A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
The Tragic Indifference of “No Ceasefire”
By David Corn November 21, 2023
Palestinians check for survivors in the rubble of a building following an Israeli bombardment in Gaza on November 6, 2023. Ahmed Zakot/Sipa via AP
Last week, I watched the three-hour-long March for Israel—which brought tens of thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington, DC—and I knew at the start that this would be a day of much sadness. It is still heartbreaking to hear accounts of the October 7 massacre waged against civilians by Hamas terrorists. The acts of sadistic barbarity—slaughtering infants, gunning down young adults at a music festival, torturing victims, burning people to death as they cowered in their homes—remain hard to fathom. And the pain of the relatives of the 200-plus hostages who had been held in captivity for over a month is heartbreaking to witness. The outrage expressed at this savagery should not fade—and similar outrage should be voiced for the brutality that has occurred in Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and many other places where tremendous suffering has attracted far less notice.
But there was another source of heartbreak at the event.
When CNN commentator Van Jones appeared on the stage, he denounced the rise in antisemitism, noting the historic tie between the Jewish community and the civil rights movement. The audience cheered. Then he added, “My heart breaks for all the Israeli children. My heart breaks for all the Palestinian children…I’m a peace guy. I pray for peace. No more rockets from Gaza and no more bombs falling down on the people of Gaza...Let’s end all the horror and all the heartbreak in the Holy Land.”
Many in the crowd did not agree. They chanted, “No ceasefire!”
That sentiment was vented repeatedly by attendees throughout the day. It seemed less the declaration of a thoughtful policy proposal and more a call for revenge. That was not surprising given the anger, trauma, and grief the Hamas attack prompted. And yet, there was barely any recognition that the ongoing war was killing thousands of Palestinian civilians. Babies dying due to the interruption of medical services. Children buried alive beneath rubble. Entire families annihilated by rocket blasts. Neighborhoods leveled. Tens of thousands injured. Hundreds of thousands displaced. Speaker after speaker accurately described the searing pain caused by the Hamas assault and the ongoing hostage crisis. They ignored the death and destruction Israel was visiting on Palestinian families.
When Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), as part of a congressional delegation, spoke to the assembled, he decried antisemitism and pledged his complete support for Israel: “Where do we go from here? We must stand with Israel.” Not a peep about Palestinian casualties, no reference to the need for humanitarian assistance for these war victims. I realize that no one wants to be a skunk at the garden party, and that for many in the crowd, reeling from the Hamas assault, the wellbeing of Palestinians was not top on their minds. “Standing with Israel.” “No ceasefire.” These are the rallying cries of a community that feels under siege. But I couldn’t help pondering how suffering within one’s own group can blind people to the suffering of others. Van Jones tried briefly to acknowledge that violence is bad for innocents on both sides. This message of empathy was not on the playlist for most speakers.
There was, however, one lovely moment when Alana Zeitchik, who has six family members who were being held captive by Hamas—including 3-year-old twins and a 5-year-old girl—addressed the demonstration. She pleaded for their release and added, “The simple human truth is, you don’t have to choose. You can abhor the suffering of Palestinian families and the suffering of Israeli families like mine.” There was a smattering of applause.
Shortly after Zeitchik spoke, Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, declared that Israel is “a nation that values life” and does “everything in its power to protect civilian life on both sides.” He added, “We did not start this war, but we must finish it.” The crowd, once again, responded, “No ceasefire! No ceasefire!” It was hard to reconcile Herzog’s profession that Israel is doing all that’s possible to safeguard Palestinian civilians with the nightmarish images from Gaza presented to the world every day. And it was difficult to read the enthusiastic “no ceasefire” chant as anything other than a statement that the current loss of Palestinian lives was acceptable to many of those who had gathered to support Israel.
There certainly is a policy argument for opposing a ceasefire. One can contend—as does the government of Benjamin Netanyahu—that after October 7 Israel must do all it can to eradicate Hamas as quickly as possible. Moreover, that a ceasefire would assist Hamas and perhaps even lengthen the war. Within this perspective, the dreadfully high number of civilian deaths and casualties in Gaza is the necessary price that must be paid. (Of course, some right-wing Israelis do seem eager to wipe out the entire Palestinian enclave, not just Hamas.) But this calls to mind age-old questions about the morality of war and the notion of a just war—not to mention the more modern questions of possible war crimes. Israel has been blasting civilian targets, such as the Al-Shifa hospital, claiming Hamas hides its infrastructure within or beneath such facilities. Does one violation of the laws of war justify another? Is Israel committing war crimes? Is its assault on Gaza genocide? (For a good discussion of these separate but related issues, see the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner’s interview with Omer Bartov, a Holocaust scholar at Brown University.) Whether or not Israel is engaging in war crimes or genocide, what’s troubling is watching the no-ceasefire crowd refuse to recognize the horrendous cost of all the civilian lives being lost in Gaza.
And what if the Israeli strategy that causes so many civilian deaths is wrongheaded or ineffective? How to calculate the killing of innocents then? Can Israel truly wipe out Hamas and what does that even mean? Not a single Hamas official or militant left alive? What about the Hamas leaders who reside in Qatar and elsewhere? So after Israel destroys northern Gaza, will it have to do the same to southern Gaza, where, no doubt, Hamas fighters have fled? Many commentators have wondered what Israel’s endgame is. Who will govern what’s left of Gaza when the military assault is over? Is this war creating more problems for Israel than it is solving, undercutting its standing in the world, and undermining its long-term security? As the New York Times straightforwardly put it on Sunday, “So far, it is not clear that the Israeli strategy is working.”
The innumerable unanswered questions about Israel’s aims and its ability to achieve them, as well as the absence of clear success to date, strengthen the case for a ceasefire—at least, a temporary one. Last week, the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington, DC, think tank that is quite close to the Biden administration, issued a call for a ceasefire. Pointing to the civilian deaths in Gaza, the collapse of its health care system, the displacement of much of its population, and the “lack of clarity on Israel’s strategic aims,” Patrick Gaspard, the president of CAP, and Allison McManus, a senior director for national security there, argued:
Congress and the administration must work swiftly to negotiate a humanitarian ceasefire, using all available leverage to ensure that both Israel and—through coordination with Qatar and other regional partners—Hamas comply. Rather than the current short pauses, a negotiated ceasefire would allow for developing a clearer long-term strategy to combat Hamas, help facilitate the safe return of hostages, and alleviate the humanitarian situation.
This demand was a major crack in Washington’s traditional anything-Israel-wants consensus. It also reflected the unease and anger among progressive and younger Democrats about the war and the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis. The Washington Post this past weekend reported, “Israel and Hamas are close to agreement on a U.S.-brokered deal that would free dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting.” But as I write this newsletter, Biden’s latest public position on a ceasefire was emphatic: “None, no possibility.” (Hillary Clinton agrees.)
Adamant opposition to a ceasefire—from Biden, Israel, or attendees at that rally—sends the message that the current devastation, humanitarian crisis, and loss of life in Gaza is tolerable. But it shouldn’t be. Palestinian lives count as much as Israeli lives. That’s what Zeitchik told her fellow Israelis and coreligionists in the shadow of the US Capitol. That view didn’t seem to register with many in that crowd, nor has it with most US lawmakers and policymakers. (Only 40 House members, as of this past weekend, had signed on to a call for a ceasefire.) But the horrifying scenes and tragic accounts (such as this one) coming out of Gaza are having an impact. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found that 68 percent of Americans believe “Israel should call a ceasefire and try to negotiate.” That same poll found backing for Israel dropping dramatically, with only 32 percent saying the United States should support Israel in its war against Hamas. A month earlier, that number was 41 percent.
I don’t know what Zeitchik thinks about the IDF’s continued pummeling of Gaza and the rising toll of civilian deaths. But she did say that “love is the only thing that can repair our shattered hearts and bring us back together in the name of peace.” It is tough to pursue peace so soon after such immense horrors on both sides. Yet doing so may be the only way to prevent more horrors.
Got anything to say about this item—or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this month, Our Land held a Zoom get-together for premium subscribers. Several dozen Our Landers gathered, and we discussed (and vented about) the Hamas-Israel war, President Joe Biden’s handling of this crisis, Donald Trump’s various legal messes and his attacks on democracy, the recent elections in Ohio and Virginia (good news for the libs!), and the 2024 election (anxiety for the libs!). It was great fun to interact with so many readers. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and participants nudged me toward committing to holding these sessions monthly. We will try to squeeze one in before the holidays next month. That gives you non-premium subscribers (you know who you are) plenty of time to sign up to receive the full Our Land every issue for a few bucks a month. Even if you don’t want to read the complete versions of the newsletter and attend our virtual shindigs, your contribution will help keep this endeavor afloat. Without premium subscribers, there would be no Our Land. And who wants to imagine that? So please support my work and sign up for that ultimate Our Land experience here. If you do, I hope to see you soon.
It’s been a tough stretch. The war. The polls. The continuing assault on democracy. I hope everyone in the Our Land community can take a break from the outside world for a few days and enjoy Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to putting aside doomscrolling for family, friends, oyster stuffing, and apple pie. And, yes, I will be shucking the oysters—and shouting at the ones that refuse to open. I have a good oyster knife and wear protective gloves, and, if I may boast, have a pretty good technique. (The entry point is key!) Still, there are always one or two (or three last year!) of the two dozen or so that won’t yield. Expressing my frustration in colorful ways has become something of a Thanksgiving tradition in my household. Like listening to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” (You know, of course, that Arlo’s dad, Woody, wrote a song called “Old Man Trump” about the racist housing policies of Fred Trump. But I digress.)
To make it easier for you to tune out for a brief spell and enjoy your own Turkey Day (or Tofurkey Day), we at the worldwide headquarters of Our Land, Inc., are shutting down the presses until next week. Without having a fresh issue of Our Land to read, you’ll have more time to argue with your crazy uncle. By the way, why do we always say “crazy uncle” and not “crazy aunt”? Forty-two percent of women voted for Donald Trump in 2020; that includes more than 50 percent of white women, according to exit polls. On a more serious note, the horrific violence in Gaza and Israel have affected many families, directly and indirectly. I hope conversations around tables of plenty (or in front of televisions displaying football) can be productive and peaceful.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
The Killer. If you have ever wondered about the internal workings and the tormented (or untormented) soul of a professional assassin, there’s a new movie for you. The Killer, directed by the highly acclaimed David Fincher (Seven, The Game, Fight Club, The Social Network, Mank, and much more) and streaming on Netflix, is a two-hour-long chronicle of an unnamed gun-for-hire who sometimes uses a knife, a plastic bag, or poison, and who barely speaks. Michael Fassbender (300, Inglorious Basterds, and X-Men: First Class) plays a hitman who is, naturally, a loner. He engages with few other humans, but he has a nonstop running dialogue within his head. The conversation often consists of him reminding himself to stick to the plan and eschew empathy. A running question for viewers is whether he is as empty inside as he seems to be. Is he nothing more than a murder machine?
He certainly knows his stuff—changing identities and maintaining arsenals in storage facilities around the world as easily as you pay bills and shop for groceries. Occasionally he philosophizes about his vocation, but it boils down to this: The world is fucked, and you should take what you can however you can, no regrets. When a job goes south, drastic steps—even across the globe—are required to fulfill the ultimate need of survival. Does this change him at all? Or is he just a shark moving relentlessly forward? You must watch closely.
Fincher’s work often falls into the psychological thriller genre. The Killer, which contains its share of bloody violence, is as sharp as a scalpel and masterfully shaped like a thriller. But if you are looking for clues to a compelling mystery that must be solved, you will be disappointed. The film is about the journey not the destination. And the ending is...well, I am not going to get into that. Let’s just say it’s hardly the classic thriller finale.
Fassbender is fascinating as the Man With No Name, in which his impressive physicality dominates a role with few lines. He’s like Gary Cooper. His body movements and his expressions are precise and convey his distance from the rest of us. There’s a marvelous scene in which he engages with another assassin deftly portrayed by Tilda Swinton who does most of the talking. But he’s still quite present. Do we need yet another intense character study of a psychopath? If so, Fincher has hit the mark.
“Empty Train,” Claire Lynch. For some inexplicable reason, I’ve missed out on Claire Lynch. She has thrice been named female vocalist of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and she has earned three Grammy nominations for best bluegrass album. A quick consultation with the internet reveals she’s considered to possess one of the best voices in the bluegrass biz. Well, I’m glad to have remedied this lapse by stumbling across her version of “Empty Train” from her 2016 album North by South, with tracks honoring Canadian musicians. She recorded this collection of tunes with banjoist extraordinaire Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, one of the most highly regarded dobro players in modern acoustic music. “Empty Train,” written by David Francey, a prominent Canadian folk musician, is rocking bluegrass that hurls past the traditional boundaries of the genre without jumping the rails.
Also check out the elegiac “Black Flowers” from the same album, written by Lynn Miles, a singer-songwriter who has pocketed several Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
November 18, 2023: Is it anti-Christian to criticize Speaker Mike Johnson?; the congressional ethics report on George Santos; a bizarre Albania-Russia-GOP caper; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 14, 2023: The Money Kings and Zionism, antisemitism, and conspiracy theories; the GOP’s minority rule; Oisin Leech’s “October Sun”; and more.
November 11, 2023: Donald Trump and revenge: a love atory; the GOP and minority rule on abortion; Dumbass Comment of the Week; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 7, 2023: Can we doomscroll to peace in the Middle East; Mike Johnson in the Holy Land; “Now and Then” more Lennon than Beatles; the meta rock world of Daisy Jones & the Six; and more.
November 4, 2023: How the Hamas-Israel war threatens American democracy; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Jared Kushner); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 31, 2023: Scoop: Mike Johnson urged a religious test for politicians; Michael J. Fox can’t sit still in his new documentary; U2 goes atomic; and more.
October 28, 2023: Leonard Leo and the Deep State on the right; recent news about Mitt Romney and Mike Johnson; Dumbass Comment of the Week (House Republicans); the Mailbag; and more.
October 24, 2023: Imagine Trump in charge during the Hamas-Israel war; Steve Bannon and Alex Jones conspiracy-mongering together; a Jim Jordan tale; George Santos speaks; and more.
October 21, 2023: Biden and Netanyahu’s delicate dance; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Ari Fleischer); the Mailbag: MoxieCam™; and more.
October 18, 2023: No blank check for Bibi; the strange trip of Asteroid City; Devon Gilfillian gives us a closer with “Love You Anyway”; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.