Dana G. Peleg, an Israeli peace activist who lives in Santa Cruz, can’t stop checking her phone. She is worried about her family in Israel, the lives of the Gazans threatened by Israeli bombs and the continued violence that will cause more generational trauma. Peleg served in the Israel Defense Forces, and the Hamas terrorist attacks stunned her and sent her into “the all-too-familiar emergency state of mind all Israelis know and hate.” Here, she lambasts the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and searches for a peaceful end to the conflict.
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On Friday night, Oct. 6, I sat at Temple Beth El’s sukkah, with other members of an Israeli pro-democracy organization talking with the congregation about the protests that had been taking place in Israel in the past nine months. We explained Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to weaken Israel’s judiciary, the last balance in the partial Israeli democracy.
We also spoke about our distress over Jewish settlers’ actions — some likened them to pogroms — in the West Bank village of Huwara. And we lamented Netanyanhu’s extreme right-leaning government that relies on the votes of Orthodox Messianic Jews who believe Israel should rule over all of the West Bank and Gaza. They have an antiquated view of Judaism that is in opposition to women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and much of what I stand for.
It sounds dire, but it was a positive evening, a chance for us to speak our hearts and minds and connect about our shared love and disappointment in Israel
Then, a few hours later, my phone started buzzing.
Missiles had shot over the south of Israel, some reaching Tel Aviv, my former home. Hamas terrorists had broken through the Gaza border. Young people at a rave party were gunned down. Many were missing.
I was born and raised in Israel, but I have spent the past eight years in Santa Cruz and became a U.S. citizen in 2018. My life as a writer and translator is here.
But many of my friends and family still live in Israel. I also still have the survival instincts of an Israeli. News of the killings propelled me into the all-too-familiar emergency state of mind all Israelis know and hate.
I stayed glued to my phone until the wee hours. The news was unbelievable: How did the terrorists do it? How could they have driven freely into southern Israel’s towns and villages, shooting, killing, burning, taking hostages and erasing entire families? Why did the residents of these towns and villages have to wait for so many hours to be rescued?
During my military service in the Israel Defense Forces, I was part of a unit charged with recruiting reservists in case of war. There were protocols and drills — on small and large scales. They covered all the details — I even remember preparing sandwiches so reservists would have food as they moved from one stage to the next. Everything was supposed to be in perpetual readiness.
On Oct. 7, nothing worked.
The next day, I woke to an overwhelming heat in Santa Cruz and saw the horrible news and growing numbers of Israeli dead, civilians and soldiers alike. I also read a barrage of messages asking for help, for fundraising for protective gear, food and clothes for soldiers. It seemed like a long line of failures, by a government that had left the citizens and the army to fend for themselves. I was shocked and furious.
Then videos started appearing on my WhatsApp. The senders beseeched me to spread them. I didn’t. I didn’t even open the videos.
I knew about the atrocities performed by Hamas. Reading about them was devastating, horrifying. I couldn’t bear to watch them.
“Why should I spread these pictures?” I asked the sender, a fellow Israeli pro-democracy activist.
“Because the Palestinians will soon start spreading their pictures,” she replied.
Indeed pictures of the devastation caused by Israeli attacks in Gaza started appearing in the media. And Hamas published its own videos. I thought about this miserable suffering-and-pain competition. How it is a no-win competition. How these pictures only spread hate.
I last lived in Israel in 2014 and left amid another Gaza war. My partner, also Israeli-American, and I had been in Santa Cruz from 2004-09, but we wanted to raise our son (born in Santa Cruz) in Israel. I still remember that muggy summer of 2014 when Palestinians in Gaza fired 6,600 rockets or mortars at Israel.
My family and I were in Tel Aviv and were relatively safe, protected by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even so, a simple walk down the street required constant scanning of my surroundings, marking safe places to take shelter, in case of an attack. I remember the anger and horror I felt.
When Israel retaliated with close to 6,000 air strikes that killed over 2,000 people, many of them civilians, including children, and injured thousands more, I went out to the streets with other peace activists, to call for a cease-fire and a peace process.
We risked being hit by a missile to do this. But we needed to make our point. The only way to solve conflicts is to sit down and negotiate fairly. Not retaliate with more violence.
We knew that violence, siege and occupation only backfire in the long run. It brings more terrorism.
For decades, Netanyahu and his ultra-right-wing cronies preferred to “manage” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not solve it. In reality, that “management” meant continuing the harsh occupation in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.
We protested because babies are not born terrorists, and hate does not emerge out of nowhere. It thrives in an environment of death and destruction, and it brings more of the same. We want a world better than the one Netanyahu and Hamas promise us.
Oftentimes, in the U.S., it seems like one has to take a side: If you are pro-Palestinian, you must support Hamas. If you are pro-Israeli, you must support “Israel’s right to defend itself,” code for bombing Gaza. In the aftermath of the Hamas atrocities, and the Israeli retaliation, I feel that we need to support peace and welfare for everyone, and oppose violence. We need to keep advocating for a more human path.
So we, peace activists, stand again now, while the war is still going on, mourning the dead on all sides and the horrible destruction happening all around, and request that Hamas send the hostages back home safely, that Israel stops the deadly violence. We want the end of the occupation and siege.
We also push for Netanyahu and his criminal government to step down and make room for peace, healing and hope for a better future for everyone living in the region, between the sea, the river and desert.
Dana G. Peleg is a bilingual Hebrew/English translator and writer. She published two short story collections in Hebrew, and her first novel is forthcoming. Her first short story collection was one of the first books depicting the lives of LBT women in Israel. In 2018 she won the Hans Christian Andersen Translation Award for her translation of “Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit.