Source photo by Omri Greenberg on Unsplash. Updated by Mariah Guervin for Lilith.

Letter from Israel: The Definition of Insanity

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. Read more at Read part 1 of Elana Sztokman’s dispatch from Israel here.

The IDF has been very clear and unequivocal that it plans on leveling Gaza. It’s already started. Entire neighborhoods are being destroyed… And the “wassach” — all that posturing, the machismo, the turkey dance that our so-called leaders are doing — are completely normalized. Defense Minister Gallant has called the people of Gaza animals. And that’s it. 

And we wonder why Palestinians of Gaza hate us. 

I would just like to point out that this is the definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This is the only response that Israel has ever tried, in the (how many? I can’t even count) mini-wars in Gaza that we have had in the past 20 years. And it has never worked. In fact, the problem seems to have gotten worse! (Could it be any worse than right now???). Israel has tried exactly one way to stop Hamas — with extreme violence, wrapped in language of how nice and ethical we are — and it has not only failed to stop the problem, but here we are. 

Oct 7, 2023, Exhibit A: Whatever We Have Been Doing Is Not Working. 

Is it possible, I would like to ask, that our wassach response has not only failed to “destroy Hamas” but has actually emboldened Hamas by getting so many more people to hate us for being brutal?

All this wassach. Always wassach. Always bombarding to make noise and prove a point. We do this and claim that we are the most moral army in the world because we don’t INTENTIONALLY kill innocent people but do it only by ACCIDENT while we’re destroying entire neighborhoods. We do this and then say the world hates us and it’s all antisemitism and they just want Israel destroyed. We do this and then cry foul and say, “You see, you see, we can’t even defend ourselves.”

This whole story, though, feeds straight into the narrative of Jewish victimhood. If there was ever a moment in our recent history when we were justified in feeling like our lives are at risk and maybe no place is safe for us, it’s now. So that’s happening, too. It WAS a pogrom, and it IS awful and there’s no escaping the Kishinev feeling. (In Kishinev, btw, only 50 people died, as opposed to 1200 in this one. So try making sense of that…)


Still, I don’t like where the Jewish victimhood narrative takes us. What does it justify? Our generational traumas are so deep, and often completely justified, so it’s hard to shake loose and come to our senses about things. I’m very worried about where this is taking us, the Jewish people, in terms of our own behaviors in the world. 

I wrote a post a few days ago on Facebook that I agonized over. I wanted to address these competing emotions because, even as we are in mourning, I don’t want that to be an excuse for us to do something that is so very wrong….. Here is what I wrote:


“Hamas terrorists” is NOT interchangeable with “Palestinians.”

As devastating as these events have been, they do NOT justify wanton hatred against an entire people, generalizations, and complete dehumanization of the other.

And also, just because I’m Jewish and Israeli and my own people are in a terrible state of pain right now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also OTHER people from OTHER nations who are experiencing real pain. Others don’t deserve to have their lives ruined EITHER just because they happen to belong to a particular group….

Even in our darkest times, we need to preserve our humanity. As hard of a task as that is, it is also EVERYTHING.

It is everything.

Do we use our pain to unleash violence and hatred onto others? Or do we use our pain as an instrument of compassion, to learn to recognize the pain in others?

I posted this, but I worried — and still worry — that it’s too hard for people to engage in this conversation in a balanced way. There is too much “us” versus “them” thinking, that says that if I care about Palestinian lives, that makes me a Hamas supporter. Or a terrorist lover. I got this accusation already this week. 

And then there are tons of Israeli-PR posts going around. The hasbara machine is working full blast. I saw one post in which a woman said, “You are all being brainwashed to think that Israel kills babies.”

And I was thinking, “No, no, YOU are brainwashed into thinking that we don’t.

(I used to be there, too. I was also brainwashed for a long time. I wrote about it here.)

In fact, the news that the IDF attacked a caravan of Palestinians trying to escape killing 70 people, mostly children, was completely ignored by the Israeli media. Simply not reported anywhere. Who is doing the brainwashing, I want to know? 

(Even assuming it was an “accident”, we should be talking about it….)

But again, I’m feeling like we can’t talk about this. There are so many calls saying that “this is not the right time”. And all the antisemitism happening. All of that. 

Once the Jewish people are in survival mode everything else stops. 

So that’s where we are. Can’t talk about this stuff. For now. Or at least until… until when? Who knows…


That’s what I mean when I say that I feel like my life is slipping away. My values, my ideals, my voice, my power. I can’t really talk. I can’t really move. I can’t really do anything. Like everyone else, I’m stuck. 

Is anyone out there trying to remove our corrupt and incompetent government? Is there any leadership out there with a cogent vision for society? How will we ever learn to humanize the other? Is there anyone out there with any power to push those ideas forward in our culture? And will the protest movement come back and when? What will the calls be? What are their values? I had questions six months ago about who we are and what the protest movement is doing and for whom and towards what ends — and I think I have even more questions now. But where is another alternative? And if I don’t even fully trust the pro-democracy movement to represent the values I hold dear, and if the movement itself is now invisible anyway, then where are we? Where is a vision for our identity, our humanity?

Slipping away. I feel everything slipping away.