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Silence == Death
And I mean that in more than one way, all of them literal
Yesterday afternoon I went to a ceasefire demonstration downtown. It was organized by a group called If Not Now, and another group called Jewish Voice for Peace, both American Jewish organizations that oppose the occupation generally, as well as being active right now in specifically calling for ceasefire.
It was also organized by a local group called the Boston Worker’s Circle, a hundred-year-old left-wing Jewish shul that seems to be the only spiritual home in town right now for people like me, a person who would very very much prefer to not have to say or think a damn thing about what is happening right now in Gaza, but find myself compelled by circumstances to do so.
The Boston Worker’s Circle just got itself expelled from a coalition of local Jewish groups, in fact, of which it was, way back when, a founding member organization, because it has been participating in these ceasefire protests along with these other Jewish organizations that are classified as anti-Zionist and which therefore are said to be anti-Semitic. Go read this piece by a board member about it. Really.1
It is disorienting, at best, to find myself, a Jewish woman by birth, cultural heritage, upbringing, and ongoing practice, labeled an anti-Semite because I have found myself compelled by circumstances to join demonstrations calling for ceasefire. It is lonely, so I am grateful to be able to go and walk with other Jews through the streets of my city in this disturbingly warm autumn and sing for peace.
It must be possible, I cannot live in a world where it is not possible for me to criticize the actions my government is enabling another government to take, and doing so by invoking me, for me, for me, a Jewish woman, for my survival — to say no, this is not for my survival. It must be possible for me to stand up and say no to that without being told I hate Jews. It ought to be, I guess. But if it’s not, if that’s not possible, well then, okay. That doesn’t change what I have to do.
I do not claim to know or try to speak in this moment about the larger problem. I can’t manage those words. I know it is complicated and I understand people may differ. I don’t, as I said, want to say anything at all.
I speak now because silence == death.
As I write today, communication with Gaza, with people in Gaza on the ground, has gone almost dark. Israel made that happen. Then Israel continued to bomb Gaza. The IDF has said they are bombing the underground tunnels of Hamas.
The press reports this, Israel is bombing underground sites, as if Gaza is a big wide desert with nothing at all up on top of those tunnels.2
But that is not true. Even those who are most committed to turning away from what is going on probably would not be able to answer, if asked the straight question “what is on top of the underground sites Israel is bombing?” -- would not be able to say “nothing at all!”
Because we all know that there are 2.2 million people and all their apartment buildings, grocery stores, bakeries, hospitals, schools, and playgrounds on top of those underground sites.
When the press say Israel is bombing underground sites where Hamas is hiding, they are not lying exactly. But they are lying. They are making it easier for us all to look away and pretend we do not know what else they are bombing.
To know this out of the corner of our eyes but not to say it, not to admit it -- that is, as I’ve written in the past, a kind of doublethink.
For me, it is not fear that is the mind-killer, it is this: to see but not say, and then in the end to refuse to see.
Silence double equals death.
The programmers among my readers will recognize the intent of the double equals sign -- I am not assigning to silence the value of death. I am saying they are already equal. And of course those who know their queer history will also recognize this as a slogan of the AIDS activists of the 80s.
Silence double equals death also because I mean it in two ways.
First, silence equals death not only because it is only by raising our voices in protest of this bombing that we might hope to slow it, stop it, gum up the works, force our government to push harder, if only in private, move other people to also speak up -- not only because it is my hope in speaking up to save actual lives, and my understanding that if I do not speak, I have no hope at all of helping to save any lives.
But also, silence equals death for me, personally.
Maybe I am just that sort of person to begin with; maybe we all are, but I live a little closer to that edge than other people. I find life hard enough to keep living even when there’s nothing in particular I’m being silent about. Living is heavy enough.
Saying heavy words is hard. Heavy words are heavy. But silence, I have found, is heavier still.
I can hardly carry what I am already carrying. I can’t take on a single ounce more of silence.
What you have to do in this moment -- I have no idea. That is not my job to tell you what to do. It is my job now to tell you what I see, and what I must do.
My congressperson (well, his office), Jake Auchincloss, sent me an email last night thanking me for contacting him almost two weeks ago now, about a ceasefire, and explaining to me why it was not right to call for a ceasefire, because Israel is a liberal democracy that has a right and a responsibility to defend itself, of course, of course while also taking care to protect civilians, of course, no one is saying any different, of course we all care about the civilians, we say the word humanitarian a thousand times a day. But we do not call for a ceasefire, because it is not time yet for a ceasefire.
It is long past fucking time for a ceasefire, I think, reading this email.
Here is what I wrote back:
Israel is currently bombing Gaza under a total communications blackout, as I'm sure you're aware.
In the morning, in the next few weeks, a few years down the line -- then we will all have the opportunity to reflect on whether we did enough in this moment for Palestinian civilians "seeking refuge" until they can "return to their communities" or whether we stood by and mumbled something about humanitarian corridors while Gaza was flattened.
I understand why you take the position you take now, and say the careful words you say. Merely as a citizen in this moment, as a Jewish American woman, I find it takes courage to say clearly what I am seeing happen and why I believe it to be wrong. I speak up because there is only so much silence that can be carried in one life. If Israel's leadership is indeed intent on "bouncing the rubble", as Tom Cotton suggested they could go right ahead and do, then I might not save any Palestinian lives by speaking out against it, because I am just one ordinary person, with only a small voice. But at least I won't be drowning my own soul to death with my silence.
I don’t want to be saying these things. I want to be walking in the woods, miraculously fully recovered from my bout with Covid (I am not fully recovered, but that’s a tale for another day), I want to be listening to the wind in the forest.
But here I am, speaking.
Call me what you like. Tell me how I betray my people by speaking up for the survival of other peoples. When I say I speak just as much for my own survival as for others, I mean that literally, and I mean it on many levels at once, literally.
Like you, like the Israelis, like the Palestinians, like Jews and Muslims everywhere, like people -- I’m just trying to live.
“To describe the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza — more than 7,000 deaths have been reported to date, nearly half children — in any softer terms than the massacre by Hamas, which claimed far fewer lives, is an act of intellectual dishonesty and moral emptiness.”
“And I have been frustrated by parts of the left’s response to the war, like graphics and posters asking “Do you believe in decolonization as an academic theory or a tangible process?” That bitterly flippant message and its ilk obscure the fact that most people sharing it are looking to score points while safely at home behind their keyboards. The vast majority of them, in the U.S., are also settlers: living on stolen land, no less complicit in colonization, nor more deserving of safety, than citizens of Israel.”
of course the hostages are said to be in those tunnels also, but even if they were not, there is the problem of WHAT IS ON TOP OF THE TUNNELS???. I’ll point in the direction of that star wars meme where Natalie Portman is just endlessly looking aghast, “you do know what is on top of the tunnels, right?” and the Anakin Skywalker actor just looks blank.