I am the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, including a paternal grandfather who spent three months at Dachau before a relative bribed the Nazis to release him. My maternal grandmother emigrated here from Poland to avoid the fate of one younger sister who with her family was taken to Auschwitz, all murdered, after she refused to leave her schtetl in Poland, claiming that the antisemitic plague would pass over.
My father escaped Vienna before Krystallnacht. A professional engineer with $6 in his pocket, sponsored by a well-established relative in Brooklyn, a radiologist, he refused all monetary assistance and got a job as a hospital orderly. After working that job for two years, he raised enough money to bring what was left of his family here. He had lost a grandmother and aunt to Auschwitz. He brought over two sisters and his parents, one unrecognizable from his time spent at Dachau, who lived another fifteen years smoking himself to death with emphysema, prison camp numbers tattooed on one of his wrists that he never discussed.
My father found wealthy Jewish sponsors in Trenton, where he settled. They introduced him to my mother and together they had three children. I was raised in an extremely xenophobic and racist environment. My grandparents and parents became ardent Zionist activists and wanted to send me to Israel for summers when I was in high school, which I flatly refused. It took me a lifetime to shed the prejudices that ran in my bloodstream—including several years off and on attending Quaker meetings and socializing with liberal Muslims in interfaith groups—to finally travel to Israel on an ecumenical ten-day tour in 2018. I met relatives and childhood friends there, all Jewish, all anxious to coexist in peace with Palestinians—Israelis and others. The atmosphere was tense there. Military weren’t evident, but in Tel Aviv, where I met one friend, we dined outdoors alone. The restaurants were almost empty. No music played. I so enjoyed the reunions that I didn’t think about dangers but realized later why we dined alone. The atmosphere in Jerusalem was more normal.
With all of this baggage and resistance to it, what do I make of the October 7 massacres and the carnage that follows? With such a worldwide display of opposition to Israeli requitals, I hope that the resultant anti-Semitism might give way to a larger conclusion—the horrors of decimating innocent civilians that must stop: the conviction that has bloodied history time after devastating time that war is the answer to political conflicts activated by political powers.
Like most of us, I want peaceful solutions. Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values, wrote Vachel Lindsay. Hamas claims that all of its attempted nonviolent gestures to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians have failed, and violence was their only recourse. Another axiom comes to mind at a mundane level: how many traffic lights have been installed at unsafe locations only after death occurs? When will gun control take effect in this country in the wake of so much violence? Who knows? What will it take?
What must be undone is this foundation of patriarchal culture that abets violence as solutions to conflict at every level, from domestic abuse to world wars. Human nature must evolve. An eye for an eye turns the whole world blind, said Gandhi. Jesus reiterated the Mosaic commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and advocated turning the other cheek if one is hit, even while prophesying war at the end of times. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he also preached, “because they will be called sons of God.”
Why all the violence condoned by God as Joshua and Caleb plundered Canaanites to establish Israel and Judea as the Hebrew homeland? A God who ruled “Thou shalt not kill”? The Canaanites were all called evil, justifying the slaughter. I imagine that Netanyahu sees himself as reiterating this calling toward violence, even as his activities in the preceding few years diminished the border security of Israel in favor of other objectives. I have read that he stopped worrying about Hamas, funneling millions to them via Qatar, hence secure that he could concentrate on the West Bank, condoning Jewish settlement on Palestinian properties there.
The blockaded entry points into Israel for Palestinians who worked there were set up to prevent suicide bombers from entering. And indeed suicide bombing virtually ended once these checkpoints were set up, but at least when I visited, the atmosphere was tense, at least in Tel Aviv, as I said.
It’s not right for innocent people to have to suffer for the sins of violent aggressors. A basic tenet of “civilization” must be overturned. War is not the answer. Human nature must evolve—seemingly an impossible solution but one I pursue, standing on the shoulders of giants, the peace activists of the world. I have a book of examples of peaceful solutions to conflicts throughout history., “52 True Stories of Nonviolent Success,” which includes the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chile ousting Pinochet, the Montgomery bus boycott, and more, all the way back to the ancient Roman plebeian strike in 260 CE, the year that Valerian was succeeded by his son Galienus, and the Jewish nonviolent resistance against the raising of a statue of Caligula in the Temple of Jerusalem in 41 CE.
Instances of “successful” (?) wars far outnumber these amazing exceptions. What of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, ending the decimation and slaughter of Jews, six million of whom were already dead? Some peace activist justify it as an exception, others don’t.
“How many deaths will it take til ["man"] knows/ that too many people have died?” asked Bob Dylan. The number of deaths is already beyond infinite, the number of ruined lives.
Jews and Palestinians must peacefully share Israel. The violence must end. I don’t know how. We must fight an ultimate war, against that part of human nature that demands war as a solution. A war of peace.