Someone told me the other day that what is happening in Gaza is just a “distraction” for what is really going on in the world. I wonder what, in their mind, counts as real. The Gaza strip is a very tiny piece of land, but the conflict around it affects us all. The way that we think and feel about Gaza points to a larger truth about how we think and feel about oppression, and what we are willing to do to make a change.
The first thing that must be brought up when talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one’s sense of compassion and empathy. I would implore people to get in touch with their sense of empathy with the common civilian, the people of Palestine who have been stripped of any power to fight against their current situation. Palestine all too often is simplified down to something inhuman and intangible, so much so that we cannot connect with the people who live there in a compassionate way. The second thing is to re-analyze everything you think you know or have been told about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Understand that the media in the U.S. is spinning this situation in favor of Israel because we have a lot invested in keeping a foothold in the Middle East. When you watch the news, or read an article, listen to the way it is worded, how the host of a show will form a question that implicates the people of Palestine, completely taking the onus and responsibility away from Israel.
“If Hamas would just stop firing rockets, the Israelis wouldn’t need to defend themselves. This is really all Hamas’ fault.” To sit here and completely defend Hamas is not the point of this exercise. One thing that must be made clear, statements like these are meant to distract from who the real aggressors are. When analyzing a conflict such as this, we must look at the power structures that holds it all together. Who has the institutional power, who is backed by western powers? Israel has been said to have the fourth all the way to the 18th largest military in the world. Not all sources agree, since there are vastly different ways of ranking military strength, but one thing is for certain: They are a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East, a force which has access to nuclear weapons of mass destruction. How could such a small country obtain such a large army? Of course Israel does have an industry of its own, able to produce goods that the world demands, yet that won’t account for everything. About 1/3 of the U.S. foreign aid budget goes to Israel annually. That comes out to $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year.
Palestine, as of now, is comprised of Gaza and the West Bank, which can at best be described as open-air prisons because of the amount of sanctions and blockades placed upon them. Having no army, the closest thing Palestine has to a defense force is groups like Hamas or Hezbollah, which have over the years adopted military tactics, while still employing guerrilla tactics. Even with groups like this, there is no organized force in Palestine that can withstand the might of Israel’s Defense Force.
Before these latest missile attacks even began, Palestinian homes were being bulldozed over by Israeli contractors to make room for Israeli settlers. Where are Palestinians to go, the families of Gaza to go, when their homes are being crushed, and in such a small space of land that they are afforded? Gaza has been under a seven-year blockade, by both Egypt and Israel on land and by sea. There is no chance of rebuilding homes that have been lost. One of Hamas’ terms for the fighting to end is that Israel lift this blockade so that construction materials can be shipped in and people may try to rebuild their homes and businesses. One of the reasons Israel has not lifted the blockade is because they say they fear weapons will be shipped in more easily. This is a blockade that restricts access to food, water, gas and electricity. To simplify it down to something that is in place to restrict weapons going to Hamas or other militant groups is to ignore facts. Palestinian civilians don’t have access to basic survival needs.
When you fire on an empty beach,occupiedby four children, with weapons that have pinpoint accuracy, is that defense? When you drop leaflets over crowded apartment buildings warning of a coming attack, and within minutes carry out that attack, is that defense? When over 2,000 Palestinian civilians are dead, a quarter of that number being children, and an injury count over 10,000 verses the 64 Israeli dead, those deaths being mostly soldiers, can that truly be considered defense? This conflict is nothing less than genocide, carried out by the Israeli Defense Force, backed by the Zionist state of Israel and the U.S. and all the billions of dollars that come with it. What slight calls for this sort of response? The reason the West and Israel will not lift the blockade, the reason they are not willing to consider a two-state solution, or agree to any terms that will make life livable in Palestine, is because they are afraid that the oppressed will do the exact same thing that has been done to them by their oppressors. Oppressors are always afraid to lose their power–that is why they continue to oppress.
As of Tuesday August 19, the fighting has begun again, after a weeklong ceasefire. Conflicts such as this are not fixed through truce agreements that last a few years at best. A global shift in how we think about oppressors and victims needs to take place for peace to be achievable. To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, don’t stay neutral. Neutrality means choosing the side of the oppressor.