Living under aerial bombardment and threat of death year after year is a fact of life that most Americans cannot understand or appreciate.
Am I speaking of the Palestinians living in Gaza or the Israelis living in Sderot near Gaza?
But the value of life, and the righteousness of suffering, are often co-opted by each side to such a great extent that Israelis and their supporters are blind to the humanity of the Palestinians living a mere 7 miles away. And many Palestinians and their supporters disregard, discount or fail to even acknowledge the fact that the civilians living in Sderot are humans too.
When pressed about this lack of empathy or understanding for the “other” — the typical “But what about….?” responses surface reflexively without any thought.
An Israeli: “But what about the Hamas terrorists who want to destroy Israel?”
A Palestinian: “But what about Israel’s disproportionate firepower, the disproportionate numbers of Palestinian victims, and the fact that Israel is the occupier and oppressor for decades on end?”
An Israeli: “But what about that Israeli who was killed last night and the others who were wounded?”
A Palestinian: “But what about the pregnant mother and her infant toddler killed by an Israeli airstrike last night?”
An Israeli: “But what about Israel’s right to defend herself? And the Palestinians started it with the rockets they are shooting at us.”
A Palestinian: “But what about international law and our right to fight the occupier in whatever way we choose?”
And the list goes on, with heightened rhetoric and memes shooting back and forth at ever greater speed on social media when the rockets and missiles are flying.
I don’t expect a Palestinian or an Israeli, sitting in an active blast zone with the threat of death hanging over them and their families, to ponder these thoughts about the humanity of the “other”.
I don’t expect them to agree with a word I’m writing.
But for those of us who are not in the blast zone, and have the privilege of thinking quietly about the “other” let me posit the following:
- The “but what about?” questions are irrelevant to the fact of the other’s humanity.
- Genuine solidarity requires us to see and acknowledge the humanity of everyone, even when each side can’t recognize the other’s humanity.
- Although international law is relevant, both sides are violating it when they shoot into areas populated with civilians.
- And the status quo isn’t working for either side, although clearly the occupier would prefer to remain in charge.
Six years ago, when I was living in Gaza, my sincerity as a solidarity activist was challenged. I wrote a response which is as relevant today as it was then. Check it out here.