Israel's war on Gaza: Channelling shame into action

As we watch Israel destroy Gaza, we must channel our shame into action
6 min read

Sarah Amr

07 March, 2024
Since the start of Israel's genocide in Gaza, Palestinians have been forced to beg the world for empathy. But the shame is not ours to bear, writes Sarah Amr.
Instead of allowing shame to immobilise us, we must use it as a revolutionary sentiment, writes Sarah Amr. [Getty]

Shame is the visceral - sometimes suffocating - sensation that tightens your chest and weighs heavy on your shoulders. It's the hot flush that creeps up your neck, the prickling sensation of eyes on you, judging.

It's the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, the urge to shrink away, to hide from the world. Shame is a primal instinct, an instinct to retreat, to protect oneself from the gaze of scrutiny. 

For millions of Palestinians worldwide, forced to bear witness to the genocide of our people in Gaza, shame weighs heavily, a constant companion in the face of overwhelming helplessness.

It's the guilt for surviving while others suffer, for eating while others starve, for living while others perish.

This shame is not merely a solitary burden; it's a shared anguish felt by a people collectively marginalised and oppressed, whether in occupied Palestine or the diaspora.

It is a collective feeling of shame stemming from the excruciating pain of witnessing 30,000 of our loved ones killed, tens of thousands injured, and millions displaced and starved while we are trapped behind geographical barriers.

Bearing witness to the atrocities inflicted upon our people, as Palestinians, we are compelled not only to endure the physical and psychological toll of violence but also to confront the moral and ethical implications of our experiences, and we feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that the world acknowledges and addresses the injustices perpetrated against us. 

We often find ourselves oscillating between moments of pride and moments of profound shame. There are moments when we feel proud, like prophets, with a great sense of purpose and a vivid vision for liberation. We take pride in our resilience and resistance against the occupation that seeks to diminish our humanity and strip away our rights.

And then, there are moments when shame takes over, accompanied by guilt, as we confront our reality; displaced, besieged, and brutalised by a merciless killing machine.

It is necessary to distinguish shame from mere anger at Israel’s actions. Our collective shame stems from the frustration of being unable to enact systemic change that could alter the power dynamics and bring about any change. 

Yet, this shame is not ours to bear. It is a shame that should weigh heavily on the perpetrators, on Israel’s leaders and everyone who makes up Israeli society.

The statistics speak volumes: 44.3% of Israelis demand the government negotiate for the release of hostages without wanting to stop fighting, while 57.5% believe the Israeli Occupation Forces were using too little firepower in Gaza.

How can they justify such callous disregard for human life? How can they sleep at night knowing that their actions are the reason for suffering and devastation? It's not just shameful — it's an indictment of their humanity.

The Jewish community must be enraged and ashamed that genocide is being committed in the name of their faith and identity. It is a moral imperative for individuals within the Jewish community to confront the uncomfortable reality that the actions of the Israeli government has weaponised the Jewish faith in its campaign of ethnic cleansing, perpetuate a never ending cycle of violence.

Western societies, those directly sponsoring Israel’s war, must feel ashamed that their countries and tax money is aiding in Israel genocide. But they often find it easier to turn a blind eye, scroll past the pictures, or hide behind the notion that ‘it’s complicated,’ refusing to acknowledge their own complicity in our suffering.

It’s true that there have been major protests across the Western world actively opposing Israel's actions, it's also crucial to recognise that this may stem from a sense of shame regarding their governments' policies in the current moment rather than a genuine commitment to justice and Palestinian liberation. 

When the bombardment started on Gaza following Oct 7th, Palestinians and allies used social media to raise awareness and mobilise for action. On these platforms, there emerged a need to shame others, to call out complicity and silence in the face of suffering.

But should it really fall upon us to beg for recognition and compassion in the face of such blatant atrocities? Is it not an indictment of our collective (im)morality that we must resort to such measures to awaken the world to the horrors of genocide?

There's an inevitable shame that comes when we are forced to beg for empathy and solidarity, to plead for action from a world that turns a blind eye to our plight.

But there’s another angle to consider: Karl Marx proposes that shame can be a revolutionary sentiment. Perhaps, by confronting and understanding our shame, we can use it as a catalyst for action.

Instead of allowing shame to immobilise us, it can liberate us. I acknowledge that shame, as a feeling on its own, cannot and won't necessarily lead to our liberation. It's reductionist to argue otherwise. But within the confines of this genocide, our collective shame, heartache, anger and guilt can spur us to take more action for Gaza. 

If Marx’s assertion holds true - that shame is indeed a revolutionary sentiment - then I’m compelled to wonder: how much longer must we endure our shame before we turn it into action? And how much longer will the world remain blind to its own complicity, refusing to acknowledge its shameful silence and inaction?

In a world shamelessly draped in the cloak of neoliberalism, where profit margins are supreme and human lives are mere bargaining chips, Palestinians are left to bear the burden of shame alone.

For 150 days, the international community has turned a blind eye, conveniently deafened by the cacophony of capitalist interests, particularly in the lucrative weapons and war industry. Behind closed doors, arms deals and military contracts fuel the machinery of war, lining the pockets of corporations and governments alike.

It's a world where morality takes a backseat to market forces, where the price of silence is measured in Palestinian lives.

In this world, where promises of democracy ring hollow, complicity continues with no shame. Western nations, the guardian angels of freedom and justice, hide behind the illusion of democracy while their tax dollars fuel the flames of oppression. It's a grotesque hypocrisy, where silence is complicity and inaction is endorsement.

And yet, despite the weight of shame, Palestinians refuse to succumb to despair. We remain steadfast in our resilience, our humanity unyielding in the face of brutality.

For in a world devoid of shame, pride and dignity are the last bastions of resistance, and our commitment to bearing witness is an act of defiance against the oppressive forces that seek to silence us.

Sarah Amr is a Palestinian writer interested in media discourse and liberation movements. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications from the University of Sussex.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.