With the death toll in Gaza climbing past 8,500 people, including more than 3,500 children, and hundreds more being killed each day in Israel's relentless bombardment of homes and other civilian infrastructure, we at OBI join a growing global chorus of calls for an immediate ceasefire, as has been repeatedly demanded by the United Nations, and a return of the hostages.
We are heartbroken by the killings and unfathomable carnage suffered both by the Palestinians in Gaza, and the Israelis attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7 when some 1,400 were killed and over 200 kidnapped, including children. We believe that all life is precious and that all people belong, and so we mourn every single loss.
Our work is to build a world of belonging without othering. A feature of othering is drawing lines between those whose deaths are grievable, and those unworthy of our grief and concern. Even in the depth of our anguish, when love propels our tears and rage, we must not succumb to the drive to draw this line. Especially now, when dehumanization is widespread in governments, on the internet, in the news, in our communities and in our bodies. All of us must vehemently reject it in all its forms and embrace the value and worth of all people. Our very survival depends on it.
We call, instead, on all of us to hold each other's pain, to listen, and to cross our differences, no matter how seemingly vast, to work together to change the structures of marginalization and domination that harm us all. Even if they harm us in greatly different ways, we must find ways to bridge that distance. When we honor each other’s unfathomable grief, we reclaim each other’s humanity. It is these calls that have repeatedly held our own diverse and impacted staff together through the most painful of times. They work.
At OBI, we also recognize asymmetries of power and resources between individuals, social groups, institutions and governments. We see that some groups are “othered” while some groups may be less othered and at times enjoy greater privileges and power, such as the current Israeli political structure which one of Israel’s leading human rights groups, as well as Human Rights Watch and others, have all called apartheid. We further recognize that these power asymmetries extend to the capacity to inflict violence, including military violence or project force.
We also distinguish between individual people and the institutions, governments, and structures that we inhabit and too often divide us. For us, this is not fundamentally a story of Israeli versus Palestinian. Nor should being critical of Hamas or the Israeli government or, for that matter, the United States — as we often are — be equated with being either anti-Jewish or anti-Palestinian or un-American.
This is, instead, a story about globally intertwined structures of othering, such as genocide and settler colonialism, bringing into present time a torturous history and logic of hierarchy of life that has caused an unspeakable swath of death, domination, and trauma among everyday people across the world including Palestinians, Jews, Arabs of all faiths, Africans, indigenous peoples, poor whites, women, LGBTQ people and more. In that sense, we are all enmeshed in these structures, and we all must bear responsibility for transforming them.
That transformation must recognize our interdependence, and it cannot be achieved through dehumanization or harming and terrorizing civilians, which is a violation of international law and takes away our humanity. For that reason, we make demands on Israel and Hamas, which have both committed horrific war crimes.
At the same time, we must recognize the root cause of this violence is Israel’s occupation and apartheid system, made possible to an extraordinary degree by the United States’ longstanding and overwhelming military support and diplomatic cover. This should not be read as an excuse for violence perpetrated by Hamas and others. We know there is a long history of trauma and pain visited upon all the groups involved. But this does not justify the extension of more pain and killing of the apparent other.
Put another way, while countless people are experiencing deep pain and fear, with too many paying an unspeakable price, the groups to which we belong are not harmed the same way. Palestinians have been made refugees and have lived under a dehumanizing occupation for decades, and Israeli government policies have long supported ongoing settlements and disregard for Palestinians’ basic rights and territory. In Gaza, for decades, the conditions under which now over 2 million people have been forced to live are even more unthinkable. Now and too often, Jews live under a sense of dread and terror, most recently due to the attacks by Hamas. While it may be understandable at some level for the United States to talk about supporting Israel as a friend of America, this calculus diminishes the humanity and grievability of Palestinians.
Structural othering, which tolerates widespread killing, can only end when we join efforts to build structures built on belonging and peaceful co-existence under conditions of mutuality, agency, dignity and non-domination.
We believe all people are of equal dignity and worth, and that all people belong. This is what our future demands. Calls or demands for one people to leave or be expelled from an area they inhabit are utterly incompatible with the ideal of belonging.
Instead of allowing powerful forces and flattening narratives to pit us against each other, now more than ever, we, the people across the globe and from every community who stand on the side of humanity, who know that Palestinian and Israeli and all life is equally precious, who oppose all forms of supremacy and hierarchy of life, must turn towards each other, if we are to have a future.
As Palestinians suffer under collective punishment and Gaza is made increasingly unrecognizable and uninhabitable, and Jews suffer from the attacks and worry about loved ones taken as pawns in a political fight, we as a society will also be unrecognizable to future generations if we do not stand up for Palestinian and Jewish humanity and our shared, unequivocal right to belong without othering.
We know there are complicated military and political concerns that we have not addressed in this statement and may not necessarily be aware of. But we believe our call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza is crucial to respond to the humanitarian crisis impacting more than 2 million people, and that such a call is not only consistent with any moral position that respects human life, but is also consistent with international law.
Editor's note: This statement was prepared with the contributions of many OBI staff members of diverse backgrounds, but cannot capture all the nuances of this issue and sentiments many of us feel. Over the coming weeks we'll be publishing personal statements from individual staff members who wish to express their views and share their experiences concerning this issue.