Opinion: Putting humanity at the heart of the Hamas-Israel conversation

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Protesters at a rally at Coolidge Park on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, showed their support for Palestine with a variety of signs.

During last Saturday's pro-Palestine rally at Coolidge Park, protesters held up signs calling for the end of the war between Israel and Hamas and also for the freedom of the Palestinian people.

"You don't need to be Muslim to support Gaza. You just have to be human," one sign read.

It's true that in this current conflict, replete with complexities that many Americans are just now being exposed to, leaning into our humanity is important.

"This is not anti-Israel," Ahmed Korra, an Egyptian rally participant who involved with the Muslim Student Association at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said at Saturday's rally. "This is a stand for humanity, against anyone being killed."

Finding humanity in this conflict, as difficult as that might be given the intense passions in the debate, must now take priority.

For Chattanooga, this is not a "both sides" issue, as we have residents who are Jewish and Palestinian living in our city.

We must be aware that hate has taken greater shape in our country. Sadly, hatred is abundant today, but it's our job not to add to it.

Rise in hate

Throughout the dialogue about the war between Israel and Hamas, hatred has spilled over across the country.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it has received 774 complaints of incidents motivated by Islamophobia and bias against Palestinians and Arabs from Oct. 7 to now. This is the largest number since 2015.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism showed that that there were 312 reported U.S. antisemitic incidents from Oct. 7 to Oct. 23, including harassment, vandalism and assault. About 190 of those were directly linked to the war between Israel and Hamas.

These acts of Islamophobia and antisemitism happen in communities of all sizes. The reality is that Chattanooga could also be the site of an act of hatred if we don't choose to let our humanity steer our actions and words.

If we choose to use tragedies on both sides of this conflict as ammunition to further our point, we will only fuel the collective fire of confusion and hatred.

We extinguish this fire with compassion and an open mind. This is a time for education, not division. Let this time inspire you to visit a mosque or synagogue. Sit down with members of those faiths, ask questions for greater understanding.

It was gratifying to see that Saturday's rally was peaceful. Some members of our community are on edge, worried that they'll be a victim of an act of hate. Here. In our city. Therefore, the way we act, intentionally, will be critical in keeping hatred from our beloved city.

Obligation to humanity

As Chattanoogans, we must speak and act with respect toward one another, especially during times of conflict.

Community members like Korra, a student who will learn and grow in this community, deserve the respect every Chattanoogan deserves.

Our hearts should be open to when they are hurting, when they need our support and need us to listen.

The effort to safeguard Israel and to "free Palestine" will take years. It won't end when we turn our minds to other issues. There is tremendous human suffering in Israel and Gaza; we must not look away. Our response should always begin with finding our shared humanity and allowing that to be our guide star.

It'll always be there.