Israel / Gaza: Don’t Abandon Your Friends

Nikita Bernstein
5 min readOct 22, 2023

This article is not about the war, but how we respond to it. Its purpose is to help my non-Jewish and non-Israeli friends understand why not explicitly acknowledging the atrocity we all just witnessed amounts to abandonment.

My heart is broken. I am devastated by the recent events. The war in Ukraine rages on, and now there is Israel/Gaza. Except this war feels somehow even worse, which didn’t seem possible.

I am not a scholar on the Israeli/Palestine relations. I am also not religious. I am an agnostic of Jewish descent. Ironically, 76% Ashkenazi Jew of Ukrainian origin according to 23andMe. Go figure — the two places now plunged into war.

The Context

When Putin brutally attacked Ukraine, this was (and remains) incredibly painful. But we stood united against evil. There is a sense of safety when everyone agrees what evil looks like.

The recent events in Israel and Gaza, however, feel different. We just witnessed an atrocity, and our society seems to have split into two groups: 1) people who do and 2) do not openly acknowledge and condemn what had happened. In the second group, there are people who most certainly recognize the awful nature of the atrocity and are now coming out in support of Palestinian civilians, but fail to acknowledge the atrocity openly. On the murder of 1400 Israelis, they are publicly silent.

The support and care for civilians in Gaza is a good thing —they certainly need it. However, the failure to acknowledge what just happened is abandonment of your Jewish and Israeli friends. And that feels awful.

Let’s recap.

The Event. A large number of members of Hamas from Gaza invaded Israel and murdered over 1400 people with around 200 taken hostage. Around 200 of those murdered were at a music festival dedicated to peace, the rest were in the communities in the area (town by town footage). Hamas fucking live-streamed the slaughter. Not convinced? Go here (particularly gruesome), here, here. I am not on TikTok, but apparently there is a lot there and on Telegram.

This is what a holocaust looks like: a large group of people coming into civilian communities with the sole intention of slaughtering human beings.

While the massacre is an acute event, it emerges in an awful and sinister, yet somehow normalized, backdrop. There has been, and is currently ongoing, a relentless and persistent attempt to kill civilians in Israel with thousands of rockets. The Iron Dome, a system that intercepts most (not all) of these rockets (YouTube) is the only reason why Israel doesn’t have an absurd number of casualties — Hamas has been (before this acute event) and continues to launch rockets at Israel on an ongoing basis (JewishVirtualLibrary, Wikipedia).

Read that again: your friends have just gone through a massively traumatic event as they are under constant and ongoing attempts to murder them.

Worse, this is not the first time Jews have been a target, but I won’t belabor the obvious. If you are not familiar with pogroms, the Holocaust, go read a book.

And what’s worse still is that, historically, the problem is not just that some people at some point tried to kill Jews. The problem is that, for much of the time, people stood by and did… nothing. They simply allowed it to happen. Case in point: when was the last time there was outcry about rockets being constantly launched at Israel with the sole intention of killing civilians?

This is all to say that your Jewish and Israeli friends are living through an incredibly traumatic event in a historic context where they have been abandoned on a regular basis.

Your Friends are in Pain

Your friends just experienced and are going through, right now, massive trauma. They need you. Before you do anything else, if you truly want to be humane and if you do indeed love your Israeli and Jewish friends, reach out to them, acknowledge what just happened, show care and concern. Acknowledge and reaffirm that it is not ok.

But isn’t it obvious? Do I need to be explicit? No, it fucking isn’t and yes, you fucking do. Why? Because if you can’t be bothered to acknowledge this level of an atrocity, then you are standing by silent. And if this is not enough for you to speak up, what is? Would it take your actual friends to be massacred for you to acknowledge an atrocity? Or would you be silent event then?

It isn’t obvious, as it hasn’t been in the past with devastating consequences.

What about Palestinian Civilians?

But what about “Israeli Palestinian Casualties in Gaza and The West Bank / Statista”? What about Palestinian civilians? What about atrocities potentially being committed in Gaza?

You are not wrong. The world has a double standard and, to some extent, it is well deserved. Israel is a developed democracy, while Gaza… well… is not. Israel is so technologically advanced it shoots down rockets. In Gaza, Hamas uses civilians as human shields while digging up donated water pipes to build rockets to try to kill Israelis (Telegraph).

Israel is strong and will defend its civilians. Who will defend Palestinian civilians? Israelis don’t need your voice, you think — they’ll do just fine on their own. But Palestinian civilians need your help, your voice, and so you take a stand. And I commend you for that, sincerely.

Except that doesn’t change the simple truth: if you are not acknowledging the atrocity in front of you, you are silent and, in that act, you have abandoned your friends.

To be (un)Popular…

There may be another element at play: we operate in echo chambers and showing compassion and empathy for civilians on “the other side” is deeply uncomfortable, as it may be perceived by your peers as an “endorsement” of the other side. It’s not.

To express concern for Palestinian civilians in a pro-Israeli context is not endorsement of Hamas. Nor is it a blanket endorsement of Israel to show concern for Israelis among people who are pro-Palestine. As uncomfortable and unpopular as it may seem — civilian suffering is civilian suffering and empathizing with humanity is a solid foundation from which it will be so much easier to have the incredibly difficult conversations that we should be having.

Don’t Abandon Your Friends

The failure to explicitly acknowledge major acute events that lead to death and suffering in civilian populations is abandonment of your friends.

We are about to observe the next installment of this tragedy. Israel is about to excise the violent cancerous tumor that is Hamas. This will carry a significant loss of life for both Israelis and Palestinians and it will likely be awful. And civilians on both sides will need you.

Don’t abandon your friends.