Read the opinion piece in the New York Daily News


I live in Brooklyn, but I wake up every morning thinking about Gaza. Specifically Rafah, a 25-square-mile patch of land on Gaza’s border with Egypt that was, until recently, home to fewer than 200,000 people. Today, 1.4 million Palestinians are crammed together there, in search of safety from the Israeli bombs that have decimated the rest of Gaza.

They were told they would be safe there — which they were also told about other locations in southern Gaza until the Israeli military forced them further south. Now they wait, trapped and starving, for an expected ground invasion.

I am an Arab Jew, and I have loved ones with friends and family in Israel and Palestine. I am also the executive director of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), a 6,000-member-strong organization mobilizing Jews alongside our neighbors to build a caring New York where we all have what we need to thrive. JFREJ organizes on local issues, but the atrocities Israel is committing in Gaza — and the impact here in New York — demand our attention.

On Oct. 7, I awoke to news of Hamas’ horrific attack. The brutal killing of at least 1,139 people, mostly Israeli civilians, and taking of 240 hostages was neither justifiable nor unprovoked. My heart broke at the loss of life, and at the knowledge that what was to come — what Israel would unleash on Gaza — would be devastating.

Almost five months into Israel’s relentless siege on Gaza, the number of Palestinians killed by the IDF keeps rising: more than 30,000, more than one third of them children. Hundreds of thousands more are being starved and displaced, with no functioning hospitals left to care for the injured, sick, or dying. Fueling it all is the ongoing dehumanization of Palestinian people, with far-reaching ripple effects, including right here in New York, where our governor recently made light of annihilating Gaza.

Those ripple effects, as well as the fact that many of us know people in Israel and Palestine, makes what happens “over there” deeply personal to many New Yorkers. Regardless of personal ties, all New Yorkers live and pay taxes in the United States — taxes our government uses to provide more than $3 billion in annual military aid to Israel, to say nothing of the additional billions sent to fund the assault on Gaza.

What happens in Israel-Palestine reverberates in local organizing and politics.

I see it everywhere: Public institutions like CUNY are pressured to repress nonviolent political action and silence dissenting voices speaking up for Palestinian freedom. Local elected officials accept all-expenses-paid trips to Israel. Our state gives tax breaks to nonprofit organizations that fund illegal Israeli settlements. NYC public school teachers, staff, and parents are demonized — even fired — by right-wing parent groups for criticizing the Israeli government.

Local cultural institutions cancel events featuring artists and authors who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Black and Brown elected officials in Albany and City Hall — mostly women — who fight for a caring, equitable city and state are targeted for supporting Palestinian human rights. The right-wing pro-Israel lobby, with its documented interest in undermining democracy, is gearing up to spend heavily in our state this election cycle. All while incidents of hate violence against Jews, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims have increased.

While more American leaders and institutions call for a ceasefire, JFREJ remains, as far as I know, one of only two U.S.-based Jewish organizations focused on domestic issues that are actively organizing around that demand.

We organize because it’s personal, because it’s as much a local issue as an international one, and most of all, because we are witnessing an unfolding genocide. The impunity with which Israel is operating, and the scale of the destruction, collective punishment, displacement, and slaughter tells us everything we need to know: Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has nothing to do with guaranteeing anyone’s safety, including that of the Israeli hostages.

Our vision goes beyond militarism, borders, and ethnonationalism. It inspires us to organize locally, with our neighbors, for real democracy and the collective liberation of all people. And while we build that future, we will continue to speak out loudly to demand a permanent ceasefire and a full hostage and prisoner exchange — everyone for everyone — just as we call for an end to Israeli apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and the occupation of the Palestinian people.

Calling for a ceasefire is the bare minimum. The impact on New York is only one small reason why. Millions of Palestinian lives hang in the balance. I implore anyone who’s been holding back, afraid to speak out, or choosing to look away because it’s too much to bear, to join us.

Sasson is the Executive Director of Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ). She is a Mizrahi Jew of Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian descent. She holds an undergraduate degree in Social Work as well as a graduate degree in International Affairs.

Read the opinion piece in the New York Daily News