Watching the war between Israel and Hamas continue, I am heartbroken. Like any person of goodwill, I am pained by the babies, young people, women, elderly and all people taken hostage by Hamas, including my neighbor Omer Neutra.
I am angry that some 1,200 Israeli civilians were murdered in ways that the most twisted minds couldn’t imagine. However, I am also grieving for Palestinians held hostage by Hamas. Women, children and others who didn’t ask to be part of this conflict. People whose homes, schools, hospitals and even mosques have been turned into weapons-storage facilities and bases to fight Israeli soldiers.
It is particularly important, when speaking about the conflict, for both supporters and detractors of Israel to uncouple Hamas from innocent Palestinians in Gaza. Yes, there are child soldiers, and many children are inculcated to hate from a young age, but they, too, are victims. Victims of a terrorist group that puts a higher priority on the death of Israel than the lives of its own civilians.
There is another reason to distinguish between Hamas and innocent Palestinians. On Oc. 7, while homes in southern Israel were still burning and Hamas terrorists were still inside Israel, many anti-Israel protesters didn’t make the distinction between Hamas and innocent Palestinians. We rarely heard condemnation of the Hamas attack. When calling for a better life for the Palestinians in Gaza, or a ceasefire, there was no mention of Israeli hostages or murdered civilians. We’ve seen similar language on college campuses nationwide and in rallies in New York City.
We have seen posters of hostages torn down, we have seen anti-Zionist phrases like “From the river to the sea” uttered, and violent mobs that look nothing like the peace vigils of those who support Israel. This in itself is a microcosm of the Hamas-Israel conflict. I am led to believe that without caveats, without clarifying statements, many of Israel’s detractors do not support a Jewish state, and may even support the murder of innocent Israelis.
I hope I’m wrong. If we can’t agree to disagree here, how can we ever imagine a negotiated solution to the conflict in the Middle East?
So my request to Israel’s supporters and detractors is this: If you support a long-term solution to this conflict that allows Israelis and Palestinians alike to thrive, distinguish between those in Gaza who are terrorists and those who are victims of Hamas. As Israel seeks to destroy Hamas, a goal it will achieve, it is incumbent on all of us to separate those who will be defeated with Hamas, and those who deserve a better way of life moving forward.
Eric Post is the Long Island regional director of the American Jewish Committee.