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Israel Hamas WarOpinionIsrael

Anti-Israel demonstrators are wrong about a lot, but right about ceasefire

Hate speech and the demonisation of Zionism should not prevent us acknowledging that Israel needs to prioritise a ceasefire deal that brings home the hostages.
Jeremie Bracka
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People at a night time demonstration with Israeli flags and poster reading 'Ceasefire saves lives'

Some of the 100,000 Israelis who demonstrated in favour of ceasefire in Tel Aviv last weekend (Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Published: 19 June 2024

Last updated: 19 June 2024

I write as a lawyer, as an Australian-Israeli, but  most of all as an anxious new father. For the first time since October 7, I grasped some of the heartache, as I watched another father, Yaakov Argamani kiss, hug and smell his daughter Noa who was rescued from Gaza two weeks ago after eight months of living hell.

Since October 7, hundreds and thousands of children have been physically brutalised, psychologically battered and tragically killed.  I am thinking of Ariel and Kfir Bibas aged 3 and 10 months old abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Their mother Shiri was pictured holding her two red-head boys, surrounded by Hamas gunmen.

I am also thinking of 11-year-old Dareen al-Bayaa, who lost 70 family members, including her parents, in an air strike on her home in Gaza. She’s just one of thousands of Palestinian children orphaned or separated from their parents since October.

It should not be a political risk to acknowledge the reality of the October 7 massacres unequivocally. It should not be a radical act of kindness to recognise the carnage in Gaza and Palestinian trauma. In the words of the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved families forum: “A parent who loses a child is a parent who loses a child.”  

Yet the thousands of lives lost are not the concern of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar who deliberately places innocent civilians in harms’ way. He recently described Gazan casualties as ‘necessary sacrifices.’ Palestinian lives are hardly the priority of Benjamin Netanyahu, who, with grim self-serving cynicism continues to prosecute the war for  his own political survival.  

Cease Fire Now

Tens of thousands of Israelis protestors have joined the hostage families calling for an immediate hostage deal and ceasefire. Major Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, who served in the war for five months as a commander said that "our present situation resembles 'full gas in neutral...The only thing that has remained steady in the past eight months is our mode of thinking and operating, a kind of mad dash headfirst into a wall.”

Gershon recommends stopping the war in Gaza completely in exchange for all the captives. He writes: "That is not a defeat, it is strength. The value of human life must set us apart …Yes, I changed my mind since October 7.”  

I too have changed my mind since October 7.  I am convinced by my sense of  Jewish vulnerability and the echoes of ancestral fears; by  my anguish and uncertainty over Israel’s conduct of the war; by my distress at Jewish friends and family who dismiss accounts of Palestinian suffering as media bias.

To question in the current climate requires nuance, intellectual integrity, and moral clarity

I call for ceasefire with an understanding that the ceasefire movement has frequently defamed Israel and that the ‘Free Palestine’ movement has lately morphed into misunderstanding, at best and antisemitism at worst.

Not Genocide

As a legal scholar, it feels empty debating the laws of war, proportionality, or military gain in the face of human suffering. At the same time, it is disturbing how the Genocide Convention drafted after the holocaust is now being weaponised against the Jewish state. Beyond popular slurs, the genocide label has been misused by legal academics and media experts who ought to know better. For the record, the International Court of Justice, never concluded that Israel plausibly committed genocide in Gaza. It took the Courts’ President four months to clarify that all the court decided was that Palestinians had a plausible right to protection from genocide and that South Africa could present its case.

Campus Protests

As an academic, I have been deeply frustrated by months of largely performative, even antisemitic protests on campus from the U.S to my own Alma mater, Monash University. There were chants for the destruction of Israel (coded or explicit), calls to boycott Jewish businesses, doxing Jewish academics as well as references to Hamas’ atrocities as ‘legitimate resistance’. I have seen stickers at RMIT depicting a religious Jew with the tagline: ‘If I don’t steal it, somebody else will!”  Some US activists prohibited Jewish students from accessing public areas on campus because they identify as “Zionists,”

Let’s be clear, hate-speech is not free speech. Social justice is not harassing Jewish students and teachers. The protests that reduce the complex history of the Middle East to simplistic slogans hardly align with the founding principles of liberal education. In the social and media bubbles we inhabit, there is a compulsion to divide everyone like soccer supporters into a binary of either ‘Pro-Israel or ‘Pro-Palestine’. Public debate has been reduced to a mere contest between political identities rather than competing ideas and values.

No doubt,the Palestinian people have been unjustly denied their collective rights for far too long, but their political aspirations are unlikely come to fruition if they are framed in zero-sum terms.

Colonial Projections

It has become impossible to discuss the actual war in Gaza without drawing upon fraught analogies. In recent months, I have seen Australian protestors misappropriate Indigenous tropes like ‘always was, always will be’ in relation to the Palestinian cause. Bizarrely, women’s rights organisations, Indigenous Australians and even LGBTQI+ groups have grafted their own struggles onto Israel-Palestine. One would have thought the very term ‘Queers for Palestine’ would be an oxymoron given the routine persecution of gays in the West Bank and Gaza.

Nothing is more colonialist in thought, than projecting the history of European-settler countries and others onto the Middle East. For many well-meaning, but largely ignorant Australians, pro-Palestine campaigning is a convenient way to process their own historic shame, at little personal cost. It is all too easy to don a Kaffiyeh and chant ‘Free Palestine’ when family members sleep soundly at night, and one’s own homes remain safe from daily bombardment.

Painfully, many human rights groups (including those I worked with from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch) have gone beyond critique of the current war to repudiating the Jewish right of self-determination. Yet, at the same time, they advocate unequivocally for the legitimate Palestinian claim to statehood. No human rights instrument supports such glaring double standards.

For most Jews, Zionism is just a natural historic response to Jewish oppression and connection to land. It is a national liberation movement echoing similar calls for freedom, safety, and homeland. It is for Jews, what Palestinian nationalism is for the Palestinians. No doubt,the Palestinian people have been unjustly denied their collective rights for far too long, but their political aspirations are unlikely come to fruition if they are framed in zero-sum terms.

Bring them Home Now

To question in the current climate requires nuance, intellectual integrity, and moral clarity. It demands an open mind and at the very least historical sensitivity. Above all, it requires the empathy of human understanding.. Anton Goodman from Rabbis for Human Rights says: “Compassion and empathy are not values. They are muscles. The more you use them, the more you can engage them.” In the words of a spokesman from Combatants for Peace: “Israelis and Palestinians, are like two eyes in the one head.” Indeed, our fates are inseparable. You cannot see the world through one eye and presume to see it clearly.

Israel must strive for a deal – to bring back the hostages and to stop the ongoing killing of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians. I, wholeheartedly support the Israeli protests and believe that we must continue to amplify empathetic Jewish voices. Why? Because as the Northern Ireland, South African, and Latin American cases demonstrate, speaking out against warfare and tribalism is not the luxury of idealistic dreamers, but a task of political necessity.

It is my hope that a deeper conversation about Gaza might allow us to envision a post-conflict reality. As former US senator Paul Wellstone said, "Sometimes, the only realists are the dreamers."

A Palestinian peace activist once told me the story of an old Arab mufti who made peace with his neighbouring village after years of bloodshed. When he returned home, he was asked, why he shook hands with the man who killed his son? The mufti replied: “Because I have another son, and I don’t want to lose him too.”

This article is an edited version of a speech given at a Peace Vigil in Melbourne last weekend.


Senior Israeli negotiator says dozens of Gaza hostages ‘alive, with certainty’ (Times of Israel)
Top unnamed official warns ‘we cannot leave them there a long time, they will die,’ says all captives need to be released in deal with Hamas before Israel can accept halting the war

A conscientious objector's vision of life for Israelis and Palestinians from the River to the Sea (Haaretz)
Sofia Orr, Haaretz has just spent 85 days in military jail after refusing to enlist in the IDF. Now released after being recognized as a conscientious objector, the 19-year-old talks about why she did it, the attacks from both left- and right-wing extremists, and about what she heard from her fellow inmates.

At least 17 killed in Gaza refugee camps after latest Israeli strikes, say medics (Guardian)
Airstrikes killed Palestinians in historic Nuseirat and Bureij camps on Tuesday, as tanks advanced into Rafah in south

Israel arrested a senior doctor in Gaza. Six days later, he died in a Shin Bet interrogation facility (Haaretz)
Dr. Iyad Rantisi, 53, ran a women's hospital in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. The Shin Bet says he was arrested on suspicion of involvement in holding hostages and died a week later. Shin Bet: 'The circumstances of the death are being examined by the relevant officials'

About the author

Jeremie Bracka

Dr Jeremie M Bracka is an Australian-Israeli human rights lawyer and academic at Monash University (Melbourne). He lectures in constitutional law, torts, human rights law, international criminal law and transitional justice.


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