Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at www.threads.net/@deanobeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
When NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” announced that comedian and “SNL” alum Pete Davidson would be the first host since the end of the writers’ strike, no one could have predicted that the show’s cold open would be a moving commentary about a war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas. But that is what we saw Saturday as Davidson did something both unique and powerful.
In a time when social media is filled with people saying they stand with one side or the other, Davidson instead made a plea to stand for humanity.
The monologue began with him speaking directly to the camera, saying, “This week, we saw the horrible images and stories from Israel and Gaza.” And then bringing laughter, he added, “And, I know what you’re thinking, who better to comment on it than Pete Davidson?”
From there, Davidson put aside comedy to remind us how terrorism had touched his own life: “Well, in a lot of ways, I am a good person to talk about it because when I was 7 years old, my dad was killed in a terrorist attack. So, I know something about what that’s like.” (The comedian’s father, Scott Davidson, was one of the New York firefighters killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.)
The 29-year-old then addressed the fighting in the Middle East, saying, “I saw so many terrible pictures this week of children suffering — Israeli children and Palestinian children — and it took me back to a really horrible, horrible place.” He continued, “No one in this world deserves to suffer like that, especially not kids.”
Davidson did not have to discuss the bloodshed in the Middle East, nor did “SNL” need to use its famed opening sketch that typically pokes fun at the news with a plea for humanity. Nevertheless, they did so knowing that any commentary on this subject could result in a backlash, given how emotions are running high and so many are in pain. But I’m glad Davidson and “SNL” did it.
The brutal terrorist attack by Hamas that has taken the lives of at least 1,400 Israelis — including an untold number of children — has been unlike anything any of us have seen before in this conflict. President Joe Biden described the Hamas attack as “the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
In response, the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared war, launching crippling airstrikes on what it says are Hamas targets in Gaza and cutting off the general population’s access to electricity, food and water. As of Thursday, Israeli forces had dropped about 6,000 bombs on Gaza, equivalent to the total number of airstrikes on Gaza in the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2014.
The loss of civilian lives in Gaza is already staggering. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that more than 2,600 people have been killed and 9,600 injured since the conflict broke out. Richard Brennan, a World Health Organization official in Cairo, told CNN that 60% of those killed in Gaza within the last week were women and children. And on Saturday, a UNICEF spokeswoman said that Palestinian fatalities included more than 700 children.
For context, the death toll of Palestinian civilians in eight days has already eclipsed all those lost in the 50-day war in 2014, according to a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry. In that conflict, 2,251 Palestinians were killed, with 1,462 of them believed to be civilians, including 551 children, according to the United Nations. (Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and five civilians, including one child, were also killed in that fighting, the UN says.)
In this context, Davidson made his plea for people to see the humanity of both Palestinian and Israeli children. It’s a plea I’ve tried to make this past week on my SiriusXM radio show and on social media: “Please don’t lose your humanity. A child killed is a child killed regardless of their faith or race.”
In normal times, it would be an easy appeal to make, but these are anything but normal times for people connected to the conflict by family, faith and/or heritage. My father is Palestinian, and I have family in the West Bank. It has been painful to see the impact on Palestinian civilians over the years by Israeli government actions — from loss of freedoms to loss of land to loss of lives. Yet there is no place for any defense of the horrific Hamas terrorist attack on October 7.
I have countless Jewish friends who are grieving because of this brutal attack that has shaken many of them to the core. I grieve with them as well.
At the same time, my hope is that my fellow Americans will not lose their humanity when they see innocent Palestinians in Gaza killed by the Israeli military strikes, especially children. There is no defending their killing.
Near the end of the “SNL” opening, Davidson said, “My heart is with everyone whose lives have been destroyed this week.” The hope is that in these difficult times, we can all follow Davidson’s lead and open our hearts to those in pain. Don’t lose your humanity — embrace it.