Cease fire is Prudent

December 7, 2023

I understand that some fellow Jews oppose a ceasefire, feeling that a strong reprisal is warranted and is the only way to make Israel safer.  I think experience teaches otherwise.  Although, it is normal, when hurt by others, to want to hurt them back, it is rarely the best course of action.  There needs to be a cooling down period, an assessment of what to do that can help in the next 25 to 50 years to bring about trust and understanding. 

Taking this view, Israel's current actions seem counterproductive for its future safety and to on-going anti-Semitism.  My MP, Ben Carr has noted his concern, as follows:

        "...what would happen should there be a ceasefire?  Of course we want an end to the conflict. Of course we want to end the loss of innocent lives. If Hamas were able to continue, it would rebuild and it would rebuild stronger. It would attack again because its objective is the eradication of the Jewish people… it is not a pragmatic, practical or realistic way to deal with a terrorist organization hell-bent on genocide." 

I agree with Mr. Carr about the danger of Hamas hatred.  My concern is that responding to it by traumatizing millions of people (which is what is happening now in Gaza) does not solve the problem. Instead Israel's military response nurtures the conditions for increasingly severe trauma and intergenerational trauma that will increase hateful, dangerous reactions.

I am aware of the impact of intergenerational trauma both as second generation Holocaust survivor and as a clinical social worker addressing the child trauma associated with high conflict divorce.

Social trauma (trauma caused by social systems) disables a child’s empathic growth and makes them hate themselves and/or hate others.  These are the only ways most children understand and cope with having experienced extreme, intolerable pain.  Some fortunate children  avoid these outcomes, especially if they have adequate support and empathic post trauma care.  The Hamas fighters and leaders, and the Israeli fighters and leaders have grown up in a region where there is a constant high level of daily social trauma.    

Many associate Hamas's actions as anti-Semitic, equating Hamas's goal of destroying Israel with anti-Semitism.  Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the current events have resulted in the surfacing of anti-Semitic (and it should be noted, Islamophobic) reactions in Canada and worldwide.

To diminish these reactions, though, we need to heal the impacts of long lasting social trauma.   That is the humanitarian and practical message inherent in the worldwide call for a ceasefire.  A ceasefire is also an antidote to anti- Semitism.  Israel’s indiscriminate military response added on to Hamas's indiscriminate violence is stacking trauma upon trauma. It will result in more danger, anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment. Traumatizing people is neither pragmatic, practical nor realistic when one seeks safety and security.

In 1988 an Israeli, Jewish  friend of mine living in the US, shared with me that most of her friends were Israeli and Palestinian, they were people she shared a common experience with.  She also made a comment about the impact of the Holocaust on the survivors she knew in Israel.  They either felt that they never wanted to see anything like that happen to "me again”, or they never wanted to see anything like that to happen to "anyone again."  I can understand both responses,  but a trauma like the Holocaust is not a “me" problem, it’s a human problem.  The only way to address it is by decreasing the general harm.  Though a ceasefire at this point is already too late for too many children and adults, it is still the only way to decrease harm.  

A ceasefire alone will not stabilize the situation. Much will need to be done to prevent the trauma from getting worse, and to encourage post-trauma growth and healing.  Money and energy could be diverted from destructive military operations to develop the supports that people and communities need, and to fund a social healing process that speaks to reconciliation. 

There is much in the Jewish and Palestinian traditions, and intellectual cultures, which could be helpful to such a process. Stories of some of those who have died in the current violence indicate their dedication to compassion and building well-being for both Israelis and Palestinians. Certainly, the unwanted consequences of mass trauma indicate that they were on the right path.