11/25/2023 Tel Aviv, Isreal. The weekly rally of families of hostages and their supporters, on Saturday evening at the "Hostages Square" in Tel Aviv. This time, the rally was held in mentioning 50 days since the hostages were taken by Hamas, while in the background, a first deal to release at least 50 hostages is underway. According to estimates, 50,000-100,000 people gathered at the rally. (Photo by Ori Aviram / Middle East Images / Middle East Images via AFP) (Photo by ORI AVIRAM/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)
Tel Aviv CNN  — 

When human rights activist Ziv Stahl was awakened to the booms of rocket fire on October 7, while staying at her sister’s home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, she did not for a moment anticipate the scale of the terrorist attack unfolding around her. Nor did she imagine the horror she would feel when she later called the police, who “basically told me no one is coming.”

That day saw Hamas militants murder her sister-in-law and several prominent peace activists living in the kibbutz, one of the communities that bore the brunt of the attack on Israel.

Stahl, who is the executive director of the human rights organization Yesh Din, says she is not calling for revenge over what happened that day nor is she taking a pacifist position on Israel’s ensuing war in Gaza against Hamas. “I am not saying ceasefire at any cost,” she said. “Israel has a right to defend itself and protect Israeli citizens,” she explained, but not indiscriminately or at the cost of thousands of Palestinian lives.

Her position, which she described as “complicated,” speaks to the challenge Israel’s peace movement faces when coming to terms with the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust.

Jewish Israelis who have spent their lives committed to co-existence with Palestinians have found themselves balancing worries about the cycle of violence churned by Israel’s war and the security needs of Israelis amid great personal loss.

As Palestinian solidarity protests take place throughout the West, some of Israel’s small group of leftists, peace activists and human rights advocates, like Stahl, have chosen to take a step back from the public debate on a permanent ceasefire. Others say finding an end to the war and forging a two-state solution is more urgent than ever, even if it may be an unpopular opinion in the country that over the decades has drifted rightward politically.

Some activists complain that authorities are attempting to equate peace activism with support for Hamas. Anti-war protests have been near impossible to get permits for, except for one in Tel Aviv by the left-wing Arab and Jewish Hadash party. And in early November, four high-profile Palestinian political leaders in Israel were detained for taking part in an anti-war silent protest.

The radical left

At a left-wing community space in Tel Aviv, decorated with a red banner with the words “a nation that occupies another nation will never be free,” a group of young Israelis discuss their newly-formed anti-war group, which they have named “Gen Zayin,” which means Gen Z.

The group’s members have asked CNN to use pseudonyms for them, pointing to the dozens of people arrested since October 7 in Israel for allegedly inciting violence and terrorism. Many of those arrested are Palestinian and activists say their arrests and detention are carried out without proper legal justification and simply for showing support for Palestinian people.

A banner is seen at a left wing community space in Tel Aviv on November 27.

While in the West, young voters are often more liberal than their grandparents,’ the opposite is true in Israel, Rafael, one of Gen Zayin’s co-founders who is using a pseudonym, told CNN. A 2022 poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that 73% of Jewish people surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 identified as right-wing compared with 46% of people polled over the age of 65.

The group’s anti-war position won’t be welcomed by most of the Jewish population at this current moment, they say, which is why Gen Zayin members stick up posters in the dead of night and surreptitiously share pamphlets that espouse their anti-war, anti-government manifesto in high schools.

Rafael, 24, passionately supports a two-state solution and accuses the country’s right-wingers, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of emboldening Hamas with their attempt at repressing a Palestinian state. “The situation is unsustainable, and the only way that we can live in a just, equal, and democratic society is through peace, the end of occupation, eviction of the settlers” from the West Bank and the right of return of an estimated 5.9 million Palestinian refugees around the world, he said.

Gen Zayin members are fearful of Israeli public opinion but also feel abandoned by parts of the Western leftist movement, who they see as advocating for the abolition of the Israeli state. Rafael raged at an anti-war slogan he saw online: “Do you support decolonization as an abstract concept or a tangible event?” it read. That “tangible event” was in reference to Hamas’ attack, which killed 1,200 people in Israel and led to the outbreak of the war, he said.

“They don’t understand that 7 million Israelis are living here, and aren’t going anywhere, and a lot of Israelis don’t know that the 7 million Palestinians [in Israel and the territories] are not going anywhere either,” he said. “The only way forward is together.”

Doxed and threatened

Expressing public sympathy for Palestinians can land you in hot water. Some Jewish Israelis have lost their jobs or have been publicly sanct