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Published on 11 March 2024

'If ever a leap of faith was required, it is now.'

The last few months in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory have challenged most of us in ways we hadn’t imagined possible - we hoped wasn’t possible. In truth, the writing was on the wall, and we should not be as surprised as perhaps some of us are.

Since October 7, 2023, a new level of violence has been unleashed; the sort of extreme violence that can only happen when contempt, fear and hatred govern how we regard and treat others.

Tragically, tens of thousands of lives have already been lost and many more will perish unless a very different approach is taken by all concerned. One that condemns unequivocally the use of violence against all innocent civilians, but also denounces and acts against the erosion of basic humanity and dignity that comes with occupation, the control of people against their will and the denial of self-determination.

Understanding the root causes of the violence

We should all be concerned when Palestinians tell us they fear that ethnic cleansing will lead to a second Nakba, especially when Israeli Government actions and words appear to confirm it. Equally, we should listen to Jewish communities the world over when they express fear in the face of resurgent antisemitism.

Both populations are tormented by collective memories and the trauma of past loss and existential dread. This is not hidden beneath the surface; it is a raging open sore that underpins much of what drives actions in both societies. This doesn’t excuse crime or depravity – both of which are on display in Gaza – but it should remind us of the complexity of this situation. One with its origins in European colonialism and racism.

 

October 7 did not happen in a vacuum. It is critical to grasp that unless Palestinians are afforded the same rights as their Israeli neighbours and treated as equals, then violent conflict will only deepen. We know that - however much we create narratives that deliberately obfuscate, excuse, or demonize. Palestinians and Israelis are locked in an asymmetric, dysfunctional, and destructive relationship.

The International Court of Justice issued an opinion that there is a plausible case for Israel to answer of genocide and ordered provisional measures to be taken to prevent it. Only the court can determine whether genocide has taken place. However, we should remember that genocide does not happen on a whim, there are stages prior to that which indicate what might happen if interventions are not made.

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Palestinians evacuate the area following an Israeli airstrike on the Sousi mosque in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Israel continued to battle Hamas fighters on October 9 and massed tens of thousands of troops and heavy armour around the Gaza Strip. Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP via Getty Images
A woman in Gaza carries her child over rubble.

Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza before October 7 has been described as persecution. If global political leaders – the UN Security Council – do not step up to the mark and use all available powers to address the situation, the worst will surely happen.

If global political leaders – the UN Security Council – do not step up to the mark and use all available powers to address the situation, the worst will surely happen.

UK complicity must end

Write to your MP about the UK's complicity in the slaughter of civilians in Gaza.

Challenging hate speech to embrace understanding

Those who posture on the sidelines pontificating that maybe Israel should rid Gaza of its Palestinian population or contemplate a land between the river and the sea that is Judenrein – and they do all over social media - are only stoking more bloodshed and misery. They are promoting an agenda that is not genuinely in the interests of either Israelis or Palestinians.

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Feb 2024: In Gaza, 1.7 million people have been forced by the conflict to flee their homes. Despite being displaced themselves, our local partner staff are working to help others in urgent need, including by providing tents and hot meals in Rafah. Credit: Culture & Free Thought Association (CFTA)
Three men walking past tent shelters behind them in south Gaza in February 2024

We should not tolerate deliberate hate speech, but we should also recognise that offence can be exaggerated.

For example, it’s worth unpacking the infamous slogan ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free’. Some claim it to be inherently antisemitic as, to them, it suggests that Israel should not exist at all in that space. In reality, Israel is currently the sole political and military power between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan. The Palestinian Authority possesses little sovereignty, or even genuine authority. Israel continues to settle and control the occupied West Bank with impunity, while Palestinians navigate hundreds of checkpoints and face continued harassment and violence from state armed Israeli settler militias.

Indeed, since October 7 approximately 3,000 Palestinians have been forcibly displaced from their homes across the West Bank and more than 400 killed. When Palestinians chant ‘from the river to the sea’ most are legitimately calling for freedom from an oppressive regime that openly treats them with contempt.

If ever a leap of faith was required, it is now. Embrace the reality of the other or continue to pursue that zero-sum game in a vain and twisted belief that violence is justified and will make them go away. It won’t. Those who survive will never forget, and the memory of slaughtered souls will continue to grind the cogs of death and destruction. Never have resistance and self-defense felt so contested and maligned.

Seeking solutions amid the complex realities

It is too convenient to dismiss Hamas as just terrorists, or that those who march for Palestinian rights as, at best, accidental antisemites.The actions of Hamas and others in southern Israel were, in my opinion, reprehensible and consistent with what we understand as terrorism. According to the UN it is, at a minimum, ‘the intimidation or coercion of populations or governments through the threat or perpetration of violence, causing death, serious injury or the taking of hostages.’ Sadly though, the history of these two populations is littered with incidents that would fit that description.

I’m not offering a particular political solution, that is for Palestinians and Israelis to decide. Although I see no alternative but to accept the basic principle of a land for all as equals.

However hard it might be, if we stop the conversation there, we condemn more to the same fate as those who have already perished. Are the deaths of thousands of innocent Palestinian children really just inevitable collateral damage? Are their lives really of such little value? Or should we, just for once, address the root causes of this bitter struggle – which, to reiterate, did not begin on October 7.

Worryingly, it is those on the margins of both societies who are trying to claim the future – ones dominated by exclusivity and exceptionalism, bolstered by distorted versions of history and religious dogma. And they are being ably assisted by an assortment of vested interests from afar, including theological purists of all persuasions.    

Demanding justice for every civilian

I do not believe that hate is etched into our hearts at birth. It is too easy to label those who killed before, on or after October 7 as ‘evil’. Anyone, Israeli or Palestinian, who is found guilty of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity should face the full force of that law - as the post second-world-war rules-based order intended. Accountability is key to building trust. If we give up on believing in the power of justice to help achieve redemption and, ultimately, reconciliation, then I believe we will succumb to an endless and devastating cycle of revenge and retribution.

For those who are suffering and mourning, Palestinian and Israeli, their lives have been irrevocably transformed by pain and grief. I hope they get the leaders – local and global - they deserve and need, who can intervene and bring this nightmare to an end. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case yet, quite the contrary. Which is why we should keep up and intensify the pressure on our governments to at least end any complicity they may be guilty of.

Until then we’ll just have to continue starting each day wondering whether our friends and family are still alive. Continue witnessing the destruction of vast swathes of Gaza, rendering it uninhabitable, knowing more than 30,000 thousand Palestinian men, women and children have been slaughtered in horrific circumstances who had nothing to do with the organizations that acted in their name.

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Over 1 million people in Gaza are on the brink of famine. Our local partner PARC is a lifeline for many feeding 2,000 people in Gaza city each day. Here they are preparing the Gazan stew Sumaqiyya. Credit: Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)
A man with a large wooden spoon preparing food in a large meta pot on an an open fire

Continue witnessing the faces on posters of those, also in Gaza, who were brutally seized as hostages from Israel – more men, women, and children.

If we forget any of them, then our concern for the ‘other’ is not worth much. Unless we condemn the death of every innocent civilian, every massacred family, every rape, every act of torture, every incitement uttered that encourages violence, every act of wanton destruction, every denial of the other’s rights or even existence, every childhood robbed – then we don’t really condemn any of them.

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We need an immediate ceasefire and diplomatic solutions

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A peace dove flies aross the globe Credit: Christian Aid
Illustration of a dove flying across a globe

It’s time for international leaders to stop paying lip-service to the notion of Palestine and clarify exactly what they mean when they talk about it – especially now they have rediscovered their commitment to a two-state solution. Palestinians are very clear who they are and fed up with the casual and constant racism they experience when defending their identity.

We must reject that racism with the same vigour we should reject antisemitism. Polite European society has a history of treating those who assert their identity with suspicion and disdain - although mawkish evangelism of ‘others’ is an equally unfortunate European habit. Instead, we need to employ principled impartiality and put our faith in the law, which should be colour blind.

We must continue to demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire because I am convinced more than ever that there is no military solution to this conflict. Ending the killing will not resolve it either, but continuing to do so will make it impossible.

We must continue to demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire because I am convinced more than ever that there is no military solution to this conflict. Ending the killing will not resolve it either, but continuing to do so will make it impossible. Let’s start with that premise at least. And a critical step to help achieve that would be to stop flooding the region with more weapons which only benefits the shareholders of the companies that make them.

Just to restate - neither population is going anywhere unless violently forced to do so, which no one ought to tolerate. In much of Gaza right now, that is what people face. That, or choosing where to die. It is that bad.

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