I lost my temper on Twitter the other week.
It had been a long day on a delayed train. I was sat in a hotel room while DorkySon slept and DorkyDad was out at work, and I was whiling away the time online. On one tab, I had the Guardian live feed of events in Gaza, and on another tab I had Twitter, where it seemed like half the people I follow were getting all excited about I’m A Celebrity, and the other half were taking part in a sponsored discussion about Christmas presents.
What I should probably have done is turned the iPad off and gone to sleep, but I couldn’t. The rage had arrived.
‘Why are you all ignoring this?’ I tweeted.
‘Why is no-one talking about Gaza? What has to happen before we start paying attention to this? How many children have to be killed before we’re outraged?’
I ranted on for a while, before finally giving up and turning the lights out. Perhaps luckily, I then spent ten days offline while we were on holiday.
But the questions have been rumbling around in my mind ever since and I’ve been trying to find a way to write about them in more detail. It is hard. I have started this post several times and deleted it because what I’ve written doesn’t seem adequate. I have a deeply emotional response to the situation without having the extensive background knowledge to make every argument in as perfect and coherent a way as I would like.
I am not an academic or an expert on the Middle East. I am neither Jewish nor Arab. I don’t always know the right terminology to use, or the exact dates of what happened when. Although I read a huge amount about the area and the history and the current politics, I have barely even made a dent in the mountain of literature that is available. But I feel like unless people with moderate voices start talking more about this, extremists on both sides will drown us out.
I have visited Israel and Palestine once – which is more often than a lot of people who deem themselves qualified to talk about it – and that is perhaps why I care so passionately about it. It means that I cannot see a news headline without thinking about the individuals behind it. I see stories rather than statistics, and if nothing else I think that my time there justifies my desire to write and express an opinion just as a human being – just as a person who cares about other people.
I am open to other opinions. There are people I like and have respect for who hold different positions to mine. I am willing to learn, and to accept that there are many things that I do not know, but I feel so strongly about what I do know that I can’t keep saying nothing.
I believe the biggest injustice – and the reason I feel so incredibly upset and angry about what is happening to the people of Gaza – is the inequality. This is not a fair fight between equals. It is a David and Goliath situation.
I don’t just mean in terms of the horrific outcomes, and the fact that the number of Israeli civilians killed or injured is so much smaller than the number of Palestinians killed or injured. Those figures are startling and do not support Israel’s assertion that it is acting in self defence, but I don’t think it is helpful to try and make a judgement about who is right or wrong based on who has suffered the highest number of losses. Who are we to judge the value of one life over another? Every incident is a tragedy, no matter whether it is an Israeli or a Palestinian who loses their life.
It is more the imbalance in terms of resources, strength and support that makes me feel so strongly about this. Israel is an occupying power. It is a well-armed, well-funded country, supported by other well-armed, well-funded countries, fighting against a ramshackle, poverty-stricken collection of people who are disadvantaged in almost every way.
It is a deeply unfair situation. As well as the on-the-ground advantage in terms of available weaponry and infrastructure, Israel holds the power that allows them to dictate the narrative every time things come to a head. On this most recent occasion, as on so many others, they claimed the attacks on Gaza were in self-defense – but if you look at the timeline of events it was they who broke the ceasefire.
I do not condone rocket attacks that target Israeli civilians – of course I do not – but here are the facts. The UN recognizes Israel as being an occupying power. In Gaza it controls the borders, the territorial waters, the airspace, the communications, the power supply, the water supply, the movement of goods (including food and medicine), the movement of people, and the access for journalists and NGOs.
International law states that if a country is being occupied, then it has the right to resist that occupation. So here is the question. If we cannot accept rockets being fired at southern cities in Israel – and we can’t – then what are the other means of resistance available to Palestinians in Gaza? How can they work productively to change their situation, and how can we help them?
International protests – both in the Occupied Territories and across the world – have made little difference. The Oslo Accords appear to have failed. Previous attempts to resolve things through the UN have been derailed. So what options are left?
We have to provide alternative routes to change, otherwise the cycle of small-scale violence initiated by Palestinians, and disproportionate responses from Israel will continue.
Save the Children say “As a matter of urgent priority for the health and wellbeing of Gaza’s children, Israel must lift the blockade in its entirety.”
Christian Aid say “Women and children are among the most badly affected. They have been directly exposed to life-threatening experiences that cause constant fear, shock and trauma. Men feel helpless and powerless to protect their families and loved ones. They are left speechless when their children talk about death more than they talk about life.” … “Christian Aid believes the international community must do more to ensure that the rights and security of all are protected.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), say “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”
These are not organisations that are known for taking radical or extreme positions. They are charities that try and take care of the most vulnerable people in our societies – wherever that is needed – but their statements that change is needed seem unequivocal, and it is not the Palestinians who have the power to make that change.
So my second question – and this is the one that was troubling me the other night on Twitter – is why we aren’t talking about this more? Why aren’t we trying to help make that change? Why does it feel like we are scared to talk about it? After Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09 the BBC refused to show the DEC Gaza Appeal (although Tony Benn did a fairly impressive one-man job of getting the information out anyway).
Why is that? Are we afraid of offending our Jewish friends and neighbours? Surely it is possibly to love those people dearly while at the same time having the courage to voice criticisms of the Israeli government. Two of the strongest pro-Palestinian campaigners in my time at Edinburgh University – in fact the two people who proposed the twinning of Edinburgh and Birzeit – were both Jewish. There is no more consensus in the international Jewish community than there is in the rest of us.
Is it because Israel has such support from the US and UK? Surely we have not become so afraid of our own Governments. We have protested against so many of their bad decisions before – from the Iraq War to NHS reform – so why not this one?
Is it that we feel we are not well enough informed to express an opinion? We do not know every detail of the historic situation in Syria either, or in many of the African countries where there is civil war, but that does not stop us speaking out and sharing petitions and having the courage to say when we think something wrong. Killing children is wrong. Killing civilians is wrong. We can say those things without feeling that we have to come down 100% in one camp or another.
At the very least, we have to start talking about this. It is our responsibility to inform ourselves just a little bit, to begin a conversation, learn from each other, challenge our preconceptions, and refine our arguments. That is just a little bit more important than Friday night reality television, no?
When I had my Twitter rant, a lot of people responded saying that they wanted to do something, but they felt powerless and didn’t know what to do and that was why they were burying their heads in the sand. I can understand that. That frustration and disempowerment is how I feel too – it’s why it has taken me two weeks to write this without getting upset about it.
But if you do care, and you do want to do something, here are some suggestions.
– Read more about the situation. I’ve linked to some articles and reports below that I’ve read over the last few weeks and have found myself nodding along agreeing with. There are literally thousands of books, articles, videos and blogs out there, addressing the situation from myriad perspectives.
– Donate to an international aid or humanitarian organisation that is helping in the area. Save the Children is my charity of choice, but Medical Aid for Palestinians, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, CAFOD, Christian Aid and many, many others are also running appeals at the moment.
– Sign the Avaaz petition calling on UN Member States to recognise the state of Palestine
Midlife Single Mum is a parent blogger based in Jerusalem, and she has been kind enough to send me links to a few of her recent posts which offer a different perspective on the situation – Life in 15 Second Timeslots is Terrifying, Thoughts from the War, and A Reply to Comments on the War. I really appreciate her taking the time to do this, and remind us that there are difficulties and challenges faced by families on both sides of the border.
Marc Goldberg wrote a response to this post here, on his blog Marc’s Words