CHANA MEDDIN, an American Jew looks upon the hapless civilians, children and animals who unwittingly became innocent victims of the Israeli-Hamas conflict and the wave of hatred that filled the hearts of people against an entire community
I am an American Jew and I’ve been holding my breath since October 7 2023, when Hamas savagely massacred 1,200 Jews and took another 240 as hostages, including babies and Holocaust survivors well into their 80s. The horrors and unspeakable cruelty that Hamas terrorists unleashed was cheered by people around the world in marches calling for the destruction of Israel and death to the Jews. “From the river to the sea,” signifies the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea where Israel will be destroyed and all Jewish Israelis murdered.” Is that antisemitism, or is it just pure Jew hatred? Far away in Seattle where I stay, antisemitism has been loud – the reason why I am fighting for my breath today.
Then came Israel’s response. Bombs and destruction. That Israel has every right to defend itself when its very existence is threatened, its citizens murdered and held captive is palpable especially when Hamas has said time and again that its mission is to kill all Jews and destroy the State of Israel. But the world seems to have disagreed.
Ever since rabbis, world political leaders and common people have been putting forth their views: Is Israel justified in destroying Hamas and rescuing the hostages? The loss of life and destruction in Palestine is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, particularly given the fact that so many of the victims of this war are children.
But what do I personally feel? The strong world reaction seemed as if I had been abandoned by old friends; social justice websites were either silently dismissive of Jewish deaths or even exonerated the terrorists. Silence, on one level is also consent. There was also indifference. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote: “The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.” And this indifference felt like a knife in my heart and soul.
I was born in the long, dark shadow of the Holocaust and family members who didn’t make it to the United States or to Israel were murdered by the Nazis, their villages wiped off from the map.
I am sensitive to the necessity for the State of Israel to exist. It must. Israel was born from the ashes of the Holocaust, to ensure “Never again.” And then, the unimaginable happened on October 7.
Ever since, it has been a challenge to hold on to my humanity in the midst of global pro-Hamas rallies and worldwide antisemitism – rather, Jew hatred — sweeping the world. This wave of antisemitism was echoed by the world media which published horrifying details of the massacre that continued emerging from survivors and forensics specialists as they looked for survivors to identify victims who were burnt alive; there was even an account of a baby found in an oven, a heating coil attached to its tiny body…even descriptions of beheaded babies.
Hate is a human emotion. How will one not hate if it was your infant who was carried away to the dark terrorist tunnels of Gaza? Hamas livestreamed disturbing details with what seemed like exuberance and pride. Would one gleefully livestream himself while fatally shooting an Israeli dog, all the while courageously trying to protect his own family?
When you belong to one of the communities involved in the current conflict, how does one not hate the other side? Or be silent when American social justice groups such as Black Lives Matter endorse Hamas? To the world, it may seem as if you are telling the world that while Black Lives Matter, Jewish lives do not. This came as a shock. Perhaps feeling safe was an illusion shared by all of us in the West. October 7 shattered that illusion and ever since, Jews around the world have encountered antisemitism, hatred and calls for the destruction of their homeland, Israel.
How would that feel if the world called for the destruction of the region you are from? How can one keep their humanity, especially when a recent poll indicated that 60 per cent of Gazans supported the Hamas massacre?
How does one grieve innocent casualties of war? It isn’t just humans who suffer in a war. Pets and animals whether in the wild or bred on farms also suffer. They, too, become the most vulnerable casualties of war. The shooting of the Israeli dog still makes me weep. At that point, I set off to find a Palestinian dog rescuer on the internet. I love animals and animal rescue is my passion.
I found that humanity in one Palestinian living in Gaza, in a personal attempt that I made to humanize Gaza’s terror.
Saeed Al Err began feeding stray animals in Gaza in the early 2000’s, according to his website, Sulala Animal Rescue. “There is a lot of ignorance in Gaza about animal suffering, and how to treat animals the way they deserve. Many animals are abused and/or neglected. We believe this behavior affects society, and how we treat the most vulnerable is telling of how we treat children and treat each other,” their website explains. Saeed’s love for animals led him into setting up the Sulala Animal Rescue in 2006. The more I learned about him, the more I wondered if I had found the “friend” I needed in Gaza. Every day, I check Sulala’s Facebook page, first to make sure he is still alive, and second to see the work how he struggles to help in the midst of the bombing, as Gaza turns to rubble, leaving behind the countless wounded and traumatized besides the homeless dogs, cats, donkeys and other animals. Saeed has had to flee south with his family and there is a severe shortage of food for the animals, but undeterred, he continues to rescue kittens, puppies, donkeys and more.
Saeed states that it are the children who bring him precious cats and dogs needing help. Somewhere I read that rescuing cats and dogs has helped Gazan kids to reclaim their childhoods. It helps me reclaim love amidst tragedy, bitter divisiveness and hatred.
The mystic poet Rumi wrote a poem describing the place my soul longs to be in:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
Doesn’t make any sense.”
This is where Sulala and I meet. We hold dear the most vulnerable amongst us and work tirelessly to rescue animals because they live in that field, beyond names and labels, beyond the colour of our skin — that place that transcends duality and opposites and everything the world tells us we are supposed to be.
Beyond everything that happened on and beyond October 7th in Israel, there is a field.
I meet you there, Sulala, every morning, praying you are still alive. You are my friend. May there be peace.
Chana “Hana” Meddin is a lifelong meditator, nature photographer, artist, and wildlife advocate. She has written for the Times of India’s ‘Speaking Tree’ and has a story published in Oswald Pereira’s book, ‘How to Create Miracles in Our Daily Life.’ She lives in Seattle with her cat, Annabelle Fluff. They both enjoy yoga.
Featured Photo courtesy: The New York Times