By Daniel Sokatch, NIF International CEO

We just passed the one-hundred-and-fifty-day mark of this war. One hundred and fifty days of nightmare. One hundred and fifty days of not knowing exactly what to think. What to do. What to say. For those of us who refuse to revert to our tribal corners, who believe that violence cannot be the solution to this conflict, who work for peace, security, justice, and equality for both Palestinians and Israelis, it can be especially difficult to know where to turn.

We know from whom we should not be taking our cues, of course: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not only does he remain on trial for bribery, corruption, and breach of trust, his credibility with Israelis is in the dumpsteronly 15% of Israelis want him to lead them after the war is over; a whopping 80% blame him for the failures of October 7. Many Israelis are now calling for elections to replace him. They understand, as do so many of Israel’s friends around the world, that the current ultra-nationalist, fundamentalist government of Israel is not going to steer Israel out of the bloody dead-end it is stuck in with the Palestinians.

But where does that leave us? Where can we turn? Many of us in the American Jewish community are having a collective moment of confusion and discombobulation. We know that the State of Israel has a right to exist in peace and security, and a right to defend itself. It is offensive and outrageous to claim otherwise. But we also know that in Gaza the situation is a catastrophe, a humanitarian nightmare. We know this war is a disaster for everyone. As so many of Israel’s closest friends are saying: things cannot continue this way. The number of Palestinians killed in Israel’s post-October 7 invasion has surpassed 30,000. Scores of hostages are still in captivity. Virtually every day Israeli soldiers die fighting in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis and almost two million Gazans cannot return to their homes. Israel’s standing and reputation in the world are crumbling. And yet the Israeli government ignores the entreaties of President Biden and so many others to change course. At a moment like this, when so many seem to have lost their minds, to whom do we turn for wisdom and moral clarity, for a vision of a way out of this nightmare?

This is the very question NIF was built to answer. For almost 45 years, we have nurtured, supported, and cheered on Israel’s progressive civil society. Over the decades, when things have gotten dark, they have been the Israelis shining a light towards a better way forward. They have worked for equality, peace, and for democracy. Their values and their vision for a different kind of Israel — one that reflects the values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence — have inspired and mobilized us. And now, at this critical moment, their voices, not the voices of those preaching endless war and domination, are the ones we should be listening to.

And progressive Israeli civil society voices are calling for return of the hostages, a ceasefire, and an urgent resumption of a genuine search for a political solution to the conflict. Just as we have followed their lead during the toughest of times, so too should we be listening to — and supporting — them now.

A word about the word “ceasefire.” “Ceasefire” sounds a bit different to Israeli ears than it does to ours. It doesn’t have the same kind of polarizing ring that it does in the U.S., in large part because of the context in which it is used. Unlike the calls for “ceasefire” in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks of October 7 from some who seemed unconcerned about the suffering inflicted on innocent Israeli civilians on that terrible day, when progressive Israelis use it they do so in the context of a call to end the fighting and the return of the hostages. In other words, they are making a clear statement of concern about the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians, an acknowledgement that human rights apply to everyone, no matter who they are, no matter which side is violating them.

Their call is predicated on a key assumption, one based on long years of tragic experience: That there is no military solution to this conflict. Flattening one more neighborhood, rooting out one more tunnel, or adding just one more yard to a “buffer zone” between us and them — none of that will bring real safety to Israel. Quite the opposite, if Israel continues to bombard, throw up barriers to humanitarian aid, and leave a trail of grief, pain and hunger in its wake, neither Israelis or Palestinians will move an inch closer to safety. Real, lasting security can only be found through a political resolution of this conflict. This is what those progressive civil society voices have been saying for years.

And Israeli progressive civil society has real credibility. In the immediate aftermath of October 7 it was civil society — not the government — that stepped up to care for the vulnerable, those displaced by the Hamas invasion and the families of those abducted by the terrorists. Some are bringing bags of flour to protests, demonstrating the lack of humanitarian aid getting into Gaza. Their message? “No more funerals — these nations want to live!”

Now, it is civil society that is once again leading the way. They are standing up where the government falls down. While Prime Minister Netanyahu announced earlier this month that “no one will stop” Israel’s offensive in Gaza (“Not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else”), 37 Israeli civil society groups called for an immediate hostage release, and an immediate ceasefire. Growing numbers of activists and organizers are protesting the war every Saturday night. This is the combination to the deadlock of this nightmare: a hostage deal, a ceasefire, and an urgent and serious return to the search for political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the only formula that will lead to a future of security, self-determination, and equality for all.

These civil society voices echo those of so many survivors of October 7th and families whose loved ones are still being held hostage in Gaza. They are calling for a new way forward, one that rejects those who insist that violence and warfare are eternal and endless, that this is zero sum conflict in which only one “side” can win. It’s time for all of us to follow their lead.