Naming the Enemy: War

flags of Palestine and Israel painted on cracked wall
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

America is at war. The question for those of us in historically marginalized communities will be whose side are we on — and what even are the sides in this war? Antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in the U.S. — how do LGBTQ+ people commit to fighting this rising hate in the midst of war? What is the role of LGBTQ+ people in fighting global oppression and its layers in the U.S.? 

Since Oct. 7, I have interviewed many Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the peace movement and others, some longtime friends and colleagues or those longtime colleagues have put me in touch with. These are people, despite their individual and collective grief over the events of the past weeks, united in their calls for a ceasefire and for fighting for a two-state solution as the only route to peace and an end to violence. Not one Israeli I spoke with supports the assault on Gaza.

But the U.S. does. Despite increasingly mixed messages from President Biden and Secretary Antony Blinken urging Israel to use restraint in its response to Hamas, the scenes from Gaza are apocalyptic. And there is no plan for an exit strategy for Israel should they begin a ground war in Gaza. 

As the war expands and the U.S. becomes more deeply entrenched, as protests on both sides take hold in cities like Philadelphia and on college campuses like the University of Pennsylvania, how riven will America become about this war, heading into an election year? Biden has said repeatedly that the U.S. supports Israel and supports Israel’s right to defend itself. But polling shows key demographics for Biden — like voters under 35 — do not support Israel or the current stance on the war. 

Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner, has explicitly sided with Hezbollah. He has renewed calls for a Muslim ban like that he instituted when he took office in 2017. At a rally Monday, Trump said he will prevent immigrants who “don’t like our religion” from entering the U.S., which is a direct violation of the First Amendment. 

GOP challenger Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would keep out any refugees from Gaza as they are all Hamas.

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said we should embrace Palestinian refugees from Gaza. And Sen. Tim Scott said Democratic House members Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is a Muslim Palestinian, and other progressive women of color Democrats were a “disgusting” extension of the “Hamas propaganda machine.” Scott also said Biden had “blood on his hands” and suggested Biden funded Hamas. 

There are likely some Americans who don’t realize yet that we are seriously engaged in the Israel-Hamas war, but as NBC News war correspondent Richard Engle reported Tuesday, two dozen American military were injured in drone attacks in bases in Iraq and Syria. There will be more of this, predicated a senior official, John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council in the White House. And more “collateral damage,” by which he means civilian lives. Kirby tried to explain what that means in the daily White House press briefing on Oct. 24.

Kirby said, “Innocent civilians will be hurt. I wish I could tell you different, I wish that wasn’t gonna happen. That doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it dismissable. That is the nature of conflict.” 

Kirby said, “This is war.”

What Kirby didn’t say explicitly is that the U.S. support for Israel means to many that the U.S. is funding the war. The claim throughout the Middle Eastern and some left media is that this makes the U.S. a proxy combatant. The U.S. has been fighting a proxy war with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine, but the proxy war the U.S. is fighting with Israel against Hamas is different. This war is here, too. 

The U.S. has the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. About 200,000 Americans hold dual American Israeli citizenship and more than a million Americans have extended family in Israel, like Judith and Natalie Ranaan, the two Chicagoan hostages Hamas released Oct. 20 who had been visiting relatives for the Jewish High Holidays. There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the U.S. and Michigan, which Tlaib represents, has a huge Palestinian population.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN Oct. 24 that more than 30 Americans were killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. As many as two dozen Americans are being held hostage by Hamas.

The war has come to the U.S. in that rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia. On Oct. 14, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American was stabbed 26 times for being Muslim. His mother couldn’t attend his funeral because she was stabbed, too, and remained in the ICU. 

On Saturday Oct. 21, Samantha Woll, 40, president of a Detroit synagogue, a lifelong activist for Muslim-Jewish relations and a Democratic political strategist who had worked for out lesbian Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Rep. Elissa Slotkin was stabbed to death outside her home. Her killing — as yet unsolved — drew national attention and was immediately perceived as a hate crime due to her work and activism and the brutality of the crime. But police said in an Oct. 23 press conference that they are pursuing a different avenue in her killing.

On Oct. 24, white nationalists protested Jews outside a synagogue in Montana. 

On Oct. 24, at George Washington University, antisemitic and anti-Israel messages were projected onto campus buildings named for a pair of Jewish benefactors. One was the call to eradicate Israel.

As a member of the press, I have been privy to information on background and to unreleased images that the general population hasn’t seen. I’ve also had to sift through the grotesque AI photos used to inflame rhetoric — as if that’s needed in this volatile climate. Photos from a gassing of Syrian civilians by Bashir Assad were shared as killings by Israel of Palestinian children. Images from video games were shared as rockets from Hamas into Israel. Far right pundit and Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro shared a photo he claimed was a murdered Israeli child but which others said was AI generated. Other notable figures have done this, too. President Biden has had to walk back statements he made that were rumors rather than facts, like that of Hamas beheading babies. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter/X that Hamas “abducted dozens of children, burned them and executed them” and said soldiers had been beheaded. There is video and photographic proof of these acts.

Still, the fog of war descended early. 

The New York Times wrote a sorry-not-sorry editorial about the Al Ahli hospital bombing in Gaza City, apologizing for rushing to judgment about the assault on the hospital. It really wasn’t an Israeli airstrike but after the IDF had already hit two other hospitals and warned al Ahli to evacuate, it’s unsurprising that even now, no one believes that Hamas, not IDF, is responsible. It was that incident and the reporting of it that incited massive protests in the region and scuttled Biden’s meeting with Arab and Palestinian leaders Oct. 19 to discuss lowering tensions in the region.

The one true fact is that the information war is running parallel to the actual war and the information war is the only one that’s winning. The horrific attack on Oct. 7 cannot — and should not — be minimized as it has been. Killing civilians with the level of ferocity and violence that Hamas used in that surprise attack at dawn is against all the rules of war. Taking civilian hostages is against the rules of war as laid out by the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions — agreed to by 196 countries — prohibit intentionally targeting civilians, the taking of hostages and excessive destruction, as well as give protection to prisoners of war and wounded or sick soldiers. Civilians are to be protected from murder, torture or brutality, and from discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, religion or political opinion. 

The UN said Oct. 25 that nearly a half million women and girls had been displaced by the Gaza bombing. The Gaza Ministry of Health reports 5,000 dead, among them more than 2,000 children. Half the population of Gaza is children, so the killing of children in airstrikes is unavoidable, as Kirby suggested. Isn’t that reason alone to stop them?

Why can’t we say who the bad actors are here? That they are undeniably Hamas and the Netanyahu administration — not the Palestinians of Gaza or Israeli Jews? Why can’t we say that the Palestinians are an oppressed minority and the Israeli Occupation is wrong without embracing Hamas as “our glorious martyrs” as one statement at GWU declared? As time passes, all of us will be called upon to take a stance and to state our rationale for doing so.

We are so privileged to have access to all the information from all sides. We have an obligation to access that information — to not accept statements from government officials at face value. We have a responsibility to accuracy and to empathy and to what is right.

A stand against hate is always right. A stand against the killing of innocents is always right. A call for a ceasefire now is essential — and right. Those are things we should all — including the U.S. government — be able to stand for and against. Peace harms no one. That fact must be stated again and again until it is heard. As people who face oppression here and throughout the world, we should stand against that in all its forms — including war, and especially hate.

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