Shining the Light on Gaza

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A few weeks back I was talking with an old friend, a longtime supporter of Palestine who has educated me on the issue. He was so dark about what’s happening there, the slaughter, the starvation, the disease, and our seeming powerlessness to stop it all, that I had to respond with some balancing thoughts. Because I feel much the same, and have had to apply some balance simply to cope with the situation.

It comes down to this. Out of the darkest of situations comes the light. Before October 7, the Palestinian cause was all but dead around the world. Normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia and other states in the Islamic world then in the offing would have pounded the final nails in the coffin. Say what you want about what Hamas did – and it is documented many of the civilian deaths were at the hands of the Israeli military and most if not all of the atrocities about which we hear are fabrications – the Palestinian cause is now in the foreground of world awareness in a way it never was before. The streets of the world have filled. Encampments have spread across university campuses. Powerful political figures are being called out during their public appearances. Leaders of Islamic countries fearful of their enraged populations have been forced to back off normalization.

What has happened in Gaza since October 7 has exposed the brutal realities of occupation under which the Palestinian people have long suffered. Even before October 7, a record number of murders of Palestinians had already taken place on the West Bank in 2023, while settlers backed by the far right Israeli government were on a rampage of land theft. The Al Aqsa Mosque, third most sacred site in Islam, was being regularly invaded by settlers, aiming to demolish it to build a new temple. The world was ignoring all this. Now it cannot. Hamas clearly made this calculation, knowing from past Israeli actions exactly what would happen, and the terrible price their people would pay. Not living under the conditions which they do, I am in no position to judge them. I only know we’re talking about Palestine now, and most of us weren’t before. I expressed this all to my friend, and he said it helped him.

But is bringing the light to bear enough? Has it stopped the killings? Reopened the borders to needed food and other supplies? Altered Israeli policy? No. Not yet. Powerful forces are in play, both in Israel and the United States. I am saddened by what I see in Israeli culture, how the dehumanization of the other and racism against a fellow semitic people have penetrated so deeply and caused such widespread support for the destruction of Gaza. It is so at odds with the traditions of Judaism that have placed Jews in the forefront of so many justice struggles, including opposition to the Gaza genocide. The twisting of Israeli culture has roots in the formation of the state, and the nature of displacement in a settler-colonial project. Still, it seems some more moderate road could have been found, some kind of modus vivendi that would have let the people live side by side in relative peace.

But ultimately, and this is affirmed by Israeli Jewish dissidents such as Gideon Levy, only pressure from the outside is going to force Israel to change. And that means from the nation whose support is vital to the continuation of Israel, the United States. The occupied territories have been so sliced up by settlements, it is going to have to be some kind of one-state solution in which all have equal rights “from the river to the sea.” If this seems totally unrealistic under the current circumstances, one has to ask if continuation of the current trajectory is any more realistic. It is certain to result in the continued deterioration of Israel itself, already suffering from population outflow and economic decline. Denying the Palestinians their rights makes Israel’s Jews prisoners of the situation as well.

The vital role of the U.S. is why efforts in this country to bring the light to bear are absolutely crucial. Changing the U.S. position is the only way to force a solution. But as with so many other situations, we run up against the power of the Israel lobby and deep rooted support for Zionism in high places. Without the organized opposition to the Gaza genocide we have seen, we would not even be hearing the lip service our politicians have paid to the issue. But clearly so far, it is not enough. As many such as my friend, I struggle with feelings of powerlessness against an ongoing genocide that can be almost crippling. That drives me to the basic thought of what we can do when powerful forces seem to have a lock on the situation. Our power in the situation is to bear witness, to shine the light, to tell the truth to the degree we can discern it.

Whether in the end it will be enough, no one can say. But sometimes it is all you can do, and what we must do to maintain our integrity as human beings. If there is any way out of this darkness, it is to shine the light.

This first appeared in The Raven.