WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 18: Protesters stage a demonstration in support of a cease fire against the Palestinians in Gaza in the Cannon House Office Building on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. Members of the Jewish Voice for Peace and the IfNotNow movement staged a rally to call for a cease fire in the Israel–Hamas war.

Most Americans Want A De-Escalation in Gaza. Why Won’t Our Government Listen?

For over two weeks, the state of Israel has been bombarding Gaza in an effort to root out the Palestinian militant group Hamas, killing thousands of Palestinian civilians (many of them children) in the process. Much of the world, including most American voters across party lines, believe Israel should de-escalate their response, as it’s become a worsening humanitarian crisis. However, the U.S. Congress continues to weigh Israel’s “right to defend itself” more heavily than the lives of Palestinian civilians.

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The world’s attention is now on this continuing bombardment, which, despite being a response to violence, is outsized and has done more to harm innocent civilians than it has to get at the root of the problem.

“We never got Shiva”

While there are plenty of Jews who profess to “stand with Israel” while glossing over the extensive civilian Palestinian casualties, there are plenty more who not only stand with Jewish lives but whose Jewish values dictate that they must also stand with Palestinian lives. Jewish groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as high-profile Jews like actor Wallace Shawn and author Naomi Klein, have been speaking out against weaponizing Jewish grief to justify additional violence and terror.

I’m reminded of something one of my rabbis said in a service I attended at my synagogue last week. She talked about a multi-faith gathering she attended with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders trying to process the current moment. One of the other rabbis there said something like, “We never even got Shiva” after the Hamas attack on October 7.

In Judaism, Shiva is the seven-day mourning period for first-degree relatives. When a Jew in mourning is “sitting Shiva,” they spend a week being cared for by their community so that they don’t have to think about anything other than their mourning. It’s a time of spiritual and emotional healing and reflection.

Jews worldwide never got Shiva after Hamas’ attack. Instead, Israel’s outsized response immediately put us in a position of having to postpone grieving the lives lost and hostages taken in order to defend our ethics and Jewish values while being scrutinized by the whole world. We either don’t care enough about Israel and are a “shame to our people,” or we talk too much about Israel and are on the “wrong side of history.” When we don’t post our feelings to social media in order to protect our own mental health as we grieve, far too many armchair activists post that “silence = complicity,” not acknowledging that social media isn’t the only way to make noise.

We never got Shiva. What we got instead was a vengeful retaliation against an entire group of people that we never asked for.

U.S. citizens and a growing number of elected officials want a ceasefire in Gaza

According to poll results published by Data for Progress a few days ago, 66% of likely voters surveyed agreed with the statement, “The U.S. should call for a ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza. The U.S. should leverage its close diplomatic relationship with Israel to prevent further violence and civilian deaths.” These were likely voters across party lines with 80% of surveyed Democrats, 57% of surveyed third-party/Independent voters, and 56% of likely Republican voters either “strongly agreeing” or “somewhat agreeing” with the statement.

Individual elected officials in Congress have spoken out in favor of de-escalation, too. As reported by The Intercept, 13 House Democrats introduced a resolution “urging the Biden administration to call for an ‘immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine’ and to send humanitarian aid to Gaza” at the beginning of last week. By the end of the week, Representatives Maxwell Frost (D-FL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Gregorio Casar (D-TX) joined the resolution, bringing the number up to 16.

However, the U.S. government has yet to take its members, its citizens, or the civilian Palestinian casualties seriously.

Al Jazeera reported this week about the United Nations’ 15-member Security Council’s first debate on the situation in Gaza. The UN Security Council has five permanent members: China, France, the Russian Federation, the U.K., and the U.S. Permanent members are the only ones allowed veto power during votes. The 10 additional member countries—currently Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates—are elected by the UN’s General Assembly to serve two-year terms.

Last week, the U.S. vetoed a proposed resolution that would have called for a cease-fire, because “it did not do enough to stress Israel’s right to self-defense.”

Israel already has the right to self-defense

Here’s the thing: Israel does have a right to self-defense. Every nation does. So it does bother me that Israel is often held to a standard that other nations around the world (including the U.S.) are not when it comes to retaliating against threats to its borders, real or perceived.

People get particularly loud about Israel in a way that they don’t about larger powers doing much, much worse, so it becomes difficult not to see antisemitism in it. Far too many people complain when Jews make any connection between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. Everyone says they “know” that the Israeli government does not equal the Jewish people.

Yet Israel hasn’t had the same government over the decades. It hasn’t always been this right-wing, and previous Israeli Prime Ministers have had all sorts of approaches to this ongoing conflict. And yet the response is always the same. Atrocities abound in the world, but Israel somehow manages to get non-Jews who don’t speak up at any other time to suddenly care about colonialism.

The State of Israel itself was created, not because the world suddenly loved Jews, but because larger powers that wanted a foothold in the Middle East helped Zionists hold land while not knowing or caring about the history or cultures in the area. So, after Jews had been punted around the world, being displaced or murdered for centuries, larger Western powers eased their guilt over how they treated Jews while treating themselves to an ally in an oil-rich region. They helped the Jewish People build a homeland, putting them in a position of gratitude while simultaneously putting a stationary target on their backs that would require them to be continually indebted to the United States.

Israel isn’t defending itself. The U.S. is defending it.

Israel absolutely has a right to self-defense. However, Israel is not defending itself. The U.S. is defending it. According to U.S. News and World Report:

  • The U.S. has given Israel more than $260 billion in military and economic aid since World War II, more than it’s given any other recipient of military or economic aid in that time frame. Egypt is the second-highest recipient of U.S. aid, having received $160 billion in the same time frame.
  • In addition to that amount, the U.S. has given about $10 billion more contributing to missile defense systems like the Iron Dome.
  • “[From fiscal years 1974 to 2002,] Israel was the top recipient of U.S. aid, the longest-standing duration for a top aid recipient dating back to 1946. […] While 2003 to 2020 saw the most aid going to either Iraq or Afghanistan, Israel nevertheless remained a top three aid recipient throughout that time.”

Israel has the right to defend itself, but it hasn’t yet been given the opportunity to do so, because the U.S. has been holding the purse strings and providing the resources since the beginning. The establishment of Israel was a dream for so many, but as author and journalist Max Miller points out on TikTok, Jews have never been unified about Zionism. To this day many Jews, even those who see Israel as our homeland, believe that any “homeland” that doesn’t actually live Jewish values is meaningless.

I’m always hesitant when speaking out about injustices in other countries because I’m often not knowledgeable enough. Frankly, it seems disrespectful for me to platform my opinions about countries I don’t live in, performing grief from a safe distance without being a resident or voter there. However, I am a citizen of and voter in the United States and have no problem speaking up about where my tax dollars should and shouldn’t be used.

What our country should be doing is encouraging true self-defense. Not the reactionary kind that wreaks havoc in the lives of civilians, but the kind that gets at the root cause of the problem. The kind where they defend not only land, but their Jewish values and the ideal that the State of Israel was supposed to embody in the first place.

And Israel should do this on its own terms following the voices of its people, not the whims of a hawkish leader who distracts the people from his own corruption by centering “self-defense.”

Our Jewish grief and my American tax dollars should not be used to fund war crimes. Israel has the right to defend itself. It should be allowed to do so, at long last, and its U.S-funded training wheels should come off.

(featured image: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.