As a US Army veteran and New Yorker, I witnessed how our government’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks led us into a devastating “forever war” that further fueled extremism. Our political leaders’ choices to pursue revenge claimed hundreds of thousands of American, Afghan, and Iraqi lives, fostered racism and Islamophobia, and weakened our civil liberties.
As it did for many veterans, the horrific attack against Israeli civilians near Gaza on Oct. 7, 2023, brought me back to the darkest days of America’s so-called war on terror. The kidnapping and brutal killing of more than 1,500 innocent civilians by Hamas is evil and feeds cycles of violence that make peace further from reach. The Israeli government’s reckless response is equally chilling to watch, with the bombing of innocent civilians cut off from any path of escape, resulting in the collective punishment of millions of people. As I write this, more than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed, thousands of whom are children. As Ernest Hemingway famously noted, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”
Veterans of destructive and misguided wars can be an important voice for peace by sharing our experience and understanding of the human costs of war when leaders like President George W. Bush or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lead their countries to the brink. In April 2022, I joined a delegation of members of Common Defense, the veterans organization I lead, to Israel-Palestine. We were hosted by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) veterans who oppose the occupation and work to advocate for peace in Israel-Palestine.
We recognize the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in safety and security, free from fear and violence. This means ending the occupation and recognizing the legitimate aspirations of both peoples for self-determination.
Our trip occurred during a rare convergence of religious observances, with Passover, Ramadan, and Easter coinciding. It was a stark reminder of the deep historical and religious ties that bind the people of this land together in a common struggle for freedom, security, and self-determination.
During our visit, we had the privilege of engaging with both Israeli and Palestinian academics, journalists, and lawyers who oppose the occupation. We listened to the stories of veterans who served in the IDF and who, like us, understand the heavy toll of war and the dehumanizing impacts of occupation. We also visited Palestinian community leaders and had conversations with everyday people who have lived with this occupation their entire lives. These conversations left a lasting impact on our group, reinforcing the idea that even in the face of profound differences, we share the desire for peace. To move toward a just and lasting resolution, we must recognize the humanity of all those involved, and reject calls for escalation and further violence.