Longing For Peace and Justice

How do I name this terror that persists within, pulling at my heart, only soothed by sobbing, mourning of all the ongoing death of innocent children, women, men and elders — relentless bombing coming from the heartless and those who have lost their humanity and their ability to love and care for life as intended by Creator?

My heart is broken and I am terrified of the inhumanity that is rearing its ugly face. I am horrified by the multitude of people who have been programmed like robots, as they attempt to justify the unspeakable, the unimaginable, the horrific, the unconscionable. Most terrifying is witnessing so many traumatized people who are unwilling to make any effort to heal their pain. Instead they inflict their hurt and trauma onto others.

As a Jewish woman raised to stand up for justice and the oppressed, and who has lost relatives in the Jewish holocaust, the anguish of what humankind is capable of is in my DNA, in my memories, in my heart and in my soul. This memory and heartache has been a constant catalyst in my life — it inspires my activism to not only never allow another Jewish holocaust to happen, but to never allow any more genocides, as there have been many, to happen to any people ever again. I have always felt a closeness to my Palestinian and Arab brothers and sisters. I witnessed from afar, and then in person last year, what Palestinians are enduring under Israeli occupation and the zionist colonial settler mentality. How can human beings so quickly forget the horrors that were forced upon them and inflict those same atrocities onto another oppressed people? Witnessing the human suffering is unbearable, and even more disturbing, is the fact that these same people had relatives, or they themselves, survived the ravages of genocide. They now are the perpetrators of genocide all in the falsehood of protecting and saving the Jewish people.

There is nothing Jewish, or human, about this response. For thousands of years, Jews have been expelled from lands, murdered mercilessly, endured forced religious conversion, and know the suffering and agony that colonialism, demonization and genocide upon a people cause. How can we justify oppression? We cannot, and many of us will not. Zionism, which was founded in the 18th century, is a settler-colonial political strategy that sanctifies the forced removal of millions of Palestinians from their homeland. Zionism dehumanizes Palestinians by creating the myth of dangerous terrorists whose lives do not matter, while Israeli lives are privileged. This has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and living conditions that are unimaginable.

If it is not clear how destructive this strategy has been, the world is now getting a closer look. In less than a month, more than 10,000 innocent civilians in Gaza, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israeli bombs and weapons, provided and backed by the U.S. government. Thousands more are injured and left without water, electricity, fuel, food and the basic means to survive. In this dire human condition, Israel and the US still refuse to call for a CEASEFIRE. Innocent Israeli people are also dying. The safety and survival of the hostages are not being considered either. Who and what have we become? How much suffering is too much? Does human suffering even matter anymore? Does the poisoning of the people, water, air, earth and all living beings with the bombs containing white phosphorus and other toxic chemicals even matter? For what and for whom?

Jewish people who do not believe in zionism are not antisemitic, nor are we self-hating Jews. Anti-zionist Jews remember. We have not forgotten, and we will never forget, who we are and why we are here as human beings. We will stand up for justice and equal rights because we know how it feels to be denied those rights.

Israel’s governmental policies have caused a great surge in global islamophobia and anti-semitism, as people are equating zionism with Judaism. Zionism is less than 150 years old and was created with the intention of taking, and in doing so, contaminating the land that is not rightfully theirs. Judaism is thousands of years old.

After World War II, why did the British and zionists go after the Palestinian people who did not force us into concentration camps and gas chambers? In settler colonialism, there is always a need to find a scapegoat, someone to blame and exploit. We see this throughout history and people believe the propaganda, as the perpetuator that is committing the genocide gets away with their crimes. We see this with Kānaka Maoli, (Native Hawaiians) and the illegal U.S. military occupation, where Kānaka are portrayed as dangerous and aggressive while their lands are being stolen and contaminated. We see this with Native Americans from the North and South who have been portrayed as savages, less than human, for centuries. We see this with enslaved Africans and their descendants portrayed as less than human and only good for their labor with no other human value. We see this with the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans. We see this with Asian and Latinx communities. We see this with immigrants, and the list goes on and on —-all peoples used for exploitation, for land grabs, for cheap labor.

Even after the Nakba (the catastrophe) in 1948, and 75 years of occupation, zionist settlers are still increasingly, violently, stealing and poisoning the land, and occupying the homes of Palestinians. The Israeli government and military is backing these settlers as more and more Palestinian people are being forced out of their homes. The same leaders who are using our name, and weaponizing the agony of our ancestors to justify these horrors, are inciting more hatred and violence against their own people.

Jewish people across the diaspora are waking up from the false narrative they were told as children — that Israel is a safe haven for Jews. What we weren’t told, is that this was at the expense of creating a nightmare for Palestinians—which in turn has made it unsafe for everyone. Zionism created laws that perpetuate blatant racism towards Palestinians, horrific walls separating people, violent checkpoints Palestinians have to endure to go to work, school, the market, hospital and experience in everyday life, armed military soldiers that are highly visible targeting Palestinians, and the formation of the world’s largest open air prison in Gaza. The UN has declared Gaza uninhabitable. And once again, after a 16-year blockade, Gaza is being annihilated by bombs, killing and injuring mostly civilians, striking homes, hospitals, schools, and the civilian population at large. Israel has been accused of committing a genocide, war crimes, and is in violation of international law.

All across the globe millions of people are unifying in protest of such atrocities. Jews are coming together as never before, led by Rabbis, mothers, fathers, the younger generation. They are speaking out, praying, gathering and saying NOT IN OUR NAME. People from all parts of the world, of all faiths and backgrounds, are in support of Palestinian liberation and their struggle to live and be recognized as equals, deserving of the rights of every other human being.

May the terror and heartbreak that so many carry within our hearts be uplifted with a sense of clarity, direction, and moral compass. May we be shown the way to be the best human beings we can be, loving and protecting one another and our Mother Earth from the outrageous crimes that are being committed by Israel and the United States today.

May we truly show our gratitude for this sacred life by loving and taking care of one another, and honoring and repairing what has been harmed and done wrong, by making it right. May we heal, stop these atrocities, and remember what it means to be a Good Human Being.

Special thanks to Barbara’s daughter Imani Altemus-Williams for her editorial contributions.

Barbara Altemus, writer, author and documentary filmmaker, was in Palestine in October 2022 with Eyewitness Palestine, a delegation of Palestinians, Jews and people of diverse faiths, ethnicities and nationalities. She has resided in U.S.-occupied Hawaii for almost 40 years. On her personal journey to Palestine, she was so moved by the beauty and love of the Palestinian people, and also heartbroken witnessing what they have, and continue to endure under Israeli occupation. She found it difficult to express in writing and in conversation all that she experienced last year. Much was buried in her heart. This recent response by the Israeli military upon the Palestinian people has broken her heart open to writing this essay.