This week, I called Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a physician from Gaza who now lives in Canada, to check in on him. During Israel’s 2008-9 war on Gaza, three of his daughters were killed when an Israeli tank struck their home. This time, I had to offer my condolences again, when he told me about the recent deaths of more than 25 members of his extended family in Gaza. Among them, he said, were five babies.
In his declaration of war on Gaza on Oct. 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel quoted a line from a poem by the Jewish writer. “Revenge for the blood of a little child has yet been devised by Satan,” Mr. Netanyahu on social media.
Perhaps the prime minister forgot what Bialik wrote just one line before that: “And cursed be he who cries out: Revenge.” Or the next lines: “Let the blood fill the abyss!/let it pierce the blackest depths.”
These days I find myself asking what the poet meant by this. Bialik wrote it after learning of the horrors of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom.
But in his words I see the many little ones from the various communities in Israel and Gaza whose names appear in news reports as having been killed in the past 11 days — 10 months old; 1 week old; 2, 4, 5 years old. On and on. The blood of our very young has pierced the blackest depths and we have been brought down along with it.
A nation is defined as a group of people with a common language, a common past and common dreams. By this definition, any parent will tell you that all the world’s babies are children of a single nation. They have a common language, a common past, common dreams. They speak the same, get angry and cry at the same things, laugh the same way. When my three children were young, I marveled at how they communicated effortlessly with other babies, no matter the language of the lullabies their parents sang them at night.
The whole of this nation of infants — Jewish, Arab, Palestinian, Israeli — wants just one thing: to grow up to a good life. It’s a simple dream. Our role as leaders is simple too: to make that possible.
As adults, we all become expatriates of that nation, and we take the dream of a good life with us: To put food on the table for our families. To know we are free to go where we want. To speak, pray and celebrate as we like. To come home safely at the end of the day. To know our loved ones will too.
There is nothing in this world — not even the cruel occupation — that can justify harming innocent people. Nothing. I have always categorically opposed harming civilians, and I will continue opposing it with every fiber of my being. It is a violation of our collective humanity.
I have friends who were killed and who lost children in Hamas’s murderous attack on Oct. 7. I have friends who were injured and killed in Gaza in the days that followed. My heart has broken, along with the people of this country and people around the world, for each and every family searching for loved ones, grieving them or trying to bring them home.
Yet despite all this, I have also witnessed glimmers of the future we could have, made real by ordinary people — Jewish and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli — who have stepped up in the face of unspeakable tragedy. In Israel, much of the military had been apparently stationed in the West Bank to protect settlers. As terrified families in the south hid from armed Hamas attackers and prayed for rescue, Arab Palestinian and Jewish doctors, nurses, paramedics, ambulance drivers and emergency medical workers stood side by side and worked together to treat everyone in need of care, no matter who they were. In Gaza, doctors and health care workers have been trying to treat patients under near-constant bombardment with nowhere safe to go —— and with no water, electricity or food, not to mention medical supplies.
These are ordinary people acting from the core of their humanity, despite inhumane circumstances. In this life-or-death moment, they choose life. By contrast, Mr. Netanyahu has used every day in the prime minister’s office and every ounce of his power to try to convince the world that safety for Israelis must come at the expense of safety for Palestinians and to block all pathways to peace. He has sold a fairy tale about the unbeatable might of the Israeli military and his own ability to manage a violent system in which Palestinians have gone to sleep under occupation and siege and Israelis have woken up with an uncertain future. Now he is adding to the civilian death toll.
Those of us who are Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel are uniquely positioned to see through his bluster and warmongering to the failure he really is — truths that the past several days have laid bare. We see the extent to which he is willing to burn our shared homeland to the ground rather than bring about long-term solutions that will deliver safety and a good life to all of us, Palestinians and Israelis alike.
And we are also the ones who know, deep in our bones, which are made of the soil of this land, that the answer is peace. The only way we can fulfill our responsibility to the nation of our youngest ones — and to ourselves — is to recognize the nation of Palestine and the nation of Israel and to establish a State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.
It is time for the international community to take its lead from us, step up in the face of unspeakable tragedy and choose life. This means taking immediate steps, including calling for a cease-fire to stop all civilian deaths and preventing Mr. Netanyahu’s government from any attempt at pursuing the long-term forced displacement of Palestinians; a humanitarian exchange of prisoners to bring home all civilians held hostage, especially infants, children and older adults; and restoring the flow of basic human necessities to all the people of Gaza.
Next, it means carrying out long-term solutions for people of the whole region, Palestinian and Israeli, including ending international support and approval for the Israeli military occupation and siege of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
I asked Dr. Abuelaish, after all the deaths and horrors he has endured, whether he is still a man of peace.
“The only real revenge for murder,” he said, “is achieving peace.”
Cursed be they who cry out: Revenge. We choose life.
Ayman Odeh is a member of the Knesset in Israel and the head of the Hadash-Taal political faction.
Source photographs by MOHAMMED ABED and United Archives, via Getty Images, and Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse.