to sleep at night with our thoughts of the hostages buried deep in a tunnel somewhere in the darkness of Gaza.

Therefore, there is very little room in our minds and in our hearts for the pain and suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their family members to the war between Israel and Hamas. Israelis are not exposed to their misery on a nightly basis the way we are to our own grief and anguish. While the nightly news around the world carries stories of the precarious situation of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, Israelis are in general, unaware, or at least not exposed to their story.

Over the past 5 months, I have maintained contact with several Palestinian colleagues in Gaza, with whom I have been working for years to try to build bridges of trust and to model the peace which we hope to see in the region. Much of my current contact with these friends has been around trying to help them get out of Gaza. Fortunately, most have succeeded. Many have done so by paying thousands of dollars for themselves and their families to leave through the Rafah border crossing and traveling to various points on the globe. Some of my colleagues, however, are still in Gaza, living in refugee camps. Recently one of my colleagues sent me a video produced by the Gaza Women’s Initiative, in which one can hear the voices of the Palestinians themselves and see the circumstances under which they are currently surviving.

Whenever I speak to one of my colleagues on the phone, the first thing she says to me is that she is still alive, and then lets out a small laugh. She has described to me the harrowing circumstances of her flight from her home in a village in the south of Gaza, which was bombed, to an area which Israel had designated as a safe zone, and which too was subsequently bombed. Her main concern was for her ailing elderly parents who she was finally able to get out of Gaza to her sister who lives in Egypt. She is now organizing life in the refugee camp, helping to build tents and toilets. While food does not seem to be in as short a supply as it is in northern Gaza, everything else is lacking. There are not enough medical supplies, and warm clothing. Most of the Palestinians in the refugee camps in the south of Gaza fled Gaza City and other towns in the north in the beginning of the war. The weather was still warm, and many did not consider that they would not be returning to their homes anytime soon, so they do not have enough winter clothes. Food supplies are available in the south of Gaza, but for a price. Due to the vacuum of governance created by the war, the food being supplied by the humanitarian organizations for free is quickly confiscated by Hamas, clans, and criminal organizations which then sell it to the displaced Palestinians refugees. My colleague is doing what she can to help her fellow refugees survive but the outlook remains grim as a potential military incursion into Rafah hangs in the air, and the Palestinian civilians, including elderly, women, and children, may once again find themselves in the middle of a battlefield.

We do not have to care more for the fate of Palestinian civilians than we do for the fate of our own Israeli civilians. It is ok to be focused on our own people’s suffering, but we should not ignore the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had no part in the atrocities of October 7th, and have become refugees living in tents, in the cold desert wind, with no clue about their future. Why should we care, other than the fact that guaranteeing the adequate supply of humanitarian aid and assuring the safety of Palestinian civilians is what maintains international support for our struggle against Hamas? During the Passover holiday in a few weeks, we will be sitting around the table with our family and friends, explaining to our children that once we were slaves in Egypt and then became refugees, fleeing our tormentors, living in tents in the cold desert, not knowing from where would come our bread, and not knowing what our future would hold.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.
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