Panelists share grief, anger and expectations for the Israel-Hamas war at Jewish Community Center event | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Panelists share grief, anger and expectations for the Israel-Hamas war at Jewish Community Center event 

A Month of Mourning

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Ashdod City Hall, in Southern Israel, lit with an image of the Israel flag. - WIKICOMMONS
  • Wikicommons
  • Ashdod City Hall, in Southern Israel, lit with an image of the Israel flag.

UNIVERSITY—More than one month after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israeli-occupied territories near the Gaza Strip, killing and capturing hundreds of civilians and triggering a brutal, weekslong conflict, members of Utah’s Jewish community said they were still trying to process the various emotions they feel watching events unfold.

“Since Oct. 7 many of us have been grieving. We’ve been angry, we’ve been—maybe—resolute, confused,” University of Utah professor Maeera Shreiber said Monday. “But we’ve all been terribly sad, and I just want to name that sadness before we go any further.”

Shreiber was speaking at the start of a panel discussion on the Israel-Hamas war, hosted by the I.J & Jaenné Wagner Jewish Community Center. Moderated by Shreiber, the panelists included Amos Guiora, an Israeli-American professor in the U.’s law school, Zoe Calahorra-Wood, an Israeli-American activist and board member of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, and Matthew Weinstein, head of Utah’s chapter of J Street, an advocacy organization promoting peaceful resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East.

The evening’s event was also dedicated to Vivan Silver, an activist an co-founder of Women Wage Peace who went missing on Oct. 7 and was later found dead in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri.

“She was extraordinary,” Shreiber said. “She was brave and she always smiled.”

‘The world will never be the same’
Each of the panelists were given 15 minutes to make an opening statement, beginning with Guiora, who previously served as a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and took part in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Guiora disclosed that his son is currently serving in the IDF, and that his daughter-in-law and grandson have both been evacuated from a kibbutz (a type of collective community unique to Israel) in northern Israel to the Israeli city of Haifa. He also shared that both his parents were Holocaust survivors, which influences how he views this issue.

“For me, Oct. 7 is a watershed day,” Guiora said. “The world will never ever be the same, at least our world.”

Guiora continued by discussing the civilian hostages captured by Hamas. The war cannot and must not end until every hostage is returned home safely, he said, and it’s a shame that some members of the Israeli government do not view the hostage situation with this level of importance. He then pivoted to discuss Hamas, saying the militant organization needs to be destroyed.

“The primary reason innocent civilians are dying in Gaza starts with an ‘H’ and ends with an ‘S.’ That’s Hamas,” Guiora said. “I haven’t slept in six weeks. I wake up every hour on the hour, I’ve trained myself. I wake up, check my texts to see if there's anything about my kid. If not, go back to sleep.”

Calahorra-Wood spoke second, describing her experience on Oct. 7 and receiving a call from an Israeli friend who lives in Seattle, asking if she’d heard the news of a peace festival being attacked in Israel. “I was like ‘That’s fake news,’ it can’t be,” she said.

Calahorra-Wood then texted her sister, who lives in central Israel. Her sister was panicking because she’d heard the bombs.

Calahorra-Wood said the idea that some people might be justifying what Hamas did stays with her. She could look at anyone, she said, and not know which side of the conflict they’re on, or whether they believe in the right for her right and her homeland to exist.

“You hear chants like ‘When people occupy, Resistance is justified,’” Calahorra-Wood said. “That means that everything that Hamas did—burning, beheading, raping, killing, kidnapping—is okay in the name of resistance.”

Calahorra-Wood organized a vigil that was held on Oct. 12 at the state Capital building to honor those whose lives were lost to Hamas. She’s also organized a support group for Israelis to unpack their feelings with a therapist once a week. She said it's important to identify what the needs of the community are in order to help them.

“If you need to mourn, we gotta do that, and find a way to do it publicly so people know we are mourning,” she said.

Calahorra-Wood ended her statement emphasizing the significance of having a Jewish state and standing with that state.

“We are telling how important it is that we have a country, and we are making sure that people that disagree with us don’t hate us, because unfortunately the line is very thin,” she said.

Weinstein spoke on J Street’s work since the war started. He said the organization believes that a negotiation between Israel and Palestine is the only way to meet the needs of both groups.

“We love Israel, we fight for Israel, and we oppose the occupation, and we fight for a two-state solution because of our love for Israel,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein discussed a J Street leadership summit he attended in Washington D.C. roughly one week after the Oct. 7 attack. Participants spent the day on Capitol Hill delivering a three-part message to congresspersons, he said: urging support for sending aid to Israel; urging support for sending aid to Gazan civilians; and calling for a return to negotiations over a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict after the war is over.

But he also described being troubled by some of what he saw at a pro-Palestine demonstration in downtown Salt Lake City on Nov. 11, where signs calling for “End[ing] the Occupation” were mixed with other, less-palatable slogans.

“If the people demonstrating in Washington Square downtown are saying ‘From the river to the sea,’ think about that. They are saying that they support Hamas,” Weinstein said, referencing a slogan—which ends with “Palestine will be free”—that has gained popularity with pro-Palestine groups around the world, but which is interpreted in some contexts as a call for the eradication of the Israeli state.

‘You can’t defeat an idea’
After Shreiber opened the floor to questions, the first audience member to address the panel asked about the likelihood of a realignment in the Israeli government’s approach to the Palestinian enclaves of Gaza and the West Bank. Prior to the Hamas attack, the state of Israel had faced mounting criticisms over its occupation of the Gaza Strip—sometimes described as an “open air prison.”

“Israel, as a parliamentary government, they don't have impeachment. The only way this government can fall is by having a vote of no confidence,” Guiora answered. “Absent that vote of no confidence, this government will continue.”

Guiora explained that the next Israeli election is scheduled for 2026; however, there have been calls to hold an election once the war is over. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is currently facing charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust in Israel, Guiora reminded the audience, but the war has paused Netanyahu's ongoing trial.

“Netanyahu well understands that he benefits in a perverse way for [the war] to continue,” Guiora said.

Another question for the panel surrounded Hamas propaganda and broader misinformation online. Calahorra-Wood said it’s necessary to fight propaganda, but that fight starts and ends with education and a better understanding of where information is coming from.

“The teachers are not the source of all knowledge anymore,” she said. “They are the source of what to do with the knowledge,” Calahorra-Wood said.

Guiora discussed the challenges when it comes to traditional media. Some reporters come to you with an “agenda,” he said, and there are Gazan reporters clearly affiliated with Hamas.

"In terms of reporters, it's complicated, because not all reporters are honest,” Guiora said.

Another audience member asked what realistic outcomes to this war might be. Guiora said that whatever “resolution” means, it can only be achieved through good-faith negotiation, rather than sheer military force. In his classes, Guiora said, he often argues that you can’t defeat terrorism. But on the other hand, by and large the United States seems to have defeated terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

“Will Hamas be defeated? They're going to be defeated, I think, militarily. And then you'll tell me—and I get it—‘But you can't defeat an idea,’” Guiora said. “Is that something that Israel can do to Hamas? I don't know.”

Panelists seemed to agree that new leadership is needed on all fronts: Israel; the West Bank; and Gaza.

“We all understand that the government is, to put it gently, not stable,” Calahorra-Wood said. Calahorra-Wood said first Israel’s right to exist needs to be recognized. This war also needs to be understood as a war of values, and Israel needs to do a better job of sharing its values, she said.

Weinstein returned to the idea of a two-state solution. Israel was once close to negotiating a two-state solution under the leadership of Ehud Olmert, he said, before Netanyahu came into power.

Although the possibility of the two-state solution is unclear right now, Weinstein emphasized the significance of having a leader like President Biden publicly support the two-state solution and potentially put “American muscle” behind it.

Guiora finished the discussion with one phrase: “return of hostages.”

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