From the moment of the savage attack by Hamas on civilians in Israel on October 7, and the subsequent kidnapping of more than 240 people, the war has only become more explosive.
In retaliation, Israel has been defensively bombing Gaza with the intent to capture Hamas militants and recover the hostages. However, the worldwide outcry is due to innocent civilians, including children, being killed and their homes destroyed. On the other hand, Israel grieves the murders of more than 1,400 of its citizens, while the families of the 240 hostages are being mentally and emotionally destroyed by despair and agony. They wonder, at every moment, if their loved ones are still alive and if they are being tortured.
During wartime, civilian voices are seldom heard, despite being those most affected by war. Utah is home to many Palestinians and Jews who want to speak up.
Sam Spector, the rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami, has raw sentiments about the Israel-Hamas war, “I am absolutely heartbroken whenever Israel is at war and life is lost, he said.” The rabbi had just returned from Israel, where he met with the victims and families of the hostages.
Janice Ward, president of Congregation Brith Sholem in Ogden, states she is “horrified by the war on so many levels.” Regarding the killing of Palestinians, she said, “The killing of civilians in Gaza is so awful, but the terrorists have been hiding among civilians for years. It is inevitable but not palatable.” Hamas hurts Palestinians by hiding among them to avoid capture. The lives of children and women are nothing to them as long as they get to attack Israel and hide.
Zee Hasan, a Palestinian born in the US, says the situation in Gaza “is hurting me to the core. I have friends and family that died in the war, and I am consumed all day thinking about it.” He wants the international community to cease fire and to instigate an “immediate interference to stop the madness and killing in Gaza.” Most of Hasan’s distant relatives still live there.
Fatima, co-coordinator of the Palestinian Solidarity Association of Utah, expresses that she feels “overwhelmed with grief and devastation at what is happening in Gaza.” Her parents are from the West Bank, where she spent her childhood. Fatima has a strong opinion about “moral equivalency” from her humanistic point of view. She says, “More than 11,000 innocent people in Gaza have been slaughtered in the name of retaliation. When will enough bloodshed be a ‘moral equivalent?’” For her and many other Palestinians living in Utah, speaking up and rallying is crucial to helping those in Gaza. They demand that the US cut all aid to Israel.
For many, the attacks on Gaza by Israel can be classified as genocide. To Fatima, a brave Muslim woman who speaks up to end genocide, “it is heinous and reprehensible.” She continued to say, “As a common and decent people, we cannot stand by and allow more innocent Palestinians to be killed. We are witnessing, perhaps for the first time in history, genocide taking place in real-time, right in front of our eyes, and I believe we have an obligation to humanity to do everything in our power to stop it.”
For his part, the rabbi expresses his sentiments toward the Palestinian’s victims. “The loss of any innocent life is horrific. I am particularly devastated for the children who have been killed. Hamas … hid among their own population knowing full well that their death toll could be catastrophic. I am furious that Hamas is using their own civilians as human shields and hiding among their population and firing rockets from schools.”
Despite being a relatively large community, Palestinians have yet to feel much support from Utah’s politicians. Hasan stated that he hasn’t felt support from them. However, he says that his friends have been amazing and very supportive. Hasan invites the community to call their representatives so they can advocate for a cease fire.
Fatima has received much support from her workplace, coworkers, and community, but has yet to see any from politicians.
Two rallies were held during November, one in Provo and another in the State Capitol. Several women and men stained themselves with fake blood to portray the dead in Gaza, and lay on the ground while supporters gave speeches. The moment was touching and deeply emotional.
Palestinians have been murdered. Children and babies are part of the heartbreaking statistics of those killed during the war. Israeli missiles have struck refugee camps and hospitals. The number of deaths and injuries keeps rising with no end in sight.
Aziz Abuzayed, from Gaza, says he has “lived through similar attacks by Israel over and over again in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014. I am a survivor of many wars,” Abuzayed said. “The war must stop and cannot have a military solution against Hamas.” He explained that to stop Hamas, the Palestinian people need to be heard, and they need to be given what they deserve. The occupation and the upper tide system must end. He thinks the solution could be to have a one-state-solution. “I don’t care what it is called as long as the State gives the Christian Palestinians, the Jewish Palestinians, the atheist Palestinians, and the Muslim Palestinians the same rights.”
For the conflict to end, the rabbi feels that both sides must make painful concessions,” adding that, “They must devote their education programs for their youth to ones that promote peace and tolerance. Both sides must recognize that the other’s narrative has validity and claim to the land.”
One of the struggles the Palestinians face is that they are denied the right to move freely. Abuzayed says that for people to travel out of Gaza, they need permission from Israel and Egypt. He says there are times they must put their names in a queue. He wanted to visit family in Egypt in 2017 and had to wait 18 months.
He also explained that to travel to Jerusalem or Ramallah, they have to wait 72 days prior to traveling, and they are only allowed a few hours. He says it isn’t like that for Israelis and that nobody asked them for permission at the borders. He added that many Palestinians have lived and died in Gaza without seeing what is outside.
For his part, Hasan explained that Gaza has been living under Siege since 2007, with everything in their lives being controlled by Israel. It’s an apartheid regime.
Abuzayed says that Israeli forces knapped his cousin on October 7th, and the family doesn’t have any idea of his whereabouts. “Who is talking about him? Are the politicians in this building (the Capilotio) talking about him? Are the politicians in the White House and Congress talking about my cousin? Is his life less worthy than an Israeli life or a Jewish life? Lives are all the same.”
Israelis mourn the deaths of children, youth, and the aged, who were brutally killed in a surprise attack. No one was prepared for what happened. The harrowing cry of the mothers gets louder as some cry for their dead children and some for their captive children. Not knowing anything about their condition consumes them, and nobody knows if Hamas will ever free them.
Rabbi Spector explained, “I met with people who were wounded in the massacre and loved ones of the hostages and those killed. There are at least a dozen Americans who were taken hostage and dozens killed. This should be on the front page of every American newspaper. Many of the female victims, in particular, experienced brutal sexual assaults. Yet, people are remaining silent about this, and many are even calling into question the validity of what they experienced.”
Ward states, “The families of the hostages are understandably angry as I would be if my child or family member were taken or killed.”
Fatima explains how she feels about innocent people from both sides being murdered. “I feel disgusted that we live in a time that justifies the killing of any innocent civilians in the name of collateral damage, whether Palestinian or Israeli.”
At the end of the interview, Fatima explained that what is happening is not a war. “A war,” she says, “requires two groups to be in combat against each other. What we are witnessing right now is a brutal retaliation tactic that Israel commonly enforces on Palestinians in the form of collective punishment.”
The rabbi sent a message to the families of the October 7 attack, “There are no words other than you are not alone. Many of us believe your stories and stand with you.”
Focusing on the humanistic side of the war and leaving out the political aspect of it, it is impossible not to conclude that innocent people are suffering and that the lives of many were cut too short.
Feature Image illustration by Dung Hoang.