Israel blockade of Gaza is inhumane despite ghastly attack by Hamas

There’s a horrific war going on between Israel and Gaza. Many of us have been glued to the nonstop news coverage and social media feed as the horror unfolds before our eyes. The question for all of us is how can we respond in a way that will bring hope and peace as opposed to more bloodshed and persecution.

The two of us have a long history of working with and alongside each other in community organizing and social justice work in and around Chicago. We also just returned home from an absolutely transformative journey in Jerusalem and its surrounding area with a phenomenal interfaith group of community leaders, scholars, artists and others.

Our journey lasted for two weeks. The last day of the trip coincided with horrific violence and attacks inside Israel on Saturday that have led to yet another round of aerial bombardment and an inhumane blockade on Gaza. Our group experienced the direct horror of indiscriminate rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel as we ran for cover with people of all faiths and backgrounds at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

Our own fear and the fear of those who were sheltered with us was palpable. We knew that wherever these other travelers were headed, this trauma would be carried with them and have an impact on communities across the globe and geopolitics. We tried to comfort ourselves and others around us as we searched for a safe way home, eventually crossing into Jordan to catch flights back to America.

Nothing in Muslim, Jewish faiths justifies Hamas attacks

The stories of ghastly attacks by Hamas are gut-wrenching to watch, and there is nothing in our understanding of our faiths and righteous pursuits for justice that justify such horror. We know that these brutal images and stories bring up deep-seated trauma for the Jewish community and worry and sadness for the many who have been killed, injured and taken captive.

Meanwhile, the carnage and blockade being imposed upon the civilian population in the Gaza Strip by an overwhelming military force is barbaric and inhumane – and yet not often condemned by the world. The attacks on and closure of Gaza will certainly lead to the deaths of innocent children.

Women and children flee from Gaza City on Oct. 11, 2023, as Israel stepped up rocket attacks and tightened a blockade on food, fuel and medicines. The Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave of about 2.3 million people, is less than half the size of New York City. Terrorist group Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections and in 2007 seized control of the Gaza Strip from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

While in Jerusalem, our multifaith group had the opportunity to connect to the Jewish traditions of Sukkot (the weeklong fall harvest festival), attend Shabbat dinner, sit through a soaring church service on the Mount of Olives and attend powerful outdoor Friday prayers along the road to Tiberias.

We leaned into one another’s rich spiritual backgrounds and commitments to justice, mercy and peace by exploring underappreciated connections to this sacred land, and in so doing, tried to forge another path for radical empathy and connection to the stories, hopes and aspirations of those working for and dreaming of more dignified pathways for all people on this land.

Attack timing was heinous: Hamas took advantage of divisions in Israel to start a horrific war targeting civilians

Throughout our journey, we were reminded of the daily humiliation, hardship and injustice experienced by Palestinians living under military occupation in refugee camps and surrounding areas. In Jerusalem, we heard of forced evictions, home demolitions and a widescale system of harassment and abuse that make life unbearable for most Palestinian families struggling to survive.

While none of that justifies the carnage of innocent civilians, it must be understood as the ongoing context in which decades-old Palestinian grievances are being ignored or exploited.

How we'll practice in Chicago what we learned from our journey

Now back in Chicago, we know our work will soon return to the issues that connected us before this journey together: social, racial and economic justice and equity in our city and ways to bring faith and other communities together around a larger vision for a more just and equitable Chicago.

Meanwhile, we cannot forget what we experienced together in the Middle East, especially at a time when much of America and news outlets seem to be cheering on Israel’s blockade and bombardment of one of the most densely populated and essentially imprisoned populations in the world.

Rami Nashashibi, far right, and Rabbi Andrea C. London, front in purple, with their interfaith group visiting the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel, before heading to the airport on Oct. 7, 2023. That's when a Hamas attack hit Israel, and the group had to hide in the airport bomb shelter: "We tried to comfort ourselves and others around us as we searched for a safe way home, eventually having to cross into Jordan to catch flights back to America."

We pray for the healthy return for all Israeli children, families and others taken hostage in the Gaza Strip as we pray for the cessation of collective punishment upon innocent Palestinian families.

We call upon our politicians to support an immediate end to the full blockade on Gaza and a humanitarian corridor for relief for families inside Gaza. Among the things we were reminded of by many people of all faiths and backgrounds on this journey is the interconnected and interwoven reality of all our collective experiences, suffering and dreams for justice.

'Stand with Israel'?: Biden's response to Hamas terror attack was weak. Trump talked about hummus.

We are also concerned about the safety of Muslim and Jewish communities here in the United States as tensions flare in Israel and Gaza. Some parts of both communities are receiving threats at this time.

Palestinian people are not the enemy; Jewish people are not the enemy. The true enemy is any ideology that degrades and diminishes the sacred light resident in all humanity.

Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, is executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.
Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, is executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

We recognize the fear, anger and helplessness so many feel at this precarious and violent time, but our traditions teach us to turn to prayer, loving support of one another, and working for justice and peace as outlets for these feelings and not violence.

Rabbi Andrea C. London
Rabbi Andrea C. London

We must stand up for the safety and security of everyone. Our hearts break for all who live under the threat of terror and sit under the canopy of hopelessness. We call upon our religious leaders, politicians and communities to stand together for justice and peace and not resort to sloganeering or jingoism at this time.

Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.

In a sacred land filled with so much sorrow, death and destruction now, we recall the powerful words of Palestinian American poet Suheir Hammad:

There is death here, and there are promises of more. There is life here. Anyone reading this is breathing, maybe hurting, but breathing for sure. And if there is any light to come, it will shine from the eyes of those who look for peace and justice after the rubble and rhetoric are cleared and the phoenix has risen.

Affirm life. Affirm life. We have got to carry each other now. You are either with life, or against it. Affirm life.

May more of us of all backgrounds dig deep into the highest ideals and practices of our traditions so we can truly radiate the divine light of truth, justice and mercy so desperately needed now in Gaza, in Jerusalem, across this ancient holy land, here in Chicago, and across the globe.

Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, is founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Rabbi Andrea C. London of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue is a nationally recognized Jewish leader who has forged close ties with congregants and community members of all age groups and walks of life.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After Hamas assault, Israel attacking innocent Palestinians haunts us