I am upset.
Lately there is so much to be upset about. Thousands dead, and thousands more fleeing from Syria’s civil war. The Islamic State crucifying and decapitating any and all dissenters in its annexed corners of Syria and Iraq. The worst outbreak of Ebola ever in West Africa with hundreds dead and a 50% fatality rate, only gaining traction with the U.S. news machine now that two Americans have been infected. Tens of thousands of children at the U.S. border, fleeing violence in their Central American home countries, and being met with stern faces and angry voices.
All of these things are heartbreaking in their own way, but right now my heart keeps getting drawn back to be broken in Gaza.
So much rubble. So much destruction. So many dead children.
I’m not entirely ignorant of the troubled recent history of the Middle East. Today’s pictures of black smoke rising above ruined streets are not new, and don’t have much to distinguish them from pictures taken in the same region two years ago, five years ago, fourteen years ago; but this time around I find them much more disturbing.
In years past, I felt that Israel was generally doing the right thing in seeking to protect itself. No nation can tolerate a situation where its citizens are blown up at cafés or buses on a regular basis. The walls and military actions may have been distasteful, but they were necessary for the security of Israel’s citizens. The effect that they had on everyday Palestinians was lost on me at the time.
Things are different now.
Israel is still under siege from Hamas’ rocket attacks and tunnel incursions, and I acknowledge that I, sitting comfortably half the world away in Texas, can never appreciate the psychological burden of living under those conditions. However, in a real sense, the Iron Dome anti-missile system seems to have almost completely neutralized the threat of significant damage from these rockets. The most recent suicide bombing in Israel was in 2008. Being able to effectively keep Hamas at arm’s length should give Israel the luxury of pursuing peace, however slow the process may be.
Instead, the Israeli government cynically used the violent death of three teenagers as a pretext to resume bombing Gaza and crush Hamas once and for all. Never mind that we have now learned (and Israeli intelligence knew along) that Hamas was not responsible for killing those boys. Never mind that Gaza is the most densely populated area on the planet. Never mind that the millions of Palestinian civilians, when warned to evacuate their homes mere seconds before they get summarily demolished from above, literally have no safe place to go.
Justified actions. Proportionate response. Regrettable collateral damage.
These words do such violence to their dictionary meaning that we should call them what they are: lies.
What’s the body count since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, 2014? As I write this on July 29, more than 1000 Palestinians have lost their lives. At least 70% of these casualties were civilians.
There is no moral justification for these numbers.
What is a proportionate response when an inbound rocket is intercepted by Iron Dome, or raiders attack Israeli soldiers from a hidden tunnel? Israel believes that leveling an entire neighborhood is acceptable. Too bad, so sad if the residents disagree.
There is nothing proportionate about the recent action in Shejaiya.
And about that collateral damage. Israel’s response to the butcher bill it has inflicted on Gaza’s civilians does not even rise to the level of regret. Israeli shells killed four young boys as they played football on an empty beach in front of a hotel full of international journalists. Multiple reports from these journalist witnesses state that they were killed as they were running away from the first shot. When your demonstrated strategy includes deliberately targeting children, you have thrown away any possible claim of occupying the moral high ground.
So many dead children.
Here’s what is different for me this time around: as I see picture after picture of distraught men holding the lifeless husks that used to be their daughters and sons, I picture myself in their shoes, holding one or both of my boys.
I can’t deal with that line of thinking for very long. Palestinians are forced to live with it, day after bloody day, waiting for that dreadful courtesy knock on the roof, wondering if today it will be their turn to gather the pieces of their children from the rubble.
— Omar Ghraieb (@Omar_Gaza) July 28, 2014
Hamas has plenty of blood on its hands, no doubt about it.
But Israel, acting from a vastly superior position of strength, is exacting its vengeance on the people who have the least culpability while being the most vulnerable. This is immoral, unjust, and will do nothing to improve the long-term prospects for peace.
So I offer my small voice on behalf of the besieged Palestinian civilians. Israel must end its campaign of unrestricted violence and terror. The innocent blood in what’s left of Gaza’s streets cries out for justice. Without justice, there will never be peace.