Any observer of the situation in Palestine will be attuned now to spikes and mediated truces in violence, in Gaza at least. The subsequent ‘narratives’ that play out in the media are old news and in many ways a case of history repeating itself. It was after listening to a BBC podcast, which pitted ordinary Palestinians against ordinary Israelis, that I felt a graver concern for an already bleak future.
The participants in the show were Yasmine and Nader from Gaza, self-confessed social media activists, and Dan and Noam from Tel Aviv and Sderot respectively. Dan described himself as a writer and consultant, and Noam, a resident of Sderot. The show starts off with the conflation of the term Islamists and Palestinian militants. No one's really sure: Islamists cant be good, so why not use them interchangeably? Swiftly moving on, both camps state it’s the other side’s fault: Yasmine and Nader are living in fear of bombing, as are Israelis, who cower in bomb shelters.
The second area of agreement (there aren’t many) is that neither side are targeting militants, instead they are gunning for civilians. It’s certainly true that both civilians and militants have died in Gaza. It is also true that Israel can pick off Palestinians zipping along dusty roads on motorcycles. Such is the reach of Israeli intelligence that I’d go as far as saying that the Israelis, in some instances, already know where Palestinians are heading. By contrast, firing a homemade rocket up in the air in the middle of the night is like fishing with a bamboo stick. It’s perhaps no surprise then that Islamic Jihad has failed to kill a single Israeli. Which fully accounts for their emotive rhetoric threatening: “...what will come will be greater.” The last thing anyone wants is more death so we should be thankful that more high-tech weapons are not within the grasp of Gaza’s resistance groups. Conversely Israel’s army, funded to the tune of $3 billion of US taxpayers money, managed to kill 25 Palestinians and wound over 70. According to Palestinian medics five were civilians.
Having listened to both sides dish out blame, the show moves to stories of resilience and suffering. This is a notoriously difficult thing for Israelis to trump Palestinians on. But try they might. Dan claims that 15% of Tel Aviv has been living in bomb shelters these past four days – in fact Dan is speaking from one. This may well be true, but is made more remarkable by the fact that no rockets have ever landed in Tel Aviv, and by their design cannot. Gazans on the other hand have literally nowhere to hide, and nowhere is off limits to Israel: Gaza is one open-air bomb shelter (minus an “Iron Dome”). Not only is there nowhere to hide, there is nowhere to go. Gazans can’t just up and leave for Egypt, nor Israel, nor any other part of Palestine. They are forced to remain in Gaza. They can’t even take a ferry to Cyprus, or in fact dock more than 3 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza – Israel’s aqua sentinels won’t permit it.
Furthermore, Gazans are trying to hide from a military with a total budget of $16 billion. Israel must survive from damaging, but sporadic and wayward splurges of rocket fire, and a nimble army of social media warriors. Of course pitting suffering against suffering gets us nowhere. The point here is that Israelis must accept that life, in general, for Palestinians is simply appalling and not looking up. It’s true though that in these moments of heightened tension there are the beginnings of emotional parity.
Dan, with confidence, and a poised British accent, then asserts: there can be peace. According to Dan this will occur only once Hamas ceases to wish the destruction of Israel, and everybody else, including Hamas, stops firing rockets into Israel. As a result of the Palestinians being divided politically and geographically it now becomes possible for Israel to assert two lines of defense. On the one hand Israel is fighting for its existence by ‘mowing the lawn’ once in a while in Gaza. On the other hand it blames the West Bank leadership for its failure to be a partner for peace. Basically it’s the Palestinians fault for being warmongers or incompetent politicians. At this point any conversation becomes farcical, as the narrative deployed is ascribing military and political symmetry between the Palestinians and Israelis, and decontextualizes years of history and current political reality. Yet it’s a debate we keep on having, and in the meantime Israel furthers itself at the cost to Palestinians, and the poor residents of Sderot, who remain in the firing line.
We all have a built-in disposition to narrate our lives in the ways that makes sense to us, and more importantly provide us with psychological immunity: immunity from negative emotions. One might be forgiven for doing this in Palestine, but to distort reality in the way Israelis do is both shameful and grossly counterproductive. In the last 60 years, regardless of who is to blame, Israel finds itself in a globally enviable position of having a substantial military force, a thriving economy, more land than it's ever had, and strong relations with most countries in the world. What is rarely said by Israelis, but what Israelis admit to, is that life in Israel is actually rather good. That is to say ‘mowing the lawn’ and chipping away at Palestinian territory is very sustainable – at least in the medium term.
Long term many sensible commentators, Israeli or otherwise, foresee increasing Israeli isolation, and a further eroding of the democratic ideals Israel was founded upon. Perhaps it’s too painful to write that new story, a story which would force Dan and others to admit to Israel’s complete domination and victory over Palestinians: one that paradoxically places Israel in a state of permanent temporariness, and questionable security.
As months of media hype about Israel attacking Iran begin to simmer down, analysts are suggesting that Israel was in fact using Iran as a ploy to keep Palestine off the table – true, or not, it worked, though one wonders what the downside is for Israel when Palestine is off that table. The question stands: if Israel wants to keep Palestine off the map, so to speak, and exaggerate existential threats: what is the end game? I have no clue, perhaps no one does: the blind leading the blind. In the mean time we can all just keep having a ‘debate’ about who hit whom first.
As I finish writing this, there are the first reports of a terrible act of violence in France which claims that it will keep Palestine on the map. On behalf of the Palestinian youth who have written the following statement together – we say – never in our name:
A statement from Palestinian youth in response to the tragic events in Toulouse.
The events in Toulouse this week have culminated in the capture of an alleged ‘Al Qaeda’ gunman. The gunman mercilessly killed 7 French citizens: 3 Jewish children, their teacher, and 3 soldiers. It has since been reported that avenging US foreign policy interventions, and the suffering of Palestinians, were his motives.
As Palestinians we deplore this despicable act of inhumanity. We are unable to stand idly by whilst the Palestinian struggle for justice and equality is degraded by its association with the murderous impulses of extremist ideology.
Extremist forces surround both Palestinians and Israelis. Trapped in the middle are average citizens who represent the majority: a majority who seek justice and dignity for both sides. As youth we feel it is our duty to speak out against virulent forms of extremism that seek to undermine our legitimate struggle for an end to violence and illegal occupation.
We, Palestinian youth, stand by the families of those slain in Toulouse. We urge you to view these murders through the lens of one man's ideology. This act of evil is not representative, nor indicative, of anything other than his own warped nature.
These anomalous acts run the risk of tipping communities into more violence. And, as Palestinians we know too well what it means for these scales to tip.
As the future Palestinian generation we ask, we insist, that our common humanity prevail.