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The Power to Stop Atrocities
We must build it, urgently.
This piece is not upbeat and optimistic, but it is honest. And I am resolute. Keep pushing for peace and take action here: https://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/take-action/#act-now.
And people are also converging on the White House Monday at noon to demand Biden act and do everything he can to stop the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza.
Now, for the writing.
I have never been one to be struck speechless. But the horrors of this moment hurt, and it can feel like everything has been said. It has felt that way to me again and again over the past few days. What has been left unsaid, what has been left unsaid that allows this nightmare to go on? We are seeing ethnic cleansing live, we are bearing witness to genocide, and our efforts to stop the violence feel too much like a gnat trying to halt a charging bull. That least favorite feeling of mine, powerlessness, is the air I feel forced to breathe right now. In some ways I know my horror is so minor, I know that I am so okay next to the pain and death many thousands of miles away. But there is also the fact that people tell me this killing is being done in my name as a Jew, while as an American my government allows and assists it. Then the horror returns.
I don’t mean to get poetic. But sterile writing feels wrong, wrong to convey the hurt and wrong to describe a tragedy that is already at such a scale that our thinking minds cannot fully comprehend it. An unexpected facet of the modern age is how we are all able to bear witness to tragedies halfway across the world, and yet still too powerless to change them. So we see lives being lost, we see people rend their clothes in mourning and weep for their dead children right before our eyes, and the horrors still march on.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As a Jew I have said and will continue to say that Jewish safety does not rest on the apartheid Zionist regime and certainly does not rest on the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinians. As Ofer Cassif, an Israeli Jewish Knesset member said to Democracy Now, “Israelis and Palestinians pay the price of the arrogant, criminal, ongoing occupation that Israel refuses to end.” Not only does the safety of our people not require endless mass violence against Palestinians, but the occupation and apartheid also lead to violent responses. Again and again we’ve seen this pattern, and in fact many Israelis are furious at Netanyahu for intentionally creating more violence rather than pursuing peace. Israel’s Prime Minister is so intent on mass murder that he is ignoring the 150 hostages taken into Gaza by Hamas, and bombing the area indiscriminately regardless.
All of this is happening while the West looks on. There has been some shift in tone, some statements demanding that the laws of war be adhered to and civilian life be respected. But the weapons keep flowing, the financial support keeps going, and many of the statements don’t even mention Israel by name. It is hard, painfully hard, to imagine an actual shift in the West’s relationship with their ally. And it is tragically unimaginable that any such shift would happen fast enough to deter Israel’s immediate ethnic cleansing of Gaza.
We will keep pushing. Millions of people across the world will keep pushing and do everything they can to apply pressure on Israel, and the U.S., to avoid the very worst. But we are running up against the same fundamental problem that the massive anti-war movement encountered in 2001-2003 or so: a lack of power. We have to face the cold and brutal fact that at this moment the U.S. left, and the left across the world doesn’t have the power to stop this genocide. In the United States in particular, both because this is my home and because we are the one country most able to influence the Israeli government, this reality hurts.
It also hurts that so many have intentionally or unintentionally ignored this crucial fact. Social media posts from lefties have been propped up as misleading evidence of antisemitism, while the reality is that only 11 out of 535 members of Congress are willing to stand for Palestinian life and freedom. 2%. Two percent of Congress is willing to push back as we see genocide unfold, millions of civilians cut off from water and food and power while their homes are destroyed. Meanwhile the “radical left” is waved around as some antisemitic boogeyman to distract from the reality that the U.S. is supporting and funding ethnic cleansing and genocide. Never mind the actual power dynamics, never mind that this radical left that supports Palestinian liberation has an abundance of Jews, and never mind that opposing Zionism is not antisemitism at all. What matters to Israel and its powerful allies in the U.S. is that support for Israel be hegemonic and unquestioned, even as the bombs fall on schools in Gaza, on hospitals in Gaza, and on convoys of refugees made refugees twice over.
So although I feel helpless, and more speechless than I am accustomed to, there is a lesson here. We must build power. We must not be powerless to stop the next genocide. And that power doesn’t look just like more actual, principled leftists in Congress, although that would certainly help. It also looks like a labor movement that’s willing to fight for a better world more broadly, that’s willing to shut things down to stop ethnic cleansing. It looks like a mass social movement that’s willing to shut down D.C. to stop atrocities and fight for change. It looks most likely like new and different organizations and strategies and tactics, working to build actual power so that we’re not just a boogeyman the powerful can trot out as they wish, but instead a boogeyman that haunts war criminals in their sleep. This is what we need, this is what the world needs, a left in the U.S. and everywhere that actually makes politicians and capitalists shake in their boots and toss in their sleep. Let’s make it happen, and from there may we bring real peace, real justice, and an end to atrocities committed with impunity. Let us do all we can to stop the atrocities in the present, and all we can to have the unquestionable power to do so in the future.
Thank you for reading. If you’re able to support my writing I appreciate it immensely. - Josh
Please share the links at the top of the page with anyone and everyone. Please take action and organize.