I made the image that accompanies this essay ten years ago on the Mall in Washington, DC. Today when I say that I oppose the bombing of Gaza, some people hear this as support for terrorists so for clarity I do not support or excuse the terror wing of Hamas for their October seventh atrocity against life.
As I write, I beg for the immediate release by Hamas of all the people who they captured and are holding as hostages. Nothing that the Israeli government has done over the years, in my opinion, justifies the attack.
One of the earliest moral lessons I was taught as a child is that ‘two wrongs do not make a right’. That said, as an adult, life has taught me that many of the things that the Israeli government has done and is doing, made that event or something like it inevitable.
I spent a week in the late 1970’s in Western Sahara photographing the Polisario Front. On my first day in a refugee camp just outside the dusty Algerian town of Tindouf, we visited a primary school. I was struck by the pictures that the children had up on their classroom walls. Their drawings were of planes with fire coming from their wings. My initial assessment was that the children had been drilled into making these images. It did not take many days in the desert for it to become clear that the children’s drawings were in fact reflections of their lived experience.
One afternoon, the adolescent Polisario fighters drove us into the desert. They were eager to show the two Moroccan soldiers and some equipment that had been captured during the conflict. They were particularly keen on showing us the serial markings on the wreckage which, they said, enabled them to trace its origin to the USA. Morocco was their adversary in their fight for self-determination and they felt that they could hold their own against them. However the scales in the conflict were tipped by fighter jets and armored vehicles supplied by the US, with whom they had no direct quarrel.
That evening I strolled through the camp with these bright young men and listened to their stories. Their recollections of relatives and friends blown to pieces in airstrikes by US- made Moroccan fighter bombers, were recounted with bitter helplessness. I thought that if one of these young people grew up and planted a bomb on a Pan Am commercial airliner, innocent people would be killed in an utterly irrational act. These victims would be innocent, and the attack would not advance the bomber’s cause. Irrational, even madness. Yes, but what part of these young peoples lives was conducive to rational thinking and consequently rational behavior? Their loved ones were also innocent when they were blown up in their beds.
Of course, this hypothetical terror incident would be totally unjustified and clearly not everyone who grows up in these dire circumstances could or would behave in this indiscriminately violent way. However, it should come as no surprise that those circumstances could engender this senseless behavior in some people.
Night after night, new personal heartrending accounts are emerging on television, describing the October seventh horrors. I hope that the people responsible for this answer for the innocent people they killed. I also hope that the people who continue to kill innocent people with deadly ordnance every day and night are made to answer for what they are doing now. I wonder, how can we call ourselves a civilized world with a straight face as we bear witness in silence, to the bombing of cities, towns, and villages. We watch the macabre daily death count of the innocent rise into the thousands. Unbelievably it is framed as a necessary price for ‘justice’ and any call for a cease fire amounts to support for Hamas. This is madness. I ask who was responsible for the attack on Israel and from whom is Israel exacting this terrible revenge?
In the wake of the murderous attack on Israel, an increasing number of voices in Israel and the Jewish diaspora have cried out from the depth of their pain, that the attack does not justify unleashing this carnage on innocent people. The Israeli government however remains wedded to its talking points that they are doing everything to avoid civilian casualties, even though we see the incessant bombing killing ever-increasing numbers of the mothers and children of Gaza.
The Lone Ranger’s (native American) sidekick Tonto, warned us that ‘paleface speaks with forked tongue’. US, British and French leaders who talk of encouraging humanitarian relief and ask Israel to temper their revenge, cannot bring themselves to call for a cease fire.
It feels as if we are living through a global loss of innocence. The underbelly of national and international affairs is exposing breathtaking depths of amorality from nations who pay lip service to the sanctity of all human life.
In their outstanding podcast empireuk.com William Dalrymple and Anita Anand give an insight into the mindset of the promoters of the project that drove the Arab population out of Palestine. The revered Winston Churchill is quoted, while commenting on the displacement of the non -Jews, the Palestinians, as saying. “I do not agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have laid there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance that wrong has been done to the ‘Red Indians’ of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, has come to take their place”.
For us, we must not become cynical for cynicism is a deadly pitfall on the road to human progress. Are we going to tell our grandchildren that we just sat back and recorded the death tally? Is it sufficient to say that we argued with the Israeli government about a discrepancy in the number of dead Palestinians and pointed accusing fingers about who launched the missile that hit a hospital? As if that matters when hundreds are killed every day? We must all keep calling, in any way that we can, for this to end, though goodness knows in these days it is hard to keep the faith.
Something to live for
At dinner the other night, a thoughtful friend of mine said these profound words, “You can’t fix the past, you can only fix the future”. This is true. Every morning we have a chance to take the first steps to building a different future for our children and their children too. It is a choice; we do not have to always be victims of our past. There could be a one Palestinian state solution. There were Christian, Arab and Jewish Palestinians not that long ago.
The Nakba happened, Rwandan genocide happened, America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, the Germans killed two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. Terrible events have happened, but they have not all robbed us of our humanity. Our decisions today define tomorrow’s possibilities. The Israeli government speaks of completely rooting out Hamas. Given their overwhelming power dominance, perhaps they can. But even if they kill every Hamas member and their family, the bombs they are dropping today are pollinating the next flowering of violent resistance; perhaps it will flower with another name. My two Naira worth of input into the conversation is that for peace and security, it is the dominant power that can create the conditions that give the oppressed people something to live for, rather than something to kill and die for.