The difficult conversations we must have – Israel & Palestine

October 13, 2023

by Hagar Harpak

How is your nervous system, dear one? This has been a rough week for humanity. Are you breathing? Breathe with both Israel & Palestine. Breathe into your humanity.

Take a deep breath with me, will you? 

Slowly allow the air to move through its passageways and into your lungs. Expand your chest. Breathe all the way into your belly.

Hold it for a moment. 

Now slowly, let the breath flow out. 

Pause at the end of your exhalation for a moment. 

And now again, slowly inhale through your nose, and as the breath moves into your lungs, expand your belly like a balloon. 

Hold the air in for two moments. 

And slowly, through your nose or your mouth, whatever feels most like a relief, let your belly relax as you exhale. 

One more time; slow and big breath in, all the way in, and make your belly big.

Pause at the top of the inhale. Hold for one, and two.

And now breathe out, let the belly relax and soften.

Whether or not you have been directly affected by the brutality, inhumane attack of the Hamas on innocent people in Israel last weekend, something in you has probably been changed by it. To see human beings capable of such cruelty shifts something in the way we look at the world. Who are we becoming if we are not shaken by it? 

Whether or not you are directly connected to the Palestinian people, you are probably concerned about the people of Gaza. Now. Always. Shocked. Choking on tears as you watch the images of death and destruction that bombard the internet and social media. 

Whether or not you are directly hit by the threatening reality and trauma that Jewish people all over the world are experiencing right now – AGAIN – with the rise of antisemitism everywhere, and most painfully disappointing in the American progressive left, you must be worried.

I am exhausted. 

Are you? 

Exhausted as I stress about my family in Israel, feeling so grateful that they are all ok, worrying about what’s coming next, and holding the horror stories that pour out of the country I grew up in. 

Exhausted as I read about people justifying the horrors. 

Exhausted because I really do worry about the people in Gaza, and while I am “supposed” to be on “my people’s” side, my system doesn’t work that way, and my heart breaks for every innocent human who had nothing to do with the actions of the Hamas, hurting from Israel’s retaliation. 

My dad, who has taught me how to question everything, how everything is always more complex, how no side is ever “right,” how important social justice is, how the occupation is the cancer in the country of Israel, told me the other day: “The world is a soccer stadium and you have to pick a side.”

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “You, of all people? You are telling me I have to pick a side?” 

“YES!” He said with the confidence I wish I had inherited from him. “And in this case, right now, there’s nothing you can do about it, you belong to one side,” 

Exhausted because I was born into this conflict.

“But the Palestineans in Gaza right now have no water. No food. And we’re bombing and killing children and leaving children orphans… I don’t know if I can just be ok with that.”

“Hamas is holding 150 innocent people in Gaza right now. Release the hostages and then we can talk.”


I’m full of questionings. Caught in between currents of upside down rights and wrongs. 

I know it will not be resolved during my lifetime. It will probably only get worse. And many more innocent people will die. And the hatred will only continue to grow. 

Exhausted because I’ve been up too late finding it hard to go to bed at night.

I refuse to justify the actions of Hamas. 

I have been horrified by what the Palestineans are going through my whole life. And that hasn’t changed. 

I refuse to justify revengeful retaliation. 

And still I question . . .

I have been criticized, unfollowed, and unfriended by Israelis over the years because I have questioned every single Israeli retaliation, blamed the occupation for every missile directed at Israel, criticized Israeli policy every time we were hit by a terrorist attack, and refused to give into the “It’s their fault!” mentality.

I have been criticized, unfollowed, unsubscribed, and unfriended by people because I don’t support terrorism, and I stand with Israel’s right to exist, and because I refuse to blame only Israel for this heartbreaking, life taking conflict. It is not simple. Not one sided. Not black or white. 

While I am not a zionist, I am also not an anti zionist, because if zionism didn’t exist, my parents wouldn’t exist, my sister wouldn’t exist, and I wouldn’t exist either. My kids wouldn’t exist. And that makes it all very complicated. How can I be against colonialism and not an anti-zionist? 

The truth is, the world doesn’t add up. We want to find simple answers. We want to find the sports team that we are rooting for, to use my dad’s metaphor. We want this group to be the right one and that one to be the wrong one, and that’s it. 

But the reality is, that’s not it. Nothing about this is simple. 

What is clear is that what Hamas did last weekend in Israel cannot, must not, and should never be justified. Period. No “but…” no questions. And the fact that people are celebrating it as a liberating act of the Palestinian people is ignorant and shameful. 

When I listened to the president of Harvard’s speech, speaking about “where we stand amid the Israel-Hamas controversy” at the institution, I heard a bunch of empty words.

Do I support freedom of expression? Freedom of speech? Of course I do!!!! 

Would I support a group of white supremacists’ freedom to say that the death of innocent black people is somehow justified? Fuck no! 

And let’s be honest and clear, Harvard wouldn’t either. 

One of the most powerful teachings I’ve received and worked with in my yoga life is that freedom requires boundaries. Freedom is nothing if it has no container, it is meaningless without commitment, it is pointless if it doesn’t have a body. 

Do I want to raise my children as free thinkers, with the ability to express themselves freely? Yes! That doesn’t mean I’m gonna let them paint on the walls, torture the dog, or throw their food on the floor past the age of two. Freedom of expression MUST live within clear boundaries. 

And you know what? I don’t believe in punishment. But there is such a thing as natural consequence. Freedom of expression lives within a world. There are other beings in the world. We can’t just say or do whatever the fuck we want. Freedom can only exist within clear boundaries. 

If we justify the slaughter of people, the rape of women, if we justify kidnapping, if we express support for such acts, where is our humanity? If we support the idea that Israel shouldn’t exist, we support an antisemitic vision. There’s a difference between being anti Israeli policy, (which by the way, almost half of the Israelis are), and being against Israel’s right to exist.  

And at the same time, the Palestinian people deserve resources, freedom, life, dignity. The mothers with dead babies in their arms, the children with no arms, no legs, no ears, no parents… I can’t! Who would I be if I could sleep well at night after seeing these images, knowing that “my people” caused it?

We should ask ourselves some tough questions, and not just sit in the comfort of our opinions. It is precisely because we are free to express our opinion, that we need to base it within the complexity of this reality, and not ignore the heavy truths that don’t sit well within the thesis we have built in our own heads, and within our tribes. 

Breathe, my darling. Regulate your nervous system. Let your heart break. And question the answers you come up with. Our humanity deserves nothing short of our grief, our speechlessness, and our uncertainty. 

With all my love, 


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