This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we are shar­ing from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives. 

I will begin by geo­graph­i­cal­ly and tem­po­ral­ly con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing my words: I am writ­ing from my home in Jerusalem. I am going tomor­row to a shi­va for a fam­i­ly of six souls, three of whom were less than five years old, mur­dered at their home on Octo­ber 7. Their farewell cer­e­mo­ny was one of the most dev­as­tat­ing moments for me as a human being. It is quite late at night, but I can­not sleep. Planes are storm­ing above my home; every sound star­tles me. For over two weeks, Hamas has been bomb­ing Israel (which I think is often over­looked, as we have shel­ters and an Iron Dome). My thoughts are with the inno­cents in Gaza. I tend to think that my suf­fer­ing is noth­ing in com­par­i­son to theirs. I just read that more trucks of human­i­tar­i­an aid sup­plies were allowed to enter the heav­i­ly bombed Gaza. Over 200 cit­i­zens of Israel — women my age and younger, men, chil­dren, seniors — are still held cap­tive by the same peo­ple who invad­ed Israeli homes, who killed the fam­i­ly I men­tioned above. The images from their funer­al — six black coffins lay­ing in a row, the mourn­ing friends and fam­i­ly — refuse to leave my heart and mind. Just like most of my friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers, I spend the days try­ing to find hope, vol­un­teer­ing, reach­ing out. Uni­ver­si­ties, schools, and many work­places are closed, so we have to fill our days with oth­er things that will pre­vent the con­stant thoughts, pan­ic, and dis­turb­ing con­cern that this war will esca­late into some­thing much big­ger than we can even pre­dict or imag­ine. A war that could poten­tial­ly put an end to our lives or dam­age them irre­versibly. Our future, in Israel or else­where, is utter­ly uncertain.

First and fore­most, I want to stress that all Israelis have a fam­i­ly mem­ber, a friend, or a friend of a friend who was hurt, killed, or kid­napped in the events of Octo­ber 7. Israel is that tiny. Vic­tims of the mas­sacre of Octo­ber 7 are still not buried as I write this on Octo­ber 23. Dozens are still miss­ing. Bod­ies are not yet iden­ti­fied (by now it seems that some were burnt or tor­tured to a point that they can­not be rec­og­nized). To this, I send an invalu­able mes­sage to our com­mu­ni­ties: write to your Israeli and Pales­tin­ian friends if you haven’t done so already, and do it again if you did. Reach out to them, ask how they are, try to see if there is a way to sup­port them. They (we) are under­go­ing the biggest col­lec­tive cri­sis of their lives. The peo­ple who tend to pay the price are usu­al­ly very far from being the ones who deter­mine the pol­i­cy, the attacks, or their lim­i­ta­tions. Many Israelis who endured the mas­sacre are peace activists them­selves. Many of them, just like myself, oppose the Israeli gov­ern­ment and the ongo­ing occu­pa­tion of Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion. And so, in the call for peace, I think it can­not be overem­pha­sized that behind the nar­ra­tives, the labels peo­ple put on this war, the sym­bols they retain from it, and the num­bers – there are peo­ple. Jews, Mus­lims, Chris­tians, Druze, Bedouins, Israelis, Pales­tini­ans, Israeli Arabs, and the list goes on. Many mem­bers of the plen­ti­ful eth­nic and social groups are doing their best to address and over­come this dis­as­ter togeth­er. Please, reach out to them! Set aside your own thoughts, ideas, and opin­ions about what is hap­pen­ing and embrace sim­ple humanism. 

The Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict has pro­duced many sym­bols. See for instance the com­plex reflec­tion of Nao­mi Klein: 

Hard­er for us adults is the fact that, in their desire to cel­e­brate the pow­er­ful sym­bol­ism of Pales­tini­ans escap­ing the open air prison that is Gaza — which occu­pied peo­ple have every right to do — some of our sup­posed com­rades on the left con­tin­ue to min­i­mize mas­sacres of Israeli civilians.

The world we live in is a world of sym­bols. These vehi­cles of mean­ing are often mis­placed to rep­re­sent some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent than what gen­er­at­ed them in the first place. Barthes and many oth­ers point­ed out quite a long time ago that sym­bols are ulti­mate­ly dan­ger­ous. The for­eign gaze on the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict has reached a cul­mi­na­tion point, with left-wing move­ments unable or unwill­ing to con­demn the mas­sacre of the South­ern civil­ians of Israel because it is lack­ing con­text.” This leads us to a colos­sal break­ing point of human­ist and left-wing val­ues in Israel and exte­ri­or to it. I think the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, if such still exists, steps in here.

It steps in because seek­ing peace must not pass through the pop­ulist, tox­ic, and dan­ger­ous dis­course that we are wit­ness­ing in social media today. Many peo­ple took upon them­selves to be the ambas­sadors of what they see as jus­tice, upload­ing twist­ed info­graph­ics, or cre­at­ing a shame­ful mix­ture of facts, dis­in­for­ma­tion, biased sto­ries, anec­dotes, and pop­u­lar ideas, call­ing it a short his­to­ry that we all know about Israel and Pales­tine.” One can­not be overe­d­u­cat­ed on these mat­ters, and the sort­ing out of unbi­ased mate­ri­als is by no means an easy task. This era that we are liv­ing in sure­ly shows us that despite the great access to knowl­edge, self-edu­ca­tion is poor­ly achieved. I get the sense that learn­ing, nuance, and his­to­ry are replaced by the fab­ri­ca­tion of sol­id opin­ions and con­ve­nient black-and-white sto­ries. The results are dis­sem­i­nat­ing dan­ger­ous­ly, and along the way they grow to encom­pass more hate, more denial, and even more vio­lence. Do not be tempt­ed to crit­i­cize because you know it all” and under­stand”; do not over­look your own for­eign gaze, which repro­duces out of this con­flict sym­bols such as free­dom,” oppres­sors,” colo­nial­ism,” and so on. The con­flict is com­pli­cat­ed, the for­eign gaze should be sim­ple: oppose war, sup­port life, con­demn the death of civil­ians of any side. Be cau­tious, par­tic­u­lar­ly at these times when words are weapons, because it results in more polar­iza­tion. A true call for peace is not a judg­ing one. Rather, it is a help­ful hand reach­ing out to the peo­ple who need it — recall­ing and empha­siz­ing love, care, light, and faith in these times of darkness.

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Yael Leoku­movich is a writer, essay­ist, and trans­la­tor. Her works have been pub­lished in Hebrew-speak­ing mag­a­zines, includ­ing Gran­ta and HaMusach. In 2023, she was award­ed the Her­shon Prize for Fine Lit­er­a­ture. Yael Leoku­movich is cur­rent­ly a PhD stu­dent at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty, affil­i­at­ed with the Man­del School for Advanced Stud­ies in the Human­i­ties. Her dis­ser­ta­tion is ded­i­cat­ed to research­ing mean­ing and con­cep­tion in Cuneiform lit­er­a­ture through the depic­tion of the Mesopotami­an Marshes.