Columnist Sara Weinberger: ‘Collective punishment’ of Gazans must stop

Sara Weinberger

Sara Weinberger Sara Weinberger


Published: 03-17-2024 9:27 AM

My connection with Israel has taken many twists and turns. Growing up with parents who survived the unimaginable trauma of the Holocaust, it’s not surprising that my mother and father, the remnants of so much that was lost, instilled in their children a deep belief that Israel needed to exist as a refuge for the Jewish people. Antisemitism, often called “the oldest hatred,” has reared its ugly head in every generation. The existence of a Jewish state gave my family some semblance of security. If things get too bad, we can always move to Israel, I used to think.

I first journeyed to Israel in 1971, as a summer in Kibbutz participant, where I experienced life on one of the many collective enterprises that dotted Israel’s landscape. I picked pears for several hours a day and fell in love with the idea of communal living. Over the next almost 50 years that followed, I traveled to Israel nine more times. Successive trips ultimately revealed a glimpse of the underbelly of what I used to call, “the miracle in the desert.”

As a volunteer in a desert town working with Jews expelled from their Arabic homelands, I paid a visit to my old kibbutz, and was horrified to hear the racist reactions when I explained who I was working with. On a trip to celebrate my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, I witnessed the consequences of a state following Orthodox Jewish law, when my daughter was forbidden to have her Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall (a Jewish holy site in Jerusalem), because she was not male. OK, I thought, Israel has its racism and misogyny, but so does the U.S.

On a study tour with the New Israel Fund, an organization, “working to build a stronger democracy in Israel, rooted in the values of equality, inclusion, and social justice,” I experienced the great divide between Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were often subjected to unequal policies and treatment, despite their citizenship status. Though these experiences confirmed that my former view of Israel had been naive, rather than falling out of love, I vowed to work for change, joining Healing Across the Divides (HATD), an organization founded by my friend and Northampton resident, Dr. Norbert Goldfield.

Armed with the mission of creating peace through health, HATD funds community-based health programs for underserved populations in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. Visiting HATD’s programs in the West Bank and Israel revealed hopeful outcomes in what often seem like hopeless situations. I also witnessed opportunities for coexistence and collaboration, visiting an organic farm, a joint project between Jews living in a small desert town and their Bedouin neighbors and learning how a program encouraging Orthodox Jewish women to make sure their daughters receive mammograms was adapted by a group of Palestinian women. Visiting the West Bank provided opportunities to experience the hospitality and warmth of Palestinians, struggling to raise their children under a brutal occupation. It cemented a powerful lesson about the importance of creating opportunities for strangers to connect as an antidote to hate.

The events of October 7th and their aftermath have left me in despair. Contrary to what many believe, the sins of Israel’s occupation do not justify the murders, rapes, and kidnappings of innocents committed by Hamas. The heinous attacks on Gaza launched by the Netanyahu regime in the aftermath of the attacks have left me enraged at leaders who would weaponize the Holocaust to justify the collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population. Jews and Palestinians have experienced generations of unhealed trauma. The only outcome of this war will be more violence, inflicted by today’s traumatized Israelis and Palestinians.

As an American, I have been incensed that my country continues to support death and destruction in Gaza with my tax dollars. Arms suppliers are the only beneficiaries here. That’s why I am proud to support my community of Easthampton’s efforts to enact a resolution calling for an immediate bilateral cease-fire. A diverse mix of Easthamptonites have crafted this resolution that will, pending approval by the Rules Committee, be presented for a future vote by the City Council. I am grateful for engaging with neighbors of many minds in respectful discussion, in order to ultimately stand together to call for an end to the killing.

Some might call me a “self-hating Jew” for my involvement, but it is precisely because I am Jewish that I am acting on my religious obligation to do my part towards healing the world by advocating to save human life. Some say that city councils should not be meddling into international affairs. I believe that this resolution goes a step further than the letters I have sent to the president and my representatives in Congress, by letting them know that the Easthampton City Council is waging a call for peace by standing for humanity. This resolution stands as an affirmation of human life from a community raising our voices together, to call for an end to the violence.

Sara Weinberger of Easthampton is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at