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David Harris-Gershon
David Harris-Gershon
David Harris-Gershon's work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and elsewhere, and his memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, is forthcoming from Oneworld Publications (September, 2013).



Empathy Is Dead in Israel: Effects of a Forever War

Aug8

by: on August 8th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Israel Defense Forces Gaza border

Israel Defense Forces near the Gaza Border in July Credit: Creative Commons-Flickr Israel Defense Forces

Much has been written about the silencing of anti-war dissent in Israel by a populace almost universally supportive of military action in Gaza. Such support – inspired by feelings of vulnerability amidst rocket fire and informed by the country’s rightward shift – has made speaking out against the violence not just uncomfortable, but dangerous. Not a single anti-war demonstration in the past month has concluded without participants being attacked and beaten by nationalistic counter-protesters.

And yet, while the silencing of anti-war dissent has been a troubling manifestation of Israelis’ support for war, even more troubling has been the societal numbness; the societal disregard for Palestinian suffering which has been manifested in unsettling, and sometimes shocking, ways.

It’s not bombastic to say that empathy is dead in Israel right now from a societal standpoint, a metaphorical casualty of the current violence. Evidence of this isn’t just being seen in statistical polls, but in a seemingly endless stream of incidents. Consider the following three, representative of a real phenomenon few in Israel deny:

  • Israeli soldiers prank called a Gaza hotel, joking about it being bombed.
  • A moment of silence in Jerusalem’s artsy theater for those killed in Gaza is met with shouts of “Shame!” and “You’re raping the audience!

These scenes are just three representing countless such episodes happening online and in everyday life. Of course, they’re not scenes taking place within a vacuum. A conflict is ongoing. Israelis have had to run to bomb shelters with each rocket attack. People are being traumatized by the constant threat of war.


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Gaza Is Transforming American Jews: Words from an Overflowing Inbox

Aug4

by: on August 4th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

I can’t keep up with my inbox.

This is an entirely new and foreign experience – over 100 messages have been streaming in each day for the past week, and there is little sign of this pace slowing. All of these messages are being sent by strangers, the vast majority of them are coming from American Jews, and most contain a singular message:

“I feel like you are my voice right now.” – 27-year-old from Philadelphia

As a writer and author, I’ve been humbled by occasional notes from strangers, from people both praising me or cursing me for my words, opinions and political positions. However, what’s happening right now is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It is a stunning anecdotal phenomenon which reveals the way American Jews in particular, and Americans in general, are being affected by the incredible suffering in Gaza.

This all began when the actor Mark Ruffalo shared an article I recently wrote:


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Israel Has Lost the Gaza ‘War’

Aug2

by: on August 2nd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Israel has decided to unilaterally end its Gaza operation without a diplomatic agreement or a substantive change in its hostile relationship with Hamas and Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. It has decided to cease talking, and instead will rely on its “deterrence” capabilities – missile strikes and a continued blockade of Gaza – moving forward.

Meaning: Israel has officially lost a tragic ‘war’ it did not need to begin, a war Hamas did not want but in the end fully embraced as well, making both parties culpable for all that now remains. Or no longer remains. Israel’s loss is the worst possible outcome for all parties involved, from Palestinians in Gaza to Israelis in Tel Aviv and beyond. All that’s left is the continuation of an unsustainable and dangerous status quo, the reverberations of unspeakable suffering, and an even more intense and stratified conflict. Nothing has been gained. Everything has been lost.

Again.

Only this time, the costs are far greater, and will persist far longer.

On the surface, it might not appear as though Israel has lost this war given how one-sided of a military affair it’s been – given the tunnels and missile caches it’s destroyed. However, that’s only because Israel’s loss marks a simultaneous loss for innocent Palestinians and for Hamas, a loss it may not accept given the humanitarian catastrophe, the price people have paid, with no long-term improvement in their lives to show for it.


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12 Years Ago Today, Hamas Tried to Kill My Wife. I’m Marking that Day by Opposing the Gaza War and Attacks on All Civilians

Jul30

by: on July 30th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

In the weeks since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, nearly 1,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in unspeakable violence visited upon Gaza by Israeli missiles, while in Israel three civilians have been killed by Hamas rockets which have steadily fallen, fortunately harming few.*

Every death has been tragic, each loss amplified by the fact that this violence, this ‘war,’ did not have to be. Every innocent life, taken by the hands of leaders on both sides who have acted criminally, calls out to us for this conflict to end.

Twelve years ago today, my wife almost became another civilian tragedy in this ongoing conflict when a Hamas attack nearly took her life. The two friends of ours with whom she was sitting in a university cafeteria on July 31, 2002, when a remotely-detonated bomb went off, were not as fortunate.

Today, as happens every time this day rolls around, I mourn those friends we lost, just as I mourn the pain my wife endured in her recovery. But today, twelve years later, feels different than the previous eleven. As I watch scenes of innocent people being injured and killed in hospitals, schools, open-air markets and in their own living rooms, I shudder.


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Letter to My Community: How I’m Pro-Israel

Jul28

by: on July 28th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

I don’t cry.

It didn’t used to be this way – I was a somewhat sensitive kid growing up, and often wore my emotions openly, crying naturally when the world demanded tears. I’m now 40, and haven’t cried in 12 years. Maybe more. I admit that, during the past month, I’ve written the words “I weep” for the loss of life in Gaza and the loss of life in Israel. But such words have just been a metaphor for what, in reality, can no longer be conjured.

Credit: Creative Commons

Why am I starting out by telling you this? Because in writing this letter, I can feel the faint hint of tears, can feel the sensation of what it feels like to cry. It’s a familiar feeling, but one which will spill out into words. Words of sadness. Words of love. And possibly, words of hope.

Many of you know me as an active member of the community. You are my friends and my colleagues. You are Jewish community leaders and community activists. You are Americans and Israelis. You are people I care about, and during this difficult time, some of our relationships are being strained. Which is why I’m writing and sharing some thoughts, hoping that in doing so, the distance created between myself and some of you might be bridged during this difficult time.


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Empathizing with Gaza does NOT make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human.

Jul25

by: on July 25th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

On the ground in Gaza, Israel’s war against Hamas has been devastating. Online and in the public sphere, a different sort of war has been taking place – a broad initiative to delegitimize those who raise questions about and critique Israel’s actions.

This initiative is being carried out both by so-called ‘pro-Israel’ individuals as well as student volunteers enlisted by Israel’s government in its ‘social media war.’ The result: those who merely express empathy for the suffering in Gaza, where over 800 people have been killed and 5,000 injured, are tainted as anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas, and those who offer dissenting opinions are labelled as enemies who seek Israel’s destruction.

The goal is to shut down dialogue and debate, something Jon Stewart nailed in a recent bit in which he attempts to discuss Israel, only to be shouted down as a self-hating Jew. It is not a new phenomenon or initiative, though it has become much more intense and widespread as emotions run high over the ongoing violence in Gaza and continued rocket attacks in Israel.

It seems to be affecting everyone who publicly offers critical opinions about Israel’s Gaza offensive, whether celebrities, journalists or anonymous individuals.

The horrible irony is that, as propagandists try to defame dissenters by slandering them as anti-Semitic, thus diluting its meaning, real anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Europe. Anti-semitism is still a real danger, and that danger is being made graver by those who are participating in this online initiative to falsely tar concerned voices as enemies of Israel.


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TNR: For a moral world to exist, Israel must kill innocent Palestinians

Jul22

by: on July 22nd, 2014 | 15 Comments »

On Sunday evening, a four-story house in Gaza was decimated by an Israeli missile. At the moment of impact, 25 people belonging to four families, including 19 children, were gathered together to break the day’s Ramadan fast. All of them were killed.

Also eating with the families was, according to relatives, a guest who was likely a Hamas militant, ostensibly the strike’s target. (Israel’s military has refused to comment.) He died as well, buried the the rubble of a collapsed building along with the 19 children and six adults with whom he was eating.

What happened on Sunday isn’t an isolated incident. To date, over 3,000 Palestinians have been injured and over 600 killed in Israeli strikes, 75 percent of whom the U.N. estimates have been innocent people unconnected in any way to the violence. And many of these civilians have been killed in strikes which have either completely or nearly destroyed entire families.

According to Israel, such strikes are considered to be both necessary and unfortunate, given the unspeakable loss of innocent Palestinian lives. However, Israel claims it is not to blame for such tragic deaths, instead insisting that Hamas is responsible, not its own missiles.

It’s true that Hamas has used schools to house weapons, fires rockets from urban areas and clearly places civilians at risk with the ongoing violence. Here’s the rub, though: there is no safe space in Gaza for people to flee. Indeed, many have been killed by missile attacks in areas Israel told residents would be safe. These are not “human shields.” They are human tragedies.

The New Republic’s Yishai Schwartz agrees with Israel that, despite all this, such strikes are necessary and must continue. However, he also performs some moral gymnastics to stunningly argue that such strikes are an absolute moral imperative. That the killing of innocent Palestinians, including children, is necessary to protect a just world.

No, I’m not joking.


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Not in My Name, Netanyahu

Jul20

by: on July 20th, 2014 | 17 Comments »

As I write these words, my hands tremble from the unspeakable images and stories I’ve witnessed in Gaza. They tremble with worry that those young Israeli soldiers losing their lives, casualties in a war they did not create, will be among those families I know, and that their numbers will grow.

My hands also tremble because, during all this, Israel’s leader – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – has repeatedly claimed to represent me, and all Jews, as Israel continues its brutal assault on Gaza, an assault which, as history shows, will neither achieve its strategic goals nor reap anything but heartache.

No, he does not speak for me.

When Netanyahu said on CNN that Palestinians benefit from “telegenically dead” civilians killed by Israel, that images of carnage helped Hamas because journalists would then ask about Israel’s actions, he did not speak for me.

A doctor cries while standing among the bodies of dead children at Shifa Hospital's overflowing morgue. [Note: journalists have captured countless disturbing images today, though I've chosen not to show them here.


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Why Israel Is a Progressive Issue, Not a Fringe U.S. Foreign Policy Matter

Jul18

by: on July 18th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

As a Jew, I admit to being uniquely invested in what’s occurring in Israel and Gaza – an investment sometimes cited to paint political discourse on Israel as niche. However, as an American citizen and a self-avowed progressive, I not only reject such notions, but hold that Israel is a core progressive issue which demands our broad attention.

There are many arguments made amongst progressives which seek to deflect discourse on Israel, and which echo arguments made across the political spectrum. Two of these arguments I’d like to counter below in an effort to show why Israel indeed stands as a principle progressive issue.

1) Why Single Out Israel?

One of the most consistent arguments I encounter for why Israel need not be discussed prominently is one I would categorize as a red herring. Here is how the argument goes: yes, horrible things are happening to the Palestinians, but there’s a lot of bad in the world. Try focusing on Syria or Russia or Sudan for once.

This sort of logic simply doesn’t hold any weight. Would I be unjustified in writing about water shutoffs in Detroit (as I’ve done) when land grabs in Africa are intensifying water scarcity crises for local communities? Of course I would.

It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to tackle an issue of importance without being presented with a myriad of other issues worthy of focus. But that’s the nature of taking any moral stand or championing any cause: it is done knowing selectivity is inherent, natural and unavoidable.

Mehdi Hasan, political director for The Huffington Post (UK), put it most articulately when he wrote regarding his publication’s current focus on Israel, Palestine and the intense suffering in Gaza:

On what grounds did we “single out” apartheid South Africa in the 1980s for condemnation and boycott? Weren’t there other, more dictatorial regimes in Africa at the time, those run by black Africans such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mobutu in Zaire? Did we dare excuse the crimes of white Afrikaners on this basis?

Taking a moral stand inevitably requires us to be selective, specific and, yes, even inconsistent.


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My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I’ve Ever Written

Jul12

by: on July 12th, 2014 | 26 Comments »

I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.

I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.

So I shut the book – Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which argues that only a bi-national state can justly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and quickly hid it from those milling about.

It was an absurd scene, particularly considering this: I was returning from my book event at one of Philadelphia’s largest synagogues, an event local, right-wing Jews had tried to cancel due to my progressive views on Israel. During the event, a hulking, armed guard watched the crowd as I spoke about the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians. A staff member sheepishly told me just before things commenced, “We’ve never hired police for a book event before; please forgive us.”

The security was present because a handful of community members had, with unusual vehemence, demanded the synagogue not allow me into the building. Why? Because I believe that Palestinians’ nonviolent opposition to Israel, including the use of boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS), is wholly legitimate. These people wanted me out of the building despite the fact that, as a progressive Zionist, I disagree with the BDS movement’s ideal of a single, bi-national state as a viable solution to the conflict, instead holding onto the dwindling hope of two states for two peoples.

However, the recent, unspeakable events of the past two weeks have begun to make me question whether a two-state solution is even remotely possible anymore, particularly as Israeli officials begin embracing various one-state solutions.

Such internal questioning reached a climax on Friday, when Netanyahu explicitly stated that he wanted Israel to control the West Bank indefinitely, marking his first-ever public rejection of the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.

My jaw dropped.


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