Guilty Bystanders

Mark Olmsted
4 min readOct 31, 2023

The Cycle of Vengeance Must End

Posts and comments from Jewish friends have been lamenting a sense of abandonment by progressives like me who seem to be addressing Palestinian pain and ignoring — according to this narrative — Jewish pain. Speaking for myself, but I suspect others, let me be clear:

I vocally and unambiguously denounce the terrorist raids of October 7th, then and now. I do the same for all acts of anti-Semitism being witnessed world-wide, and strenuously object to any groups or individuals who skip past the events of those horrific days to condemn only the reaction to them. But there is absolutely nothing my repeated denunciations can do to make those terrible events retroactively not happen. All that does is keep feeding the narrative of grievance, sidestepping the urgent question of what to do now to reduce the suffering on both sides.

We are witnessing in real time an ongoing Israeli response clearly informed by a desire for retribution above all, and it has induced a dreadful humanitarian disaster that has killed thousands of Palestinians, created horrific life-threatening conditions for two million people, and currently threatens the lives of thousands more hospitalized. As a human being, I feel it is my obligation to add to the loud global chorus demanding a cease-fire now, as enough of us doing so does apply pressure on Biden, who then applies it to the Israelis. In my opinion, the continued bombing is also endangering the hostages, and as a factual matter, the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers. And even if the IDF technically defeats Hamas, it’s just guaranteeing the rise of Hamas 2.0, because what else can the young men seeing their homes and families destroyed be doing but vowing to devote their whole life to revenge? The slaughter from the skies is the epitome of counter-productive military and political strategy.

The desire for vengeance is not only animating the Israeli military response, but from what I read, a great swath of the Israeli public. I see grandmothers interviewed who say they “have lost all empathy.” To them I say, Israel is pre-avenged. If you have paid any attention to the lives of Gazans in the past 16 years, you would know that. But their humanity has been denied, and a blind eye turned by most of the American and Israeli public to the injustices committed against…

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Mark Olmsted

Author, "Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir" about my time behind bars. See GQ dot com “Curious Cons of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die” for story of how I got there.