Winter in Unalaska by Sam Zmolek
Your voice in the Aleutians.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Members of Israeli and Palestinian communities discuss compassion


The war between Israel and Hamas is now six weeks old, and it goes on. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu told NPR yesterday his objectives are not only to defeat Hamas but to maintain Israeli military control of Gaza and seek a change in government there. The war has brought out protests around the world, including Israel, where activists marched against Netanyahu's policies. An estimated 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attack on Israel last month. More than 240 people were taken hostage. At least 11,470 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza ministry of health. And amidst all that, compassion and a need for peace also prevail. Oded Adomi Leshem is a political psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He studies the role that hope can play in times of conflict, which in the middle of the current war between Israel and Hamas, he concedes, can feel a bit insensitive.

ODED ADOMI LESHEM: We are in the midst of the fighting. People are burying their loved ones as we talk right now.

SIMON: But he says even a glimmer of hope can make a difference when things seem to be most bleak.

LESHEM: Think about the small flame of a candle. If the room is lit with daylight, the light from this small candle doesn't really influence anything. But when the room is dark, then suddenly the light of the candle has some meaning.

SIMON: NPR's Ari Daniel brings us the story of a few individuals struggling to keep that candlelight going.


ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Maoz Inon no longer sleeps well at night. His loss is too great. So he swims in the Mediterranean off the Israeli shore. And every morning for 45 minutes, he finds a little peace.

MAOZ INON: Great sea life - fish, manta rays, beautiful swimming. I'm doing something for my body and for my soul.

DANIEL: But once he's back ashore, the events of October 7 come crashing back. On the morning of the Hamas attack, Inon's parents were in their home a quarter mile from Gaza.

INON: I called him, and my dad answered. And he said he and Mom are in the safe room, and there are a lot of sirens and shooting. And five minutes after, I said, wow, I must call Daddy again. This time there was no answer. And so that was the last time we heard from them.

DANIEL: Inon says a Hamas fighter launched a rocket-propelled grenade at his parents' wooden house.

INON: My parents' house is burnt to ashes, and there are two bodies inside. And then we called their grandchildrens (ph). And also, we grew up together, and we told them and - yeah (crying).

DANIEL: Much of the time, Inon says he's adrift in an ocean of sorrow.

INON: When you are swimming in the ocean, you don't see the end. You don't see the bottom. That's how big it is - more than you can understand.

DANIEL: And yet, he feels no urge for revenge. And when he cries, somehow the tears aren't for his parents.

INON: I was crying, and I'm still crying for all the innocent victims from both sides that will die. And I'm crying for this hundred years of bloodshed, of cycle of death.


LINA QASEM HASSAN: OK. My name is Lina - Lina Qasem Hassan. I'm a family physician.

DANIEL: Qasem Hassan lives some 30 miles northeast of Inon's stretch of the Mediterranean. She's Palestinian, an Arab citizen of Israel who's spent most of her life in Israel. She's raised her daughters there. As a doctor, her patients are Jewish Israelis.

QASEM HASSAN: I treat them for so many years. They respect the way I think, and I respect the way they think.

DANIEL: But Qasem Hassan also has deep ties to Gaza. She has family there, too, and she spent a lot of time in the enclave volunteering with a mobile medical clinic.

QASEM HASSAN: It's really very difficult to visit Gaza. It's not easy because you see actually all the poverty and the hunger, really, and failure to thrive, underweight children. You know, you feel that people here really don't know how people in Gaza live. It's a very big prison.

DANIEL: Since October 7, Qasem Hassan has been torn. She says Hamas' attack on Israel was horrific. But each night, as she sees the latest devastation in Gaza, she cries. Her brother-in-law, an ambulance driver there, was killed by an Israeli bomb the first day of the war. The escalating conflict in Gaza, the deep personal loss, it was all weighing on her when she got an opportunity to treat Jewish Israelis who survived the Hamas attack. Her volunteer mobile clinic was heading to a hotel by the Dead Sea to provide them with medical care. She struggled.

QASEM HASSAN: It's not easy as a Palestinian to do this.

DANIEL: Should she go?

QASEM HASSAN: It's always easier to express your solidarity with your own people. It's more difficult to feel solidarity to the people who are occupying your people. Yes. This is not easy.

DANIEL: Ultimately, she went.

QASEM HASSAN: My feeling was the pain of humans doesn't differ. If you are actually Israeli or Palestinian or American, it's the same pain.

DANIEL: When Qasem Hassan walked into that hotel, she said it looked like a refugee camp. She listened to the evacuees share their terrible stories.

QASEM HASSAN: How they have been hiding for 20 hours without their medicine, without food, without water, all the family hiding in one room. And they were very worried about their own lives and the lives of their children.

DANIEL: As she listened and looked, she kept seeing flickers of their Palestinian counterparts just miles away - displaced, injured, dying. Then at the hotel, someone read out a long list of names of Israelis who'd been killed or kidnapped. The moment tested her compassion.

QASEM HASSAN: At least these people have names and have somebody to put them in a list and give them clothes when their houses are destroyed. These people that are killed now in Gaza, nobody is even knowing their names or - it's very difficult for me. Yeah, really.


DANIEL: When a young man named Yousef Bashir was just 11 years old, his family was tested as well. It was 23 years ago, the start of a Palestinian uprising called the Second Intifada. Israeli soldiers occupied Gaza and moved into the second and third floors of Bashir's family's home.

YOUSEF BASHIR: The Israeli soldiers demolished our greenhouses and moved the entire family to sleep in the living room. Growing up, I had to ask for permission to go to the bathroom and kitchen.

DANIEL: Bashir says despite all this, his father said peace was possible. He drew from the Quran. He'd quote in Arabic, never let hatred for any people lead you to deviate from being just to them.

BASHIR: I saw my dad insisting that we should not allow them to turn us into hateful, vengeful people, and I think that is his greatest gift. It is one thing to lose one's home and one's land and even a loved one. But it is another thing - the most tragic thing is when one loses their humanity.

DANIEL: Those words would soon be tested. About a week after he turned 15, just outside his home, one of the soldiers fired a bullet at Bashir. It hit his spine.

BASHIR: I collapsed to the ground. I saw no blood, but I could not speak, and I definitely could not feel my legs.

DANIEL: Bashir was rushed to a hospital in Israel. Up to that point, he'd only met Israeli settlers and soldiers, but now he met Israeli doctors.

BASHIR: I don't think Israel intended to show me their human side, but I think some higher power wanted me to see that. I will never forget a particular nurse always coming to my defense and say that he was shot for no reason.

DANIEL: Bashir was in a wheelchair for two years, but he did learn to walk again. Today, half his lifetime later, he lives in Washington, D.C. He says the bullet's still in his back - a constant, painful reminder of the conflict.

BASHIR: I'm reminded of it every day. It's a reminder of why this needs to stop.

DANIEL: A feeling that's even more urgent for him right now because his mom and brother are in Gaza.

BASHIR: I don't think they are safe any longer. My brother said, I just want them to do it already. I don't want to keep waiting. And that is very hard for me to hear. With every report I see of innocent Palestinians being killed and targeted, I get very close to screaming in my apartment and breaking.

DANIEL: But then he remembers his dad, who taught him not to give up on hope, because to do so is to surrender one's humanity.

BASHIR: It's bad enough my people lack freedom and a state and so much more. And so in preserving my humanity, I am somehow still giving my people and the world a chance for a better life.

DANIEL: But Bashir says just imagining peace is not enough.

BASHIR: Ultimately, I want to live in a world where the State of Palestine works and cooperates with State of Israel for the benefit of both peoples all the time, at the same time.


DANIEL: Cooperation between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. That is possible, says Maoz Inan - the one who swims every morning to keep from drowning in grief - because he's experienced it in his own life - the two communities living among one another. But peace, he says, that starts with an immediate cease-fire. He told me he had something of a vision recently. It was the middle of the night. He'd just woken up.

INON: I saw it through my tears. I saw an image of everyone crying. You cry. Your daughter cry - everyone. And our tears are healing the wounds from Israelis and Palestinians. And our tears wash the blood. Definitely not to have more weapon, building higher wall. That's the old world, OK? You want to start a new world? We need to cry, and then we'll see the path for peace.

DANIEL: Ari Daniel, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Daniel is a reporter for NPR's Science desk where he covers global health and development.