Dec 8, 2023

10 thoughts on what is happening in Israel.

Trying to unpack a difficult few weeks.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

As the war Israel is waging in Gaza continues, I've been inundated every day with news reports about, commentary on, and images of the fighting. Much of that has evoked strong feelings in me, and it's often hard to decide where to focus my finite resources of brain power. As the weeks have gone by between Tangle's coverage of these events, I’ve found myself jotting down notes, saving articles, and increasingly staring blankly at the wall lost in thought about what we are all witnessing.

I don't know what to do with many of these thoughts except share them with the people who read my work and hope that they provide some value. So, today, that's what I'm going to do: Flesh out 10 thoughts I have about what has been happening and put them in a newsletter. Some might be offensive to you. Some might be aligned with your own perspective. Some of these might seem contradictory, but I insist that they aren't for me, and I assure you I am earnestly holding 10 of them together all at once. All I ask is that you read them with an open mind, and share your responses with some modicum of respect.

One: I've noticed from logging onto my various social media channels that a lot of people I've never seen say a single word about Israel or Palestine now have Israeli or Palestinian flags in their online bios and are happy to share authoritative, definitive, black-and-white stances about the conflict. I have to admit that I find this frustrating, and sometimes even infuriating.

I'm glad people are interested in this conflict. Genuinely. Maybe somewhere out there is a person new to this issue that has an answer. And I'm also glad many don't feel afraid to share their views about it. In an era where our culture of free speech is being chilled, that is encouraging.

But here is what I ask of you: Please come to this issue, as with any new issue, with humility. Be patient. You are new here. Some people have been thinking deeply about this issue for years. Many for decades. In recent weeks, I've seen dozens of my friends share explicit misinformation or propaganda (from both sides) with personal commentary taking a definitive stance about what is going on — when I know from years of interacting with them that they've spent close to zero time worrying or thinking about this conflict until a few weeks ago.

There are numerous examples I could use to illustrate this point, but perhaps the most illuminating comes from The Wall Street Journal. In a recent article, a political science professor examined the findings of a polling firm he hired to ask college students chanting "From the River to the Sea" about the expression. It turned out that 47% of the students who embraced the slogan couldn't name the river and the sea the expression referred to (it's the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea). The pollsters got answers like "Nile and the Euphrates" or "the Dead Sea" (a lake) and “the Atlantic.” Just 10% could name the first Israeli prime minister, and when asked what decade the Oslo Accords was signed, more than a quarter thought no such peace deal had ever been struck.

Not knowing things is fine. But speaking authoritatively or joining protests or being arrogant about your views when you are also ignorant is not. This specific example looks bad for some people joining "pro-Palestine" protests, but there are plenty of people on the pro-Israel side who look just as silly.

So please, remember: This is one of the most controversial and intractable issues in global history. Literally. It's possible (I'd say almost 100% certain) that you did not incontrovertibly figure out the good guys and bad guys in the last few days. Get off social media and read a few books, then come back and share your thoughts with an elevated level of knowledge.

Two: Relatedly, you don't have to say anything! Listening is good enough. Silence is not violence. You are not "complicit in the genocide of Palestinians" if you don't criticize Israel, nor do you need to "condemn Hamas" on behalf of your Jewish friends. You can listen and learn for as long as you'd like, perhaps indefinitely. I promise. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a charlatan or a bully — they are not interested in hearing your voice, but they are interested in hearing you conform to how they view what is happening right now. You don't have to adopt anyone's view but your own, and you do not have to speak up until you feel informed enough to do so. Or confident enough in your own conclusions. In fact, it'd be a mistake to speak up before then.

Three: There are a lot of important storylines in this war, but I think the single most important one right now, as we sit here today, is the destruction and death in Gaza. It's hard to properly describe the images that are coming out of the Strip but they are truly apocalyptic: In areas Israel is bombing, there are children buried in rubble, apartment buildings destroyed, arms and legs strewn across the street, pools of blood on the sidewalk. I'm not going to link to them here — I've done enough of that. But they are easy to find if you need some kind of proof.

In areas civilians are fleeing to, there is limited access to food, water, and electricity. There is limited shelter. And, of course, some of the areas where civilians have been told to evacuate to are now the targets of bombing campaigns and ground invasions.

There are a lot of different ways to quantify the current horror, but a few that I find most disturbing include the following:

  • Between 2008 and 2022, or over the course of 14 years, roughly 3,100 children were killed in the Iraq War. In 19 days in Gaza, between October 7 and October 26, an estimated 2,500 children were killed.
  • Some of the people responsible for reporting the death toll have themselves been killed, and the Gazan information system is largely controlled by Hamas, making it difficult to parse fact from fiction on individual events. And yet, researchers are comparing public health records with the hospital reports of the dead and finding they largely line up. The United Nations Human Rights Office believes the total death count is if anything an undercount. Gaza has a pretty robust medical records collection, so this isn’t just a guessing game. Reuters explains how we know what we know here.
  • Regardless of what you or I think, Israel and Gaza officials seem to agree on this point: More than 15,000 people have been killed in Gaza. An Israeli official on Monday accepted that figure and said he estimates around a third of those killed in Gaza (about 5,000 people) are "enemy combatants," though he offered no details on how he reached that number.
  • Taking that at face value, it would mean that 10,000 civilians have been killed in the last two months. That’s about the same number as all the civilians that have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its attack in February of 2022. Ukraine is a country of more than 40 million people. A little more than 2 million people live in Gaza.

So, what is Israel's plan? I’m genuinely asking, because I'm not sure. They said they wanted to attack northern Gaza and destroy Hamas — they attacked Gaza City and pushed hundreds of thousands of people south. Now the IDF has moved south, and insisted those civilians go... where? West? East? Across the Egyptian border?

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The entire strip is about 140 square miles of land. Philadelphia, where I live, is 134 square miles. Chicago is about 228. I have recently been imagining North Philadelphia, about a 20 minute bike ride for me, being bombed and me being told to flee south, doing what I’m told, and then being told to flee west as South Philly starts being bombarded. All the while, I am a civilian navigating streets patrolled by Hamas, a terrorist group that has unfettered power in my city and is trying to stop me from fleeing to safety.

This is life for Palestinians in Gaza now. 

And yes, it is important to contextualize everything about this conflict with the history, current political dynamics, and broader geopolitics of the region. And yes, Israel’s ground invasion is a response to Hamas's attack on October 7; but now it’s December 8th, more than two months later. What is happening in Gaza should be the central story, and it is an unspeakably awful thing to watch. I don't really have the words.

Four: A lot of readers and followers of mine have insisted that I acknowledge the "genocide of Palestinians." I have no interest in semantic debates about the absolute horror of what is happening in Gaza. If you want to describe thousands of school children being buried in bombs as mass killings or genocide or war crimes, I personally do not care. You can call it whatever you want, so long as you look at it with clear eyes. But if you are going to insist that I use language that you dictate, then let’s be really clear and specific about what those terms are. What is happening in Gaza is not what I would call a genocide.

From the outset, I can't emphasize enough how unhelpful this debate is; but the insistence that I weigh in (and the cavalier use of the term I see from so many people) has forced my hand. Divisions about what qualifies as a genocide are evident among scholars who study this kind of thing for a living, and I am not an authoritative voice. You can go read other articles, like this one, where actual experts debate the use of "genocide" to describe Israel's actions. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a genocide is "the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group."

The most critical element of legally defining genocide (and not using it as a rhetorical flourish or political statement) is an intent to deliberately wipe out an ethnic group or nation state. To be sure, there are abhorrent Israeli politicians who call for another "Nakba" with a total disregard for Palestinian life (more on that in a minute). But the people calling the shots in this war are members of a special war cabinet (which includes members in opposition to the government majority), and they are not rallying around a grand ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. 

The Israeli army's stated mission is to destroy Hamas, a militant group, not the Palestinian people. Hamas killed over 1,200 people in its October 7 attack, and Israel has killed far more people in response. To me, that is not justice. Some of these bombing campaigns have included a wanton disregard for civilian life. And you can argue, convincingly, that some of Israel’s strikes constitute war crimes. But this campaign does not constitute a genocide.

Furthermore, armies committing genocide tend not to agree to humanitarian pauses. They don't warn civilians of impending attacks and tell them to evacuate. They don't treat enemy combatants who are wounded in battle, even if those combatants just got done slaughtering their own civilians. Yes, Israel has an incredible military advantage and is tolerating a very high rate of civilian deaths. But the military campaign it’s waging in Gaza is not a genocidal campaign (which is not some compliment to Israel).

What I think we’re going to witness is a large number of civilian and combatant deaths in Gaza, unbelievable amounts of damage to civilian infrastructure, some kind of temporary Israeli occupation, claims of a successful campaign, and then (probably) a withdrawal — with the ruins left to Gazans and whatever is left of Hamas to figure out. That doesn’t really sound a whole lot better than “genocide” to me, but if you’re insisting we be specific and intentional about language, then you should be able to acknowledge the difference. 

That said, we can comfortably surmise that over 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of whom are women and children, and not labelling that killing a genocide does not excuse it as morally neutral. It’s unconscionable, and I condemn it outright. And I'll warn you now that if you write in to argue with me one way or another on this point there is a very good chance that I won't take the time to reply. As I opened with, I think the semantic debate is a waste of time, as do the scholars who are being asked to define genocide

Five: Why are people refusing to believe that Hamas committed sexual violence, including rapes, against the women and children it attacked on October 7? I find it entirely dumbfounding and absolutely enraging. I saw the progressive commentator Briahna Joy Gray tweet this the other day, which sent me down a rabbit hole of denial I had been blissfully unaware of:

"Evidence is required... No female victims have offered testimony."

I really really really hope that’s a statement made out of immense ignorance. Few instances of mass sexual violence have ever been as well documented as what happened on October 7. There is an abundance of evidence, and of all the horrors coming out of this spate of violence, among the most horrible are undoubtedly the rapes, sexual assaults, and kidnappings of women and young girls in Israel on October 7.

I was thankful to see a recent article in Slate calling out all the ways in which the world's feminists have abandoned Israeli victims. It was cathartic to read, in large part because their stories have been so disgustingly dismissed by political factions across the globe but also because the piece, co-authored by six women who are all prosecutors, lawyers, and feminists, laid out in horrific detail all the evidence we do, in fact, have.

That includes but is not limited to videos made by the perpetrators themselves, the infamous video of Naama Levy being dragged into a truck while bleeding from her pants, multiple survivors (male and female) who have given the testimony Joy says doesn't exist, including a grandmother who watched her granddaughter get raped and paramedics who arrived on the scene of a kibbutz and discovered young girls who had been raped before being executed in their bedrooms. These are just a few of many examples, and says nothing of the lack of testimony from the many female and young victims who were killed or are currently being held hostage. 

As the Slate authors put it: "This is not overstating things — from our work as prosecutors, lawyers, and feminists, we understand what it takes to build a solid criminal case for sexual assault. Here, there is voluminous evidence, more than what is typically available."

I posted this article on Twitter and was immediately met with indignation — accusations I was justifying genocide, blathering claims there was no evidence despite me just providing it, and insinuations that I was ignoring the horror inflicted on Gazans by virtue of condemning Hamas for rape. To say this response is disturbing is perhaps the understatement of today's newsletter.

Let me speak plainly: If you are denying the simple fact that Hamas committed heinous acts of sexual violence, or if your reaction to that claim is to posit that we can't discuss this fact while also condemning Israel's actions, or to suggest that this is the "result of Israeli oppression" — I urge you to re-evaluate your moral compass in analyzing these kinds of crimes. And to find better sources for your information.

Six: There are a lot of Israelis, Jews, and pro-Israel people also saying some deeply horrible and frightening things. Some of these things are inspired by political extremism, some are inspired by religious extremism, and some seem inspired by blind emotional rage. Glenn Greenwald shared this video on Twitter to rightly make the point that condemnable, even genocidal, language isn’t coming only from pro-Palestine protesters on college campuses who are getting outsized attention in the media (more on that below). Indeed, explicit calls to "kill all Palestinians" or “turn Gaza into a parking lot” or to "wipe them off the fucking map" or to "erase Gaza” are heard at pro-Israel protests and even from some U.S. senators

An Israeli lawmaker named Galit Distel Atbaryan from the ruling Likud Party said last month that Israel should be investing all their energy "in one thing: erasing all of Gaza from the face of the Earth." Her comments came after a 45-minute screening of footage taken by Hamas fighters during October 7, an admittedly highly charged moment. But, again, she is describing a strip of land populated by two million people, half of whom are children.

"Revengeful and vicious IDF is required here," she added. "Anything less than that is immoral."

When I first wrote about this war, one of the lines that caused the most anger was when I said that Israel's coming "desire for violence" was not going to be unlike Hamas’s — "it’s just as much about blood for blood as any legitimate security measure." Many people interpreted it as some kind of moral equivocation between Hamas and Israel’s army. It was not. This quote from Atbaryan exemplifies the kind of attitude I was referring to. And she wasn't alone. Amichai Eliyahu called the Northern Strip "more beautiful than ever" as "bombing and flattening" occurred. Gila Gamliel, another member of the Likud Party, put her name on a document from a ministry she runs that has called for transferring the entire population of Gaza to Sinai in Northern Egypt. That would be, definitionally, an ethnic cleansing.

Israel desires the moral high ground in this conflict. As an American Jew with a strong connection to Israel, and as someone who believes they are fighting against a terrorist organization in Hamas, I desire it for them, too. If they want to maintain that high ground it is absolutely, 100% necessary to distance the Zionist or pro-Israel movement from people like this. These attitudes, these words, are rightly destroying the reputation of Israel's government, leadership, and people. As Iris Leal put it in Haaretz, Atbaryan, Gamliel, and Eliyahu do not "have any influence over operational decisions, but to the global media they represent official Israel. Anyone who wants to interpret Israel’s actions in Gaza as a genocide that will end in ethnic cleansing can do so using quotes by these three freeloaders."

I’ll add that anyone standing behind them should feel a great deal of shame.

Seven: There will never be peace in this region with Hamas and jihadism thriving. Hamas has assured this with its latest attack, but this era of mainstream Western media seems totally afraid to discuss the religious underpinnings of Hamas's extremism. Arab states across the world have begun to abandon jihadism because they have seen what it’s brought them, but Hamas, some Gazans, and Iranian leadership aren't there yet.

Few people have spoken about this issue with as much clarity as Sam Harris, who did an entire podcast on the reality of Hamas's views. You can go read or listen to it yourself, as I think it is genuinely worth your time. A lot of people hate Harris and accuse him of being an Islamophobe, but I think that is genuinely a ridiculous way to attack his views here. Harris is argumentatively atheist and scathingly critiques all organized religion, which means he frequently criticizes Islam. Politically, I could criticize Harris for some of his downplaying of the U.S. and Israeli complicity in where this conflict is today, but I think he is largely right about everything related to global jihadism, Islamic extremism, and Hamas. He makes dozens of important points, and I want to echo a few of them here:

  • People criticize Christianity and its influence on American politics all the time without fear of being labeled anti-Christian. Nobody should be called Islamophobic for criticizing Islam and its influence on the political situation in the Middle East. 
  • Israel’s behavior can explain some of the support a group like Hamas receives in the region, but it is not what explains the suicidal and genocidal inclinations of a group like Hamas. The Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad do.
  • When a white supremacist goes into a supermarket and murders a group of black people, then releases a manifesto saying he killed them because he hates black people, nobody questions his motives. Why would we? And why do we question Hamas's motives when they say they want to kill Jews, then go and kill a bunch of Jews, then brag about killing Jews? We don't just question their motives, we actually invent new ones to explain their actions.
  • There have been 50,000 acts of Islamic terrorism in the last 40 years, 90% of which have occurred in Muslim-majority countries. Muslims themselves are disproportionately the victims of these attacks. They occur because the people who commit them fundamentally believe their life on this earth is meaningless and they will be guaranteed an afterlife of bliss if they martyr themselves. This is a uniquely Islamic idea. Muhammad is a definitively different biblical character than Jesus or Buddha, the icons of two other hugely popular religions. It is relevant that Muhammad took sex slaves and tortured people and cut their heads off, and that his actions are supposed to serve as an example for Muslims. 
  • Members of Hamas believe that death is a portal to a much better life. Not only that, they believe the Muslims they kill will be sent to that better life, too. Extra points for killing Jews. If you don't understand this reality, you do not understand a fundamental underpinning of the group Israel is facing.
  • This is not to profess some anti-Muslim bigotry, and has nothing to do with race or the ethnic origins of Arabs. Furthermore, and very importantly, it is not to say that all practitioners of Islam share the same interpretation or beliefs. It is to examine the particular subset of Islamic ideas that ties this violence directly to Muslim extremism and global jihad. There happens to be a lot of Muslim extremism and jihadism among Hamas. This is not a coincidence.

I'll say again: Harris is argumentatively atheist and criticizes all organized religion. This is him criticizing all scripture. This is him criticizing Christianity. The above is him criticizing Islam, and jihadist extremism specifically.

Solving the Israel-Palestine conflict and looking to a future where Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side is going to require a great deal of concessions, hardship, generational healing, and adaptation from Israelis and Palestinians alike. Despite some of Hamas’s recent changes and their apparent willingness to do things like negotiate hostage releases, one of the critical elements of that future will be an uprooting and dispelling of Hamas and Islamic extremism. Without that, any peace process is eternally doomed. That much I can guarantee. 

Eight: The situation on college campuses has gotten incredibly tense and bewildering. In case you missed it, professors from Harvard, Penn, and MIT testified before Congress this week. A lot was said and covered but the thing that got the most attention was when Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) gave each president the chance to answer what seems like a pretty simple question: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your] rules on bullying and harassment?”

One might think the universities would have an unequivocal answer to this: Yes. But instead, all the responses had some kind of equivocation or hedging. Harvard's president suggested "it can be, depending on the context," like if it were targeted at an individual. Penn's president suggested it would be “If the speech turns into conduct," which Stefanik responded to by asking the obvious question: “‘Conduct’ meaning committing the act of genocide?” The president of MIT said “if targeted at individuals, not making public statements,” then yes, it could be harassment.

The fallout from the exchanges was immediate, with the videos getting millions of views, emergency meetings called, clarifying hostage-like videos posted by the presidents, and all sorts of commentary about what happened.

Sometimes, free speech can be complicated. I am an (actual) free speech advocate, and I have already argued strongly that college students have a right to demonstrate, a right to protest, and a right to offend, all without government intervention (or losing their job offers, for that matter). Consistent with this view, I've also said repeatedly that I prefer allowing even neo-Nazis to march in the streets (nice to know who they are) than to allow the government to start calling the shots on what kind of public demonstrations are allowed or not. I’ve also consistently said that we focus disproportionately on what college students, who are still developing their worldviews, are saying — and of those students, we have an insane myopia towards those who study at a certain set of a dozen or so colleges.

For their part, colleges have an obligation to defend academic freedom, and should avoid punishing faculty members or students for expressing even the most abhorrent political opinion. And that can be complicated for university leaders, since it requires extending tolerance towards individuals who draw the ire of their student body or donor class. Many students and faculty are, right now, being punished for all sorts of political positions that are not worthy of punishment. 

But this specific issue isn’t very complicated.

Genociding Jews isn't a political opinion — it's a call for violence. One, actually, that violates the academic freedom and free speech of Jews on campus (for example, what Jew would reasonably feel safe going to class or speaking publicly on a campus where calls to commit genocide on the Jews is allowed?). 

Universities have policies, rules, and codes of conduct. Universities are relied on by students to create challenging learning environments, but also safe ones. Colleges like Harvard and MIT and Penn have very clear rules to protect female students, and gay students, and transgender and non-binary students, as well as black students and hispanic students and students of all other races that universities codify specific protection for. Violating those rules can get professors or fellow students reprimanded. These are the kinds of rules that are not tied to a legal definition of free speech, but to university policies about making students feel welcome and accepted.

Imagine, for a moment, being a Jewish student at Harvard, MIT, or Penn and watching that testimony. The context of calling for the genocide of Jews matters?

Would the "context" of calling for the genocide of Muslims matter? Or transgender people? Or black students?

The reality is that these presidents are hesitant to say "yes" because they don’t want to define what constitutes a "call for genocide." Is it cheers of "intifada" or "From the River to the Sea," or does it need to be something more explicit? And to be sure, these are difficult questions to sort out (as I mentioned above, it can even be hard to say what genocide is, let alone “genocidal language”); but, importantly, those questions were not what they were asked. For what they were actually asked, the answer, very obviously, is that calling for the genocide of Jews on a college campus should explicitly violate several policies on harrassment and bullying. And if you have trouble answering that question clearly, you really shouldn't be running the most prestigious schools in the country.

Nine: A few weeks ago, a Palestinian writer, academic, and poet went viral on Twitter for a pretty distasteful joke. His name is Refaat Alareer. At the time when rumors were percolating that Hamas had put an Israeli baby into ovens during their October 7 attack, Alareer tweeted this:

The tweet immediately went viral on American right-wing and Jewish Twitter as some kind of proof that every Palestinian is indifferent to Israeli lives. Bari Weiss, the former New York Times writer who now runs The Free Press, put it up on her own Twitter account with a simple comment: “Here is Refaat Alareer joking about whether or not an Israeli baby, burned alive in an oven, was cooked ‘with or without baking powder.’"

When I saw the tweet I winced, as it genuinely offended some part of me that did not want to see anyone making light of the reports we had gotten from Israel (it's certainly worth noting that the veracity of this particular story is still disputed).

Regardless, what Alareer was intending to do was punch a hole in some of the propaganda and fog of war rumors that have spread during this spate of fighting. He fundamentally didn't believe this thing had happened, and so he was joking about it, I'm sure intending to snap people out of the haze and get them to focus on what he thought was more important in late October — the bombing campaign in Gaza, where he lives. It wasn’t his first foray into controversy. He had called the initial October 7 attack "legitimate and moral" and "exactly like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising," a revolt by German-occupied Jews in Poland during the Holocaust in 1943. The comparison understandably upset a lot of people, though it made me want to reach out and interview him about his perspective.

Unfortunately, I can't ask Alareer much about anything, because he's dead.

He was reportedly killed in an Israeli strike on Thursday and is now being mourned not just across the Palestinian world, but also in the U.S., as many American reporters had longstanding relationships with him. He once toured the U.S. to promote his book about life in Gaza.

Less viral but perhaps much more illustrative of the man than his tasteless joke on Twitter or his comments about October 7 was another video of Alareer that I had also watched a few weeks ago. It was of him sitting for an interview with Katie Halper, a Jewish American journalist, who spoke to Alareer as Israel's bombardment was under way. With the demeanor of a professor, Alareer quietly and slowly explained what he was living through. In the midst of the bombing campaign, he told Halper he was sheltering 15 children in his home.

But the haunting part of the video wasn't what he was saying, it was the juxtaposition of two background sounds: One was a mixture of children playing, screaming, and crying, a sound familiar to anyone who has grown up in a large family. The other was the sound of bombs crashing in the area where he was sheltering, a very unfamiliar sound to most of us.

This is one of the fundamental disparities in this conflict that people like me, Bari Weiss, and others have to confront. While we get offended about a dark and offensive joke or a comparison to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Alareer makes on Twitter, Alareer gets killed in an Israeli air strike. 

It's important to sit with that, and when I read the news, I tried to. It made me think critically about the lens through which I'm interpreting the stories coming out of Gaza.

Shortly after reading about his death, and gathering myself, I went on Twitter and searched his name to see what people were saying about him. At first I was confronted with some very stupid and ridiculous tweets from American leftists claiming Bari Weiss had put a "kill order" on Alareer and "got what she wanted" (please, get a grip). But soon after, I found what I was looking for: Tributes to him from people who knew him. Stories of him teaching English to his students, or traveling the U.S. on book tours, or helping his students in Gaza — those who had never met a Jew — understand that Jews didn't want their deaths, that he had traveled to the U.S. and made friends with Jews, stayed in their homes, broken bread with them. Stories that made me see much more than the perspectives of his I find deeply troubling or inaccurate

However much his and my worldviews departed from each other, largely out of our own experiences, he also seemed like a man who was doing all the good he could do in a place where having that kind of perseverance seems damn near impossible. He was a father, teacher, academic, and poet. Before he died he pledged in an interview that the last thing he would do in this life was throw his pen at an Israeli soldier if he had to, but until then he'd keep fighting with his words. Now he's gone, and we're left with only the stories he was trying to get us to hear.

Ten: It is exhausting and debilitating to think and write about this in an analytical fashion all the time. I do not want to debate the politics of Hamas's motivations or discuss the legal definitions of genocide or the evidence for rape or look at maps of Gaza and try to imagine what the hell Israel's military goals are. And I say that fully recognizing the absurdity of complaining as I sit in my cozy office space here in Philadelphia while Palestinians in Gaza live this horror out in real time, or while Israelis are still mourning, or while so many here and abroad have lost family members in the violence.

Still, we are two months into this and I feel like I haven't been able to take off my "journalist" or "Tangle" hat yet. I haven't cried, but I know it is coming, and I feel it burning inside me. I haven't raged yet, but I imagine that’s coming, too. I keep breathing and trying to be level headed and looking for useful ideas and trying my best to communicate them. This conflict feels deeply personal for so many people connected to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and for me it is no different. I do not truly feel as if I can, or have had the space yet to feel this, but I look forward to that day as much as I dread it.

At the same time, I recognize that for all of us, feeling this is important. To truly engage on this issue necessitates feeling it in some capacity, as much as you can while also taking care of yourself. If you can look at a barefoot Palestinian child standing in a refugee camp scared for their life and missing their parents and think, "This is what happens when you vote for Hamas," then you’ve been blinded by bias. If you can look at the parents of an Israeli hostage kidnapped and killed in Gaza pleading for peace and think, "This is what happens when you colonize a land that isn't yours," then you’ve been blinded by bias. 

Do not lose your empathy for the sake of a political virtue signal or in an effort to claim that moral high ground. Do not stop feeling what is happening. Do not reduce it all to a meaningless swipe on Instagram or click on the internet. It’s real, and it’s happening, and we have to find a way out.

Dear readers,

Thank you for reading today's newsletter and sticking with Tangle in these difficult times. If you appreciated this edition, feel free to forward it to friends, family, and colleagues — and be sure to tell them about Tangle. If you want to support this kind of work, you can drop something in our tip jar, or become a subscriber if someone forwarded you this email.


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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.