by Mara Richards Bim
When our plane landed in Tel Aviv on October 7th at 5:00 pm local time, I turned on my phone to let my husband and daughter know “the turkey has landed.” Before I was able to get my witty arrival text out, my phone began pinging nonstop with worried texts from friends and family halfway around the world. It took several hours of conversations and catching up on news media for me to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. And, when I did, my first thought as the mother of a 7-year-old little girl was “I have to get home to my daughter.”
I did make it home to her – exactly 100 hours after I had kissed her teary face goodbye at the airport to head halfway around the world. When I reunited with her at the same airport, it was my teary face she kissed this time. As a mother wanting nothing more than to return home and to hug my daughter, as I reflect on my experience I find myself meditating on the mothers and children caught up in the horrific violence in Israel and Gaza.
Hamas’ indiscriminate slaughter and kidnapping of civilians, including the elderly, whole families, children, and infants leaves me speechless. Their gross human rights’ violations demonstrate that, without question, Hamas is a terrorist organization along the lines of the Taliban or ISIS. They must be stopped. Yet, Hamas does not represent the whole of the Palestinian people. The Israeli government is collectively punishing innocent Palestinian civilians for the actions of Hamas. Israel’s decimation of Northern Gaza and the ludicrous expectation that more than 1 million Palestinian civilians can somehow escape the violence also leaves me speechless. Today, there are mothers in both Israel and Gaza weeping for their children. There are mothers – just like me – desperate to hug their children one more time. There are mothers living in terror, unable to explain to their children what is happening around them.
On social media, Sikh peace activist Valarie Kaur eloquently articulated the heartbreaking situation unfolding: “You will be told by some: The deaths of Israeli children are unfortunate but inevitable, because Israel’s occupation of Palestine is brutal and wrong. You will be told by others: The deaths of Palestinian children are unfortunate but inevitable, because it is the only way to keep Israel safe from terror, and Hamas brought this on its own people…I don’t know the solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine but I do know the starting point: To grieve “their” children as our children.”
As a mother, a Christian, and someone committed to peace, this question resonates with me: What does it mean to grieve other people’s children as our own?
Upon my return to the states I was horrified to see some on the political left who call themselves “social justice activists” making comments on social media that the massacre of Israelis – including mothers and their children – was somehow justified or warranted. I am shocked and enraged to see pampered American college students – including at my alma mater NYU – calling the terrorists of Hamas “freedom fighters” and their actions part of a legitimate “resistance.” Journalists are now beginning to address the stunning hypocrisy on display when activists on the left speak of peace and justice for Palestinians but revel in the murders of Israelis. Hamas is a terrorist group that uses Palestinian civilians – their own people – as human shields. They planned and executed the carnage on October 7th in hopes of drawing in other terror groups across the region to annihilate Israel.
Yet, two things can be true at the same time.
For far too long the United States and other Western countries have turned a blind eye to the Israeli government’s oppressive actions against the Palestinian people. Now, the Israeli government’s directive that more than one million innocent civilians evacuate Northern Gaza or be killed while providing no way for them to escape is also a gross human rights’ violation. Palestinian doctors have had to make the impossible decision to refuse to evacuate patients from hospitals because doing so would mean their deaths. Gazans – including the elderly and children – have been living without food, water, electricity, and medical care. In the immediate aftermath of October 7th, the United States provided Israel with additional funding and weaponry enabling Israel’s unrestrained killing of Palestinian civilians in Northern Gaza – the “collateral damage” of war. This makes us complicit in Israel’s actions. I was grateful to see President Biden secure aid to the Palestinian people via Egypt. The United States must continue to use its influence and must be an honest broker if there is to be any hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
As people of faith – whatever faith that might be – we have an opportunity now to be peacemakers. If we are outraged at the murder and torture of innocent Israeli mothers and children, we must also be outraged at the murder and torture of innocent Palestinian mothers and children. We must educate ourselves on the lived experiences of both Israelis and Palestinians. We must lift up both Israeli and Palestinian children equally and demand they be sheltered from the violence of war. And, we must pray for all of the civilians on both sides who have lived through and are living through unspeakable traumas.