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There ought to be a creed before heading to the battlefield; in times of war hold space for humanity. I’m sure there’s a variation of it in some soldiers’ manual couched by that clause: collateral damage.
Australia voted NO in its voice referendum; a referendum meant to recognise the First Nations people and to create an advisory body for them to advise the government. The First Nations people are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people which make up 3.8% of Australia’s population; they are not mentioned in the constitution but have lived in the country for over sixty thousand years. They often are the most disadvantaged in society, socio-economically. This referendum was meant to change that, was meant to give them a voice, to recognise them as part of the nation and in so many ways their history and culture, not to centre them, but to enhance the history of the place they have called home for thousands of years; that context is necessary because imagine being told you simply do not belong on the only land you have known your whole life, imagine your voice not being entrenched in the conversation and decisions that shape your future. Imagine being told you do not belong on a land your ancestors fought so long and hard for. All six states voted NO to acknowledge the humanity of a people who have suffered abuse and had to fight for their right to exist on their own land.
Its abhorrent. They will come up with many reasons to justify why it isn’t so, but read between the lines of their words, the dog whistle is buried in there.
On the other side of the world at the Frankfurt bookfair, one of the organisers of a reception honouring Palestinian author Adania Shibli, whose much lauded book Minor Detail about the rape and murder of a young Palestinian woman by an Israeli soldier in 1949, cancelled the event one would imagine toeing the line of the Fair’s desire to centre Jewish and Israeli voices in its festival because of the ongoing conflict between the two nations…
And so it begins, rather, continues; the gradual side lining of humanities until it becomes inhumane to call out the human. Slowly stripping these humanities away until we start to see each other through the lens of the enemy.
As I type this Israel in preparing for its ground assault in Gaza in response to the terrorist attack by Hamas on the 7th of October, during a national holiday; youngsters attending music festivals were massacred, families kidnapped, children killed as they slept, women assaulted and murdered for being Jewish… it is as barbaric as you could never imagine which is why we are here today, on the brink of an all-out war in the middle east. The language from world governments has been unequivocal in their full-throated support for Israel. Residents of Gaza, over 1 million people, were given 24 hours to evacuate their homes; part of the Rafah corridor into Egypt has been impacted by shelling hence crossing is not possible at the moment, and they cannot enter Israel… so where are they meant to go?
This is the true cost of this war and all wars; humanity. Conflict strips us of the humane in the eyes of our opponents. People who want no parts in this conflict are the ones caught in the middle, Israelis, and Palestinians, who simply want to live and let live, in peace. These are the people who pay the price for old men’s stupidity whilst the young do not get the chance to grow old.
How did we get here?
When people talk about peace in the middle east, it should be with substance because those aren’t simply kitschy words that rhyme, they carry weight, the weight of age-old wars in the name of these storied lands and histories and cultures and religions, and yet the only way through is to seek peace. As a young adult I remember watching the peace accord signing between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, The Oslo Accords, I remember the handshake between the two men from warring nations, they could be brothers, and for a time weapons were downed in the name of peace, the world looked hopeful because we had leaders with shared values and common goals at the helm. And then Rabin was murdered because he dared seek peace with Palestine. The barbarians at the gates now have the keys to the castle.
There are many people better qualified than I am to dissect the roots of this conflict but what I do know however, is that this particular stage of this long running conflict has been a long time coming and if common sense and the greater good does not prevail, it will be a long time lasting with us, and longer after we are gone. There is an African proverb which I am sure I have used here before but it rings true today; when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers, we the people are the grass.
How do we leave here?
Hamas is a terrorist organisation; that is not a controversial thing to say, neither is it complicated to acknowledge that what Hamas did to Israel on the 7th of October, is an act of terror that contravenes human rights laws.
Israel has the right to protect itself, land, and people from terror. And to respond militarily because you simply cannot expect that after 1,500 Hamas terrorists breached its boarders and terrorised its people that Israel should not respond with its own might.
The question remains, however, how unequivocal is that right? Hamas is not the Palestinian people, half of the population in Gaza are children, children who have nothing to do with this war but will pay the price for it. An all-out ground assault with a nation that has at least three times its might in arms and armed forces is bound to create enclaves of hate amongst casualties that will not forget. These are the cracks through which hate festers; refusing to platform an author and her stellar work in a bid to please one side whilst ostracizing the other, denying the humanity of nations of people in a land they have lived for thousands of years, hateful rhetoric and antisemitism on the rise, they talk of pogroms and ethnic cleansing…
Could this have been avoided? Absolutely. It was done in the 90s it can be done today, but we have world leaders who are reluctant to rein in Israel in its bid to defend its autonomy. Many are being sent to their deaths to satisfy the messianic blood lust of a few despots and charlatans. Hamas is a terrorist organisation; the Israeli government is as far right as it has ever been and everyone else is a pawn in this game.
Why is that caveat necessary; to keep pointing out that Hamas is a terrorist organisation? Because it is crucial the point be made so as not to lose context of Israel’s retaliation. Same way it is imperative to point out that Palestinians are not Hamas, to justify the case for peace.
There are the wars we hardly hear about; In Sudan the conflict in Khartoum has all but levelled the city and crimes of genocide are being committed in Darfur and other places. For two years Tigray was under siege by Eritrean military allied with the Ethiopian government, they waged a campaign of terror, torture, gang rape, starvation, sexual slavery, land occupation etc. against Tigrayans. In January of this year the FT estimated that the war may have killed up to 600,000 people. The UN very recently decided to halt its investigations into human rights abuses committed during the war.
And then there are our own little wars, sniping at each other because someone said something that sounds like they are taking sides, or is not condemning enough, or they sound glib or haven’t said anything at all. On the other hand, people are afraid to say anything for fear they will almost certainly say the wrong thing because it will go too far or not far enough. I’m pretty sure writing this article will offend some because I’ve not gone far enough or others because I’ve gone too far. This is who we have become. The people they want us to be. The powers opining have no moral high grounds upon which to stand because they are all at it; this war game thing that hampers critical and empathetic thinking therefore it will serve their cause for us to be just like them. It is the reason why calling for restraint from Israel on the people of Palestine is an afterthought as if their deaths are the acceptable collateral damage; justifying the unjustifiable, claiming it will achieve the unachievable. It won’t because the pain never abates.
And so, I come back to where I started, the only way through is peace. In times of war, hold space for humanity because that is the true cost of conflict. This is what they want, to divide us, for us to live by the hate they give, and I believe we are better than this, better than they are. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, what religion or creed you are, always, always, hold space for humanity because that is all we have.