Letter to the Editor: Our Grief must not be Weaponized in Service of Genocide

Editor’s Note: As with all Letters to the Editor and opinions submitted to the Reed College Quest, this opinion does not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Quest, its writers, or its editors. We understand the journalistic pitfalls of sensationalism, and our intentions are not to provoke a response, especially around such a serious and painful matter. We believe that, regardless of personal opinion, newspapers have a responsibility to publish submissions that they receive, and that editors should strive to adhere to publication policies regardless of their personal beliefs on an issue. In light of that, we have made the decision to publish this opinion, as we are confident that it is compliant with our current bylaws and policies as outlined on our website. These bylaws may be updated in the future.

Dear Editors,

I’ve spent my life since October 7th receding from reality, living in the back of my mind and forcing my body through daily tasks like an automaton. I frequently collapse into bed at the end of the day and realize I haven’t eaten. I’ve struggled to find an appropriate outlet to accommodate the enormity of my grief, the only thing I’m certain I feel, and I severely doubt that such an outlet exists. I wish, as Jewish Currents editor Arielle Angel does in her excellent October 12th letter published therein, that we could build one, but I recognize that this is not the priority right now. It couldn’t be.

At the time of writing, Israeli forces have killed over 8,000 people in Gaza since October 7th, including over 3,000 children. In a territory of just over two million people, this is somewhere around one out of every 260 residents. Per the United Nations, more than 1.4 million Gazans have been displaced since the current round of fighting began, well over half of the Gaza Strip’s population; additionally, more than 30% of housing units in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. Israel has cut off Gaza’s water, food, electricity, and fuel. The Israeli-American Holocaust and genocide studies scholar Raz Segal called Israel’s actions in Gaza “a textbook case of genocide” in a Jewish Currents article published on October 13th. On October 15th, more than 800 international law, conflict studies, and genocide scholars (including two excellent Reed professors) signed on to a statement published in Third World Approaches to International Law Review conveying a similar warning. Meanwhile, as Segal writes in a more recent Guardian article, Israeli officials are exploiting the memory of the Holocaust to justify their massacre of Palestinians by construing them as Nazis. The worst of Israel’s violence is likely yet to come, as its long-expected ground invasion of Gaza commences. 

Pause. Read Palestinian writer Hala Alyan’s excellent poem, “Naturalized.” 

“That number is a first word, a nickname, a birthday song in June.” 

Can you even try to comprehend the depth of the tragedy of 8,000 people murdered in three weeks, with more dying by the minute? Of 1.4 million people displaced from their homes, themselves mostly Nakba survivors and their descendants? And at least as importantly, can you make sure you treat the 2.1 million people still alive in Gaza as people when they’re alive? Can you answer to them for your own complicity, when your tax dollars fund the bombs dropping on them, when the news outlets you write for participate in their discursive elimination, when your institutions invest in apartheid, when your employers take Israeli security contracts?

A former colleague from a Jewish progressive organization reports that a friend, and that friend’s children, were killed in the attack by Palestinian armed groups on October 7th. An Israeli-American leftist activist with ties to the West Bank Palestinian community of Masafer Yatta, where I know people, died shielding others. A graduate of the high school where many of my friends went and where I took the ACT was killed in action. A relative of a current anti-Zionist comrade is held hostage. 

I have struggled to find an appropriate way to grieve publicly, but I know that my friends’ friends did not die for this genocide to be executed on their behalf. Some of them were Palestine solidarity activists, some of them were soldiers of the longest-lasting, most brutal occupation in the modern world; in the settler-colonial context there is a fundamental continuity between even these opposites. What matters, though, is that the people being killed in their names right now do not need to die, and more people will die, on and on, unless the occupation ends. In the past decade and a half up to October 7th, 95% of casualties of Israeli-Palestinian violence were Palestinian. The root cause of all violence in Palestine is the ongoing colonial dispossession of Palestinians, and as long as Palestinians do not consign themselves to die quietly like the noble victims endemic to the Western imaginary, there will be resistance in all possible forms, including some very grotesque ones. Pointing this out is not a call to equalize the death tolls, but a recognition of the unequal nature of the socio-political reality on the ground and a call to ensure that nobody else needs to die

A call to ensure that nobody else needs to die is a call to end the siege on Gaza, to let the refugees back and erase the borders, to free all the prisoners and close the prisons, to dismantle the checkpoints and surveillance infrastructure and tanks and nuclear warheads that keep settlers dominant over Palestinians, and to create the conditions for a just peace. It is inevitable that as part of this process we will have more people to mourn for because power is freely surrendered nowhere. But the best thing any of us can do is channel our grief, love, and rage into an even more steadfast commitment to collective liberation. 

The highest priority in Jewish ethics is pikuach nefesh, the preservation of human life. In the oft-repeated words of Hillel the Elder, “Whosoever destroys one soul, it is as though he had destroyed the entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world.” There are many worlds to mourn. None of them are more worldly than any others. And there are so many more worlds to save.

As Palestinian-American literary scholar Saree Makdisi argues in a recent n+1 article, anyone who truly finds violence abhorrent “must stop the hideous system of racial segregation, dispossession, occupation, and apartheid that has disfigured and tormented Palestine since 1948”, rather than retreating back into the Western liberal discourse that treats Palestinians’ experiences and responses to colonialism as beyond all representation. I have been involved in various forms of Jewish-Palestinian solidarity activism since 2020. From my place of safety, I have watched too many people die in that time. Though the path is evidently fraught, I remain committed to a world where nobody is oppressed and nobody is an oppressor, and therefore one where nobody has to die for freedom – their own or someone else’s. To mildly exploit another Hillel quote, the rest is commentary.

I highly encourage everyone reading this to engage with Reed Students for Justice in Palestine (I am not writing as a representative of this group). From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free in our lifetimes.

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Concerned Reedie
Concerned Reedie
1 month ago

How exactly does the author of this opinion piece envision a state where Jews are safe once the IDF has laid down its arms, the checkpoints are dismantled, and Palestine is free from the river to the sea? No doubt, Israel has much to answer for, especially its whacko right-wing government that keeps undermining the country’s national security. But this opinion piece looks past history and the present to deploy words like genocide in the face of a terrorist attack that brutalized civilians in an action taken from the SS playbook. Unfortunately, civilians die when Hamas directly exposes them to danger by hiding behind the people it was elected to represent. Does the author think that Israel should do nothing with hundreds of innocent people still in Hamas custody, rockets landing around Tel Aviv, and thousands of Hamas on their border ready to rape, torture, and murder civilians? What we have here is another exercise in hyperbolic misdirection where the understandable grief that follows from seeing innocents die subsumes any confrontation with reality. The reality is that the Arab world has very little interest in protecting Jewish lives, and numerous Arab countries have committed to the destruction of them. A “Palestine” free from the river to the sea would be a Palestine free of Jews; that is untenable and the progressives who advance this position have no answer for the disaster that would follow, so they choose not to grapple with it because of the hypocrisy it reveals in their own thinking. Where is the endorsement of a two-state solution in this piece that would recognize the rights of both Israel and Palestine to enjoy their respective sovereignty? Instead, we have here the shameless repetition of a Hamas mantra.Tell me, if the defense of Israel is a genocide, what would the author call the destruction of it– a cause for celebration? At this point– in the wake of the 20th century and the actual genocide at the center of it– what should we call the willful blindness and ignorance that would define such a position? 

Reedie who did the reading
Reedie who did the reading
1 month ago

Concerned Reedie doesn’t seem to have done the readings and has shown up to conference unprepared. I suggest they address their concerns by reading up on the Oslo Accords, the moment that the PLO put down their arms, recognized Israel and the 1967 borders, and gave up on the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in exchange for limited autonomy (not even a state) on 22 percent of the land area of historic Palestine. Read up on how Israel has held up its end of the bargain. Read up on the settlements. Read up on what’s happened to Jerusalem. Read up on Rabin. Read up on Likud and Israeli politics. And then come to conference and we can talk about this two state solution. 

24 days ago

Read as well the 1988 Hamas charter and the 2017 public relations update.

Reedies against Leftist Nazism
Reedies against Leftist Nazism
1 month ago

A literal call to genocide of Jews. In the Reed College Quest. I hope this follows the editors to every job they ever apply for. 


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