Finding Hope and Humanity in the Midst of Despair and Destruction.

25 January 2024
Daniel Sokatch FB social share

Today is day 111 of this war. Last night, in the rain, protestors gathered in “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, eventually marching onto and blocking the Ayalon highway, a major Tel Aviv artery. In Jerusalem, hundreds more joined the hostage families’ encampment outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house. The protesters are trying to pressure the Israeli government to make the return of the hostages the number one priority—many making the case that the only way to do so is to stop the war. They fear their government is leading them towards the abyss.

Our grantees have been building up to this moment for months—they know that now is not the time to keep silent. Since October 7, Israel’s progressive civil society organizations have been on the ground, working towards a shared future for all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. 

As early as October 13, dozens of NIF-supported orgs could see that Hamas’s attack would lead to a major Israeli military response, and began calling for Hamas to release the hostages and for both sides to ensure the safety of civilians. “We, members of the undersigned human rights organizations in Israel, are shocked and horrified in these dreadful days,” it began. “Most of our teams include Israelis and Palestinians,” it continued, “having always opposed the harming of innocent civilians, it remains our duty in these terrible times—as we count our dead on the Israeli side and worry about the wounded, missing and abducted loves ones, and as bombs are being dropped on residential neighborhoods in Gaza, wiping out entire families, and leaving no possibility of burying the dead—to raise our voices loud and clear against the harming of all innocent civilians, both in Israel and Gaza.”

This was the first statement—it was a way of saying “there are humans here, and there are humans there.” And then, on November 8, 35 Israeli human and civil rights organizations published an open letter, drawing on their years of experience in the occupied territories. “There is no military solution to this conflict,” they wrote, “nor can there ever be one. The only way to stop the bloodshed is a political agreement that will guarantee security, justice, and freedom for both nations.” 

The letter included organizations that, by their very existence, demand an encounter with the other, and have been bringing together Jewish Israelis and Palestinians for years: Combatants for Peace, which connects former combatants on both sides, Rabbis for Human Rights which brings Jews into solidarity with Palestinians, Parents’ Circle—Families’ Forum, a searingly beautiful organization that creates space for Palestinians and Israelis to share grief and mourn together for those lost to the conflict, and the Arava Institute, where Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians come together to learn and grow. They, together, called on the Israeli government to strive for a stable ceasefire, curb settler violence, and end the persecution of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israelis who stand in opposition to the war. 

These organizations and their leaderships know what we know: The only positive future for this much too promised land is a shared one, one in which both Jews and Palestinians have the right to life, liberty and self determination.

Another organization we’ve long supported, Gisha, whose work focuses on freedom of movement in and out of Gaza, signed a petition alongside hundreds of other human rights groups from around the world. The petition called for a ceasefire, for the Israeli government to allow the delivery of assistance and sufficient humanitarian aid into Gaza, and for the release of hostages. It’s central message—“The cycle of violence against innocent civilians needs to stop”—is critical now.  

In mid-December, Jewish-Arab solidarity movement Zazim, alongside Standing Together and a number of other organizations, asked President Biden to push the Israeli military towards a strategy that would avoid more civilian deaths and enable sufficient humanitarian aid into the Strip. The think tanks Mitvim and The Forum for Regional Thinking have continuously published articles saying things few others are: The strategies of the current Israeli government will not solve this conflict. A return to political framework is the only way forward.

And this week we held a webinar, which 1,600 people signed up for, with the members of Breaking the Silence, Israeli military veterans turned public education activists, who spoke so powerfully from the heart about how they know—from their firsthand experience—that more violence begets more violence, and that Israel’s military’s strategy in Gaza simply will not work. They know their job right now is absolutely critical: Israelis are asking questions about Gaza—about what it’s like to fight there, for soldiers to die there—and Breaking the Silence has answers. Even if they’re tough to hear. 

In the midst of this darkness, the work of NIF and our grantees is a bright and shining light. This week, a podcast host asked me where I found hope in this terrible situation. He ended up calling the episode “Seeds of Hope from 40 Thousand Feet.” I like the title, but it was a bit ironic. Because I find reasons for hope much closer to the ground. I find hope in the work of the NIF family of organizations that are working, against unbelievable odds, to build a better future in the midst of this terrible despair and destruction.  

But no matter what lies ahead (and today’s news suggested that a hostage deal and a cessation of violence may be on the way!) I am guided by something in that first letter that those human rights groups wrote back on October 13th: “Even now, and especially now, we must maintain our moral and humane position and refuse to give in to despair or the urge for vengeance”. That is our job. And we will not back down.