The day the latest war started
On violence and scarcity
The day the latest war started, I woke up on land everybody knows is stolen but that White people, myself included, are scared to death of ever giving back. I woke up in a country with a sordid history, but one that at least offers a fairly uncomplicated story as to who has always been in the wrong. I woke up unworried about my immediate safety, unworried about my children's’ immediate safety, unworried about my position in society.
The day the latest war started, I watched bombs hit buildings full of Israelis and a second set of bombs hit buildings full of Palestinians. I saw images of families crying, especially mothers crying. I tried to stop thinking about the images of the mothers crying. I tried to push onward.
The day the latest war started, I went about the business of a life cocooned away from oppression and violence. I laid out breakfast supplies for my visiting in-laws. I chauffeured my kids to the first in a mini-marathon of weekend soccer games. I went home and watched a memorial service on my computer. The service was for one of my mother’s best friends: a woman who cared about people in prison and people without houses; a perennially gruff, frequently unromantic figure; a town hero who was deeply loved, profoundly mourned and who received the gift of a full life, one removed from the daily terror of mortar shells and snipers and checkpoints.
The day the latest war started, I was as White, American and Gentile as I had been the day before. I didn’t get it. I tried to get it. I went about my day, but the war kept creeping in. My country’s President gave a news conference that scared me to the bone. He promised that my government was prepared to send more weapons of death to a part of the world already awash in death. Not knowing what to do, I posted something online, a furtive attempt to feel less alone. I couldn’t even muster an original thought, just a repost. The original author said something about how there will be peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike when the occupation is over. It focused more on Palestinian than Israeli grief, which felt appropriate given the anti-Palestinian saber-rattling I had heard from my President.
After I posted, I got a notification. It was from a left-leaning Jewish friend whose perspective I valued. She told me that my hasty re-post hurt— that she and other Jews also opposed the Israeli government, but that I didn’t understand the long, cruel tail of anti-semitism, that I didn’t understand how scared so many Jews were that day, that (in essence) I couldn’t comprehend the weight of multiple millennia of scapegoating, conspiracy theories and massacres. She told me that, regardless of whether my post was accurate, that it was heartless for me to toss it out into the world on a day when Jewish civilians, children included, had been killed and other leftists were cheering.
I read her words again. She was right. I didn’t fully understand the stakes here. There was heartlessness in my lack of understanding.
As I kept thinking about the hurt I caused that acquaintence, I couldn’t help but notice how similar it felt to all of the times I had been taken to task by Palestinian friends. I remembered parallel critiques about how little I understood the Nakba and the bulldozers and decades of state violence that never make Western headlines. I thought about how those friends were right too, how every time I hesitated to talk about open air prisons, IDF raids and billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel, I was being just as heartless.
In the days since the latest war started, I’ve read Jewish critiques of Zionism and watched Palestinian condemnations of Hamas.
The day the latest war started, I wanted desperately to avoid bland, “both sides” moral relativism, but I also knew that multiple things can in fact be true at once: that Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism and anti-Semitism can all run much deeper than I can ever comprehend; that state violence and insurrectionary violence are never proportionate, but that both can still bring about death and despair; that there can be no peace without justice and an undoing of oppressive systems, but that liberationists too can commit heinous atrocities.
The day after the latest war started, I read that there were already 1000 people dead and that the Israeli government promised that the war was going to be long and painful. I thought about that gap between state violence and insurrectionary violence again. I got chills as I flashed forward to what was about to come. I thought about the grieving families in both Israel and Gaza. I feared that there would be more grief on both sides, but that one side risked being wiped away all together.
The day after the war started, I went to my Quaker meeting and listened to other Quakers talk about peace. We’re always talking about peace, us Quakers. It is, quite literally, our thing. But that doesn’t mean that we’re ever completely convinced. We don’t live in a world that makes believing in peace all that easy.
And so I wiggled uncomfortably in my well-worn meetinghouse chair, partially buoyed by my own pacifism, but deeply aware of why that pacifism is so frustrating to those in pain, why for so many standing up against injustice and protecting your family feels insufficient unless a gun is involved. I knew that I had a lifetime of counterpoints, but I was also aware of the enormity of my privilege and the thickness of my cocoon. That’s where the doubts lived.
But what if we’re wrong?
What if nonviolence isn’t the answer?
Are we just being naive?
As I listened to the elders in the meeting, I realized that I was pre-judging, projecting my own insecurities about my pacifism onto them. I told myself that all they’d be able to muster would be glassy-eyed platitudes like “why we can’t all get along?” and “at the end of the day we are all one race— the human race” because that’s what I feared my own inner monologue sounded like.
Instead, my elders surprised me with the depth of their wisdom and perspective. They talked about Israel and Palestine, of course, but not simplistically, not gauzily. And then they kept talking. One Quaker bemoaned the inhumane, multi-month lockdown at one of our own state’s correctional facilities. Another, a White grandmother in every single way, gave an impassioned plea for our meeting to stand with the activists opposing Cop City in Atlanta.
As they talked, I realized that, in a deeply broken world, holding multiple truths at once isn’t actually weak both-sidesism.
The day after the war started, I was reminded that to actually love all of humanity is to believe that every system of domination has the same roots. There is no poetic way to say it, but that doesn’t make it any less true: We live in a world built by White Supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. I can doubt whether I have anything useful to say about Israel and Palestine because I’ve never experienced anti-Semitism or anti-Arab racism, but I do walk in a world forged by those and so many other interlocking systems of domination. I know how those systems purport to offer some of us freedom, but actually leave all of us in chains. I know that if there were any joy to be found in privilege, that it wouldn’t need to be protected by cops, guns and walls.
Today, I still don’t know how to stand effectively with all those who are currently so frightened. I don’t know how to craft this message without inadvertantly causing more harm. I do know, however, where the work lays, particularly for those of us with the most layers of privilege and protection.
I know that we all suffer from the myth that human life is defined by hierarchy and scarcity. I know that particular zero-sum fable was invented to infantilize and prop up people like me, people with multiple layers of privilege and power. And I know that’s the work I need to keep coming back to: challenging power hoarding and addiction to domination in my own communities (White, American, male, Christian-adjacent), while reaching out to parallel efforts in other communities.
On the day after the latest war started— after listening to one elder after another surprise me with their wisdom— I too was moved to speak in Quaker Meeting. Believe it or not, that’s a rarity for me. In the past five years, I’ve spoken out of the silence only three times total.
But I spoke on the day after the war started, because I was thinking about the memorial service that I had attended the day before.
I spoke because I had a story to share.
I stood and looked out at my elders and told them about how, on the previous day, one half of my heart was in the Middle East and the other was in my home town. I told them how, while my mom’s friend was no longer a believer, she still wanted her memorial held at a church. I told them that, because of that choice, the service lived on that beautiful precipice between faith and doubt, between the brokenness of the world as it is and whatever force it is that keeps us working towards repair.
I told them that my mom’s friend was named Liz, and that, for much of her career, she was a prison doctor. I told them that a beloved colleague from her prison days had addressed the service with a story of the final moments that she and Liz— the gruff, non-romantic crusader for social change— had spent together. It was this past summer. Liz knew that she was dying and so, when it was time to say goodbye, she surprised her old friend with an uncharacteristically warm hug.
What came next was a twenty two word exchange, ostensibly about life after death. For the past two days, though— days of war, days of grief, days where I’ve felt so completely ineffective both as a friend and a voice for global repair—I’ve considered the exchange instead as a lesson for the world we inhabit. It’s been a reminder that just as there is no peace without justice, there is no justice without care, interdependence, and an abiding belief that— contrary to oppressive myths— ours is indeed a world of abundance.
The first line of the exchange was spoken by the loving friend, the second by the stern former believer.
“The next time I see you, it will be in glory.”
“I hear there’s plenty of room for all of us there.”
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