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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

How To Combat Hate During The Israel-Hamas Conflict

Updated: Jan 13

Tank with soldier on top at sunset in smoky air.
Polarization fails to acknowledge our common humanity, and that the killing of any innocent civilian, regardless of religious or ethnic background, is wrong. LOS ANGELES TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES

As the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East continues to surge, the magnitude of the human suffering is impacting people across borders and identities. Many people may feel they need to take a side or stay silent out of fear of saying the wrong thing, while at the same time they may be experiencing feelings of grief, anger, and helplessness.

This polarization fails to acknowledge our common humanity, and that the killing of any innocent civilian, regardless of religious or ethnic background, is wrong. CurrentlyIsrael is escalating air and ground attacks in Gaza three weeks after Hamas militantsmurdered roughly 1,400 citizens in Israel. Nearly half of the people who live in Gaza are children. “The real enemies of this war are not the Jews or the Israelis or the Palestinians. It's those people who have decided that violence is the only answer,” Imam Mohamed Herbert and Rabbi Sharon Brous told NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

This news is affecting people worldwide. “It's completely normal to be grieving about people losing their lives, even those whom we’ve never met,” says Mindy Corporon, co-CEO of Workplace Healing, a platform to support grieving employees. “You don't have to have roots in Palestine and you don't have to be Jewish. This is a humanitarian crisis that is reaching across the globe.”

While grief is a universal emotion, individual experiences may differ, particularly in our workplaces. Arthur Nemitoff, rabbi emeritus of The Temple, Congregation B'nai Jehudah, in Overland Park, KS, says, “You can't put yourself in the other person's shoes. What I mean by that is I can't expect the people who I work with to understand or to emotionally embrace what I may believe. And I can't be expected to emotionally embrace or even intellectually understand what the other person is experiencing. However, what I can do is embrace them as human beings.”

Binary thinking such as “us versus them” does not address the complicated history of this region. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs opinion columnist of nearly 30 years, writes, “This war is being fought by and through nonstate actors, nation-states, social networks, ideological movements, West Bank communities and Israeli political factions, and it is the most complex war that I’ve ever covered.”

The reverberations of the violence in the Middle East and polarization are showing up in America with a surge in hate crimes. As the Israel-Hamas war heightens, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement saying they have “seen an increase in reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions.” Incidences of violence have occurred across the country, from the 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was murdered in Chicago in an alleged hate crime, to the nearly nearly 400% increase in antisemitic incidents since the conflict began on October 7th, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Fear may be causing people to hide parts of their identities, such as their religious beliefs. “My niece asked me if I would think less of her if she took her Star of David necklace that she wears and put it inside her shirt,” says Rabbi Nemitoff. “She was afraid that someone might say something to her in the workplace.”

Sharing hateful messages on social media can contribute to increased polarization in the United States and around the globe. “Words kill,” says Professor Izzeldin Abuelaish, author of the best-selling book I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity. “To the people who are triggering hatred and incitement against others, they are human beings like you. They are your brothers, sisters, and you need to live with them. Maybe they do it because they don't know them. We need to overcome ignorance, and communicate and listen to others in order to get to know them before we judge them.”

The Impact of Prejudice

Mindy Corporon, formerly a wealth management CEO, has experienced firsthand the cost of silence in the face of hate. On a Sunday afternoon in April 2014, a man opened fire at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, killing her 14-year old son and her 69-year old father. She arrived in the parking lot before the ambulance, and learned she lost both her child and her father on that same day. It was a tragic hate crime, as the man who killed Corporon's father and son was targeting Jewish people (though Corporon's family isn't Jewish).

“The man that murdered my son and father, people knew about him,” says Corporon. “They knew that he hated Jews. People in his town knew that he had guns. This is why it’s so important we talk about these things. I felt a change in who I am the day they were murdered. I felt that I had a new purpose and a new calling.”

In a moment, Corporon’s life purpose changed from guiding people financially to helping people find space to understand and process grief and have open conversations in the workplace. She went on to co-found Workplace Healing and authored Healing A Shattered Soul. “My heart does not hurt when I do what I’m supposed to do,” says Corporon. “The work I do is focused on overcoming evil with acts of kindness, overcoming evil with understanding.”

Hatred As A Disease

“Ignoring our own grief and pushing it down will cause sickness,” says Corporon. “The same thing happens in our workplace. If we ignore our employees who are grieving, we will cause sickness—a cancer—and we don't want cancer in our company. This is why it’s important to make space to have conversations with your team and your employees.”

Professor Abuelaish, a Palestinian Canadian who was raised in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and who was the first Palestinian doctor to to work in an Israeli hospital, also likens hatred to a disease. In January 2009, he lost his three daughters, ages 13, 15, and 21, when an Israeli tank shelled his home in the Gaza Strip.

“I define hatred as a destructive, contagious disease that’s the result of exposure,” says Professor Abuelaish. “We need to value life equally. Every human life is precious. That's what I learned when I practiced medicine. My job as a medical doctor delivering babies is to give care to women who are from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different skin colors, all as equals.”

“I want the world to listen to us, to listen to the pain of the Palestinian children and to see in them their own children,” says Professor Abuelaish. “We want to live and we value life; we want to live side by side with others. We are simply asking for our freedom, our equality and our right to live with dignity.”

In memory of his three daughters, Professor Abuelaish founded the Daughters For Life Foundation to help provide scholarships and education to girls and young women of any Middle Eastern nationality or religion, with the belief that peace in the Middle East is dependent on getting more women into leadership positions.

Getting Women Into Positions of Power

“When I lost my three daughters, I thought, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’” says Professor Abuelaish. “It’s not with revenge; it’s with education, and to keep them alive through the Daughters for Life Foundation, to spread hope in our world, to spread light, and, where I succeeded, to inspire people from pain and suffering. I don't want anyone to suffer on earth.”

The mission is to educate more women in order to get them into more positions of power. “Women have the potential and good will,” says Professor Abuelaish. “They need the means and opportunity and role to make the world a better one. Women who give life and nurture life can make it. There is no peace without women and women's participation.”

Acknowledging Our Individual Power

The Israel-Hamas conflict is large and complex, and individuals may feel powerless to be able to make any impact at all. This belief is not true.

“Each of us is accountable, and sometimes the biggest challenge for any individual is responsibility,” says Professor Abuelaish. “The easiest way to escape responsibility is by blaming others, or by underestimating your own actions. I can say, ‘There is nothing I can do,’ but that’s not true. Each of us can do a lot. By addressing the root causes of conflict, promoting understanding among nations and communities, and respecting the rights and dignity of all individuals, we can pave the way for lasting peace.”

Here are four ways individuals can make an impact.

Do not spread hate on social media. Be mindful of the messages you’re amplifying on your social feeds, as ideologies of hate that condone violence can be amplified quickly. Do not underestimate the power that each social media user has to further fuel hate and violence, as well as to contribute to our collective humanity.

Allow space for grief in the workplace. Rabbi Nemitoff says it’s important to find ways to allow space for people to be able to share how they're feeling without judgment so emotions can be acknowledged.

“We need to continually be out there encouraging people to be able to share how they feel, because that's an important part of the healing process,” says Rabbi Nemitoff. “The Jewish pain, or the Israeli pain, if you would, and the Palestinian and the Muslim pain may be contradictory, but the pain is the same. What we’re asking people to do is to allow that pain to exist side by side.”

The goal is to give people the space to honor and process emotions versus getting into politics or particular viewpoints, because that's going to put people into fight, flight, or freeze mode, where they become less open minded. Grief is a universal emotion no matter your individual experiences; it’s about honoring everybody's humanity.

Enable vulnerable conversations at home. At the same time we’re having conversations at work, Corporon advises to be mindful of the conversations you’re having at home because children are listening.

“If you think, ‘Well, I don't hate anyone and I don't proliferate hate,’ but you go home and espouse negativity at the dinner table and it comes across as hate, then you're teaching hate to your children,” says Corporon. “The way to stop teaching hate is to start having those open conversations at home too, and showing vulnerability with our children that everything cannot be resolved in one conversation, but to continue layering conversations with one another when we have differences.”

Stay informed. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or numb in the face of so much complexity and violence, but citizens being informed and engaged is key for keeping leaders accountable and combating the disease of hate.

Professor Abuelaish calls for a rewiring of our institutions, which are made up by people, after all. “We need to stop politicizing and start humanizing. We all are potential victims of what is happening around the world,” says Professor Abuelaish. “We need to have order in our world, resume trust in the international community and learn from these mistakes rather than repeat them. Hatred and war and revenge will never lead to anything; but will destroy us all. If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace and freedom, then I would accept it. They are not the last. They are just numbers. It's up to us to transform these tragedies and challenges into opportunities, to trigger a change to something positive.”

*Article originally published in Forbes


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