You know things are bad when we look to comedy writers for wisdom. But that is what I want to do today. Recently, John Oliver began his television show by setting aside his regular introduction and speaking from the heart without making any jokes. That is not like him. So he did not offer any comic relief. In fact he didn’t really offer any relief at all, but he did offer some wisdom. More than many of our political leaders. So I want to turn this forum over to him. This is what he said soon after the horrific violence committed by Hamas in its attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7, 2023:
“I want to briefly talk to you about what has briefly been a horrible day. The immense suffering in Israel and Gaza has been sickening to watch and we are not going to be covering in the main body of our show for a couple of reasons.
First, it was horrific and I don’t really want to tell jokes about carnage and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to hear them. And second, we are taping this on Saturday afternoon and you’ll be hearing it on Sunday evening or on Monday through an illegal VPN. I do know who I’m talking to. Given how fast things are moving a lot could change between the time I’m saying this and the time you hear it. I do have a few broad thoughts that I still think will still apply. They have to do with sorrow, fear, and anger.
Sorrow is the first and most overwhelming feeling. The images we have seen this week and onwards have been totally heart-breaking. Thousands dead in Israel and now Gaza will be devastating not just to the people in the region but to diaspora communities across the world. Whatever thoughts you have about the history of this region or the current state of affairs, and I have shared mine in the past on this show, it should be impossible to see grieving families and not be moved. So there has been sorrow this week and lot of it. And also fear. Understandable fear of further attacks in Israel, and those taken hostage, and fear about what is to come in Gaza, as Israel’s leaders seem intent on embarking on a relentless bombing campaign, mass displacement, and a potential ground invasion.
I don’t know where things stand in Gaza right now, but all signs seem to be pointing towards a humanitarian catastrophe. Israeli official announced plans to cut off food, water, fuel and power. Hospitals are running low on generators. This has all the appearance of collective punishment which is a war crime.
I think many Israelis and Palestinians are feeling justifiable anger right now. Not just at Hamas whose utterly heinous terrorist acts set this weeks’ events in motion, but also the zealots and extremists across the board who consistently thwarted attempts at peace across the years. Israelis and Palestinians have been let down by their leadership time and time again and I don’t have a great deal of faith in the current leaders in charge to steer us toward peace. But I do still have some hope because the easiest thing to do in the world after a week like this is to engage in blood-thirsty rhetoric. And there has certainly been plenty of that from those in power, but I will say I have been struck by the ordinary citizens, both Israeli and Palestinian, who have called for restraint this week and not revenge.
Just listen to how Noy Katsman, whose brother Heim was murdered by Hamas last Saturday, ended this interview:
“I just wanted to say one more thing that is the most important thing for me and I think for my brother was that his death not be used to kill innocent people. I don’t want anything to happen to people in Gaza like happened to my brother. And I’m sure he wouldn’t want it either. So that is my call to my government—stop killing innocent people. That’s not the way to bring peace and security to people in Israel”
Right! People want and are entitled to peace. I’m not going to tell either side how to get it. Certainly not in this accent [English] which has done enough damage in that region to last a fucking lifetime. But just know that all the people who want to live in that region are going to keep living there. So peace is not optional and will require some tough decisions. I can’t say where a peace process ends but it just has to start with that kind of an ability to recognize our common humanity.”