“How can you care about anything when you know every god damn thing?” Dave Chappelle – The Age of Spin
On January 16 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman, One of the commanders of the United States Army, issued Special Field Order No. 15. It famously confiscated 400,000 acres of land in the southern states and redistributed the land to newly freed black families, who were entitled to 40 acres each. On March 3 of the same year, President Lincoln created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. It was given the authority to distribute the land to freedmen as well as white Southern Unionists. Before it had a chance to succeed, Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Jackson was elected and the idea of reparations, although discussed ever since, was effectively dead.
Why start there? Because it is important to recognise that groups of historically persecuted people deserve recognition and, I believe, a place to call their own. This is something that Israelis have said. The bitter irony is that their government is denying Palestinians exactly this right.
The framing of this conflict on television does not make the daily reality of the blockade clear. It often describes actions undertaken by Israel as infuriating Palestinians and not the international community. The truth is that the actions undertaken by the Israeli government and army are often universally condemned (apart from America for some reason). Take this lead, from Al Jazeera:
The United States has voted against a Kuwait-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the protection of Palestinian civilians, while being the only country to back its own measure condemning Hamas for the recent violence in the Gaza Strip.
Why would the international community not support the United States in this? Perhaps because they recognise the problems in blaming Hamas and Hamas alone.
At this stage I should probably admit that writing this post scares me. Trying to find the humanity in this situation without being accused of racism, anti-Semitism or tribalism feels like a Sisyphean task. I’m writing it because I feel like I must. Why? Let me share a story with you.
My favourite article to teach for English Language GCSE (a sentence that few English teachers will ever say) was “A Passage to Africa” by George Alagiah. The way I would start the lesson would be to ask the pupils if they had watched the last “Children In Need” or “Comic Relief” (these are televised charity drives in Britain). They would normally answer in the affirmative and then I would ask them if they remembered some of the emotive stories that were told. Once again, they would say yes. I’d then tell a story about how affecting it was to see homeless, starving and abused children and talk about feeling the need to get more involved. And then I’d drop the hammer. I’d pick out the student that had answered most enthusiastically and ask them if they remembered any of the names of the children that were suffering. An awkward silence would ensue. They didn’t remember because the world, and the children, that those programmes highlighted were so alien that they couldn’t fully empathise, even though they did sympathise.
That story encapsulates why I feel I must write. Razan-al Najjar, a 21 year old medic was shot and killed by the Israeli forces. Yesterday, the military that killed her said that she wasn’t intentionally shot. This is a difficult thing to believe, partly because she was wearing a medical uniform and had approached injured protesters with her hands raised.
It’s more difficult to believe because of this, left without comment:
I’m writing this because the killing of an unarmed medic is wrong. I’m writing this because when Sky News describes Gaza as an open-air prison, you realise that to know that and stay silent is to take a position. I’m writing this because the persecution and dehumanisation of an entire race of people is wrong. It was wrong in the Rhineland in 1096; it was wrong in England in 1290, Austria in 1421, Fez in 1465 and Yemen in 1679. And it was wrong in the 1940s in Germany and the countries it occupied. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now.
This is the point where I am supposed to acknowledge the other side of the story. Where I’m supposed to point out that Hamas has been described as a terrorist group that does not recognise the state of Israel. That they (apparently) use the citizens of Gaza as human shields and that Israel retains the support of the United States.
Have you ever been accused of doing something that you didn’t do? I’m assuming the answer is yes. Do you remember the sense of injustice that you felt? That desire to never be in that position again, and to do whatever it took to make the people around you recognise the injustice that you suffered? Have you ever been trapped and thought you couldn’t escape? If history has taught us anything, it is that people that feel like that vote for the people that say they will fight for them. And if there is one thing all sides agree on, it is that Hamas will fight. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with their methods, I can’t help but believe that their election in Gaza is reflective of the desperation of the people that voted for them.
The quote that I used at the top of the post came from the first of Dave Chappelle’s Netflix specials, “The Age Of Spin”. He was making the point that is tough to care today because we are swamped by news and tragic news especially. In the last ten years, there have been devastating attacks in Britain, France, America, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. And I will bet two pounds to your one that the majority of readers will be able to name the attacks in the first three countries a lot quicker than the last four. I wonder why?
I guess the last question is: why should you care? For me the answer is simple. You should care because this:
is tragic. So is this:
There are approximately 900,000 children under the age of 14 living in Palestine. For them the situation is, according to UNICEF, not good. Whatever your politics are, I would hope that you would agree that the imperilling of children anywhere is reason enough to find time to care. And care is a verb. And verbs are actions. Which means once you care, you have to do something.