My brother, Hayim Katsman, was one of the 31 Americans slaughtered in Israel on October 7. A dual citizen, Hayim moved to Holit after receiving his Ph.D in Seattle, continuing his research on religious Zionism while serving the struggling kibbutz he loved. On the day of the attacks, my brother used his body to shield his neighbor, Avital, from the incoming bullets. He saved her life.
One could say Hayim died in the same way that he lived: sacrificing himself to protect others. A teacher, advocate, and trusted friend to the Palestinian farming communities of the South Hebron hills, my brother often stepped in to defuse tensions with Jewish settlers before they escalated to violence. Hayim volunteered in the gardens of Rahat, a bedouin town, and at Academia for Equality, an organization supporting Palestinian academics in Israel. He was also a DJ of Arabic music, always seeking out cross-cultural connection. My brother spent his 32 years grounded in the conviction that all life — Israeli and Palestinian, Arab and Jewish — is equally precious. And he never gave up hope that a brighter, peaceful future was possible for everyone.
I’ve thought a lot about what Hayim would say right now. With the death toll in Gaza now surpassing 10,000, I know what he would ask: All these precious lives lost, to what end? Because if the only justification is to avenge deaths like his, the moral stain would be impossible for my brother to stomach. He would want his two governments, the United States and Israel, to negotiate and implement an immediate humanitarian cease-fire—and to pursue a path to freedom and safety for everyone—before it is too late.
The Israeli government is supposed to care about the return of our roughly 240 hostages, which a cease-fire alone would make possible. But it has stopped listening to victims’ families, like mine. On October 28, the families of the kidnapped pleaded with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to broker a full exchange of Palestinians incarcerated in Israel for their loved ones: “Everyone for everyone,” they begged. But by all indications, Netanyahu’s cabinet regards the hostages as little more than collateral damage, chess pieces in Hamas’s “psychological games,” as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant put it. Negotiating across the Gaza-Israel Barrier is simply not their priority, even with innocent Israeli lives at stake.
As for innocent Palestinian lives, the disregard is even more brazen. Of the deaths recorded so far, over 4,000 are Gazan children, more child casualties in four weeks than from all of the world’s conflict zones in any of the past four years. Gallant has characterized his military goals in Gaza bluntly: “We are fighting human animals.… We will eliminate everything.” Judging by developments on the ground since—from the repeat air strikes on refugees in Gaza’s Jabalia camp, to the indiscriminate, unlawful use of white phosphorus in Gaza’s densely populated cities—the international community must take him at his word.
The official goal of all of this is to destroy Hamas by any means necessary, to make Israel safe again. But is this truly making us safer? For the millions of Palestinians, roughly 240 Israeli hostages and countless other Americans and foreign nationals still trapped somewhere between the Erez and Rafah crossings—surrounded on all sides by fire, rubble, and bloodied corpses—the nightmare is ongoing and unimaginable. With each new day of war, thousands more Israeli soldiers’ lives—and, increasingly, the security of the entire region—are endangered. And still, Israel’s government has yet to give us any clear sense of what political goal they hope to achieve.
For Hayim’s death and the death of 1,400 others, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said, it is not just Hamas but “an entire nation out there that is responsible.” My brother would find this moral logic despicable. Hayim would never want Palestinians in Gaza to pay for his life with their own. He would be sick at the thought of Israeli hostages suffering the same fate that met him. Most pressingly, my brother would be heartbroken to know that his death inspired the same vengeful violence he spent his life opposing.
Hayim would demand a cease-fire—to bring the hostages back, to save as many lives as possible, and to begin a new diplomatic process, with new leadership on both sides, so that everyone, Palestinian and Israeli, can enjoy peace, safety and freedom.
May his memory be a blessing, and a moral standard for us to live by and follow.