Due to a large amount of university work, and (admittedly) no small amount of stalling, I hadn’t gotten around to finishing my latest read as quick as I’d have liked. Given the escalation between Israel and Gaza in the past week, however, it is a topical one to finish. Gaza Unsilenced is a compilation of numerous articles and posts by people that were witness to, or affected by, Israel’s 2014 invasion known as “Protective Edge”. And it’s not pretty.
The term ‘war’ is not applicable when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sure, when there were Israeli troops in Gaza they suffered quite a defeat. But beforehand, and after they had seemingly been humbled, the crimes and barbarity committed by Israel against the civilian population of Gaza was nothing less than slaughter.
Having read a fair bit about the history of the region, I had an idea of the conditions faced by the Palestinians, and how the media tends to spin things so that Israel is always both the victim and the strong guardian of democracy in Middle Eastern politics. There is a difference, however, between reading news articles or what are essentially academic accounts of the history, and reading the words of people who lived through it first-hand.
Putting a human face to such pain and misery and hearing personal accounts is a humbling experience. It really puts a lot more perspective on the opinions you have formed on a particular subject. The most heartbreaking aspect was reading about how the children dealt with it all. One photo captured four kids running along the beach – they were running, and a moment later they were killed by a naval strike.
In another instance, a young girl who didn’t know her father’s fate (no one had told her he’d been killed) said that she “disliked dad – he never came back.” The writer of that piece said the mother was heartbroken by that, and the daughter had begun talking to herself as though her father was there – “Dad just gave me candy,” she’d said after being asked why she was giggling.
From a different writer, the stark differences of a Palestinian’s childhood compared to mine hit home. “… planting seeds in a paper cup…” they said, as an example of a school activity. In a normal life, my own life, we attempted to grow beans in a small cup in grade 5. We may have all joked about getting to stay home if the school burned down tomorrow. In Palestine, civilian buildings like mosque and schools were actually blown apart or bulldozed. At that age, I couldn’t have begun to imagine the horrors of war, and yet there are those who lived it.
The part that really put the conflict into perspective, however, was the child who said she hated Israel. Because that is what we are led to believe, right? Palestine, controlled by the iron grip of Hamas, hates Israel and wants the Jewish State abolished. Far from it, the majority of civilians just want to live a normal life without siege, without death. They want a voice, a way to express themselves and their culture – perhaps that is why this book was so powerful, because it did give them a voice.
But this child said that they hated Israel. Why? Well, what else are they going to do? How else is a child supposed to feel as they cling to a parent while people elsewhere condemn them for merely existing there and while bombs drop around them? Is hate the way to approach this situation? No, but with a dash of understanding and compassion you can understand why many voiceless and dispirited people, locked for so long in an open prison, do harbour negative feelings towards their hostile neighbour.
Every time there is a flare up of tensions and violence from the Gazan side of the fence the world pays attention. It pays attention just long enough to criticise Palestine and then glance at Israel’s abuses before media interest dies back down. When violence and martyrdom is the only way someone feels recognised as existing, it is not surprising that such actions take place. Whether they are justified as retaliatory measures or not is perhaps up for debate, but understanding must be the basis of all discourse.
Understanding why people resort to violence. Understanding why children say they feel hatred. Understanding why a people are denied their place in the world.
As things at the border become heated yet again, 5 years on from Protective Edge, understanding is needed now more than ever. I recommend Gaza Unsilenced for anyone who wishes to learn about life in Gaza.
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