We should all be taking action to ensure civilians in Gaza aren’t dying in the darkness
Children with white dust in their hair and blood on their faces. The sounds of sirens and men shouting, looking for those buried alive amongst the rubble. Pictures taken from above of entire neighbourhoods turned into slabs of concrete.
These are the images of every Gaza war. Each time Israel launches an offensive, thousands of people are killed and there is widespread destruction. This time though, things are much worse and yet political leaders are more hesitant than ever to call out Israel’s crimes in Gaza. Hamas’ attack on 7 October, when 1400 Israelis were killed and more than 200 taken hostage, was a heinous war crime. But the reaction to killing innocent people cannot be the killing of more innocent people. And when it is, world leaders should call it out, not give their full support – no matter who is the aggressor.
War crimes aren’t context specific. There are no valid war crimes. They are never justified.
''I recall one evening I spent with a family, the night before the ground invasion started, watching the marches on television, small as they were back then, supporting Palestinians calling on Israel to stop the war on Gaza. The images were proof that people were not dying in the darkness. That somebody was watching.''
What has emerged over the last month is a clear double standard in how we are treating these instances of war crimes. When Israel is the aggressor, killing civilians in Gaza, we talk about it being a reaction to Hamas’ attack (or in the past, rocket fire). For the US and others, Israel’s reaction is legitimate and even necessary. Mentioning the Hamas attack as the reason behind Israel’s current bombardment of Gaza is viewed as important context for telling the story. But any mention of the illegal siege much less decades of occupation and humiliation, was suddenly not acceptable. That was not seen as important information, but as justifying or even defending the attacks.
This blatant hypocrisy is sadly nothing new but it reveals a dark truth – an Israeli life and a Palestinian life are not seen as equal by many people and leaders around the world. One is innocent, and one is not. One is a real person like you or me and worthy of basic rights, the other is not. This impression didn’t just happen, it was crafted by Israel over the course of many years of painting Palestinians as callous militants and Israelis as victims, simply trying to defend themselves and their democratic ideals from this backward, bloody thirsty group of people.
This deliberate dehumanising means that when Israel locks up Gaza and drops hundreds of bombs on the people inside, it’s not seen as collective punishment, but rather the necessary punishment for a dangerous collective. Israel, according to Western leaders it appears, no longer only has the right to defend itself but an obligation to do so by any means it sees fit.
It’s against this backdrop that the war rages on, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that he feels for the Palestinian children being killed but that is not enough for the US to tell Israel to stop its bombardment. As if the killing of innocent people in Gaza has strategic value, rather than it being about retribution.
It continues with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tripping over his words to try and avoid saying the word ‘ceasefire’ that has somehow become controversial to call for in a war that has killed over 11,000 people and counting, including 4500 children. It goes on with Israel feeling unstoppable and unrestrained.
But there is hope. While the politicians stay silent on the killings in Gaza, their citizens have not. From London and Berlin to Sydney and Jakarta, hundreds of thousands of people including many from the Jewish community, have protested on the streets against the war, and their leader’s refusal to do what they do in every other conflict where civilians are being killed– simply call for a ceasefire.
People have protested despite the rhetoric Israel and its supporters are promoting, that supporting Palestinian rights means you are supporting terrorists. They have protested even as the Israeli lobby has painted them as anti-Semitic just for calling for an end to the violence and killing of children. They have come out in huge numbers even as their governments have tried to criminalise and crack down on such protests. These demonstrators, and their message, have become the only hope that Israel may eventually be reined in and end this war before it spreads through the region.
I still remember covering the war in 2008-9, the last time Israel launched such an intense ground invasion of Gaza. I was trapped inside the Strip at the time reporting for Al Jazeera English, along with 1.8 million Gazan residents. Israeli tanks bulldozed over entire neighbourhoods and came right up to the outskirts of Gaza city. I recall speaking to a young boy who was stuck inside his home surrounded by the dead bodies of his mother and brother for days while Israeli soldiers shelled the surrounding area. The incident would become known as the Samouni family massacre when more than 40 members of an extended family were killed by Israeli fire in the neighbourhood of Zeitoun.
After the war, when we visited the areas that the soldiers had occupied, I reported on how they had looted Palestinian homes, leaving the residents notes written in Arabic on the walls taunting them.
But I also remember what it meant for people in Gaza to see solidarity protests around the world. I recall one evening I spent with a family, the night before the ground invasion started, watching the marches on television, small as they were back then, supporting Palestinians calling on Israel to stop the war on Gaza. The images were proof that people were not dying in the darkness. That somebody was watching.
So go out, protest, write letters to your representatives, sign petitions, go to events, make your voice heard. Whether you are going out to support freeing the hostages, or calling for a ceasefire, your actions matter. The prevailing rhetoric will have you believe that you are either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. With us or against us. It is a sad and damaged way to look at the situation.
The truth is that is not your only choice, you can be pro-humanity and believe in every person’s equal right to live in peace and dignity. That shouldn’t be a controversial or politically loaded statement. It’s only by embracing that core belief, and taking action to support it, that we have any hope of ending these cycles of violence and bloodshed.
Sherine Tadros, is the Deputy Director of Advocacy and United Nations Representative for Amnesty International. She previously worked as a broadcast journalist for Sky News and Al Jazeera English, where she reported on the Gaza War, the Arab Spring, and rise of the Islamic State. Tadros grew up in the UK, graduating with a degree in politics from the SOAS University of London and a master’s degree in Middle East Politics. She is author of Taking Sides: A memoir about love, war and changing the world.
Follow her on Twitter: @SherineT
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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.