Massacre in Gaza – Who’s To Blame?
January 5, 2009
In both the mainstream media and alternative sources there is much discussion regarding where the blame lies for the Israeli assault on the Gaza strip. I would like to suggest that as so often the roll call of those who are in some sense “to blame” is pretty lengthy – the responsibility of Israel is clear and transparent – as is the responsibility of those states who have armed and provided diplomatic cover for the relentlessly brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – from it’s inception up to the latest outrages. Other actors who are to blame are the media themselves who have so successfully distorted the reality of the conflict that they have managed to present the struggle between a high-tech, imperialist, racist, first-world state and a weak, divided, impoverished and militarily insignificant opponent as an equal fight. We can also consider the apathetic wilfully ignorant sectors of the populations of the western powers; educated privileged people who could if they so chose learn about the conflict and move to do something about it, but who choose to remain in their ignorance – at monstrous cost to the Palestinians,(and also I would argue to Israelis in the long term). However I would like instead to consider another group who are significantly to blame – a group I’ll call “the people like me group”…
I was involved in consciousness raising activities around the Israel-Palestine issue whilst I was at University – some four years ago now. I helped to organise various events; guest speakers, video showings, building for demonstrations as well as writing for the student press on the topic. And in 2004 I briefly visited the occupied West Bank. While there I saw the infrastructure of the occupation – the tanks, the soldiers, the settlements, the settler only roads, the machine gun nests, and so on. I saw the inside of an Israeli settlement and watched as Israeli settlers sunned themselves next to the communal swimming pool – while literally a couple of hundred yards away were living Palestinians who have to conserve every drop of water that the Israeli’s will allow them. I visited refugee camps and saw the squalid conditions that the refugees have to endure. I met a family of eight whose house had been demolished and were now living in a tent next to a rubbish dump. I saw the scars of one of the members of that family who had stood in front of the bulldozer and slashed at himself repeatedly with a knife in a desperate attempt to stop the demolition. I met a mother in Nazareth whose son had been shot dead by IDF soldiers at the start of the Intifada. I met a family who were living next to an Israeli settlement and endured constant harassment from the settlers and had seen part of their house demolished. The eldest of the family – a man of about seventy was crying as he was explaining the situation to me and the rest of our group. I met a family in Hebron – the mother of the family explained to us the psychological problems her son had developed as a result of living near the stone throwing, M16 wielding religious-fanatic settlers who have turned the centre of Hebron into a ghost town.
I explain all these details to make it understood that the reality of the suffering that the population of the occupied territories was enduring was crystal clear to me . And yet despite that clarity after I left university – aside from attending a couple of demonstrations – I did virtually nothing regarding the conflict. To a degree that reflected a shift in focus as I decided to put my effort into working to build an alternative media project. However that project has not taken up anything like all of my time – and I could if I had wanted remained active in the Palestine solidarity movement. How one chooses where to put one’s effort in a world of myriad problems and struggles is not easy but I was educated about the conflict, relatively articulate and someone who had seen directly the reality of the occupation, and yet I chose to do nothing. As to why I slipped away from useful action – that’s hard to say definitively but I would say that essentially on a daily basis I chose to put my own often minor problems and my desires for comfort above more worthy concerns. Today, as the Israeli operation expands to a land invasion, I feel guilt and complicity in the nightmare that the population in Gaza is enduring. And there are I suspect many others like me who could have done much more but chose not to.
The academic and activist Robert Jensen says that we can roughly divide the United States population (and the same is no doubt true for the UK) into roughly three groups. One third are arrogant – those who are so colonized by the mainstream narratives of the western powers that they look upon the crushing of those who resist imperial designs with much satisfaction. The second third are ignorant – the wilfully disinterested people who I already mentioned – those who take a conscious decision not to know; perhaps akin to the “good Germans” living happily under the Nazi regime who expressed mock-surprise and bewilderment at the depredations of the Third Reich after its defeat. The last group are the cowardly – those who know all too well about the reality of the criminal cruelty of the imperial states and the monstrous suffering of their primary victims but who despite that knowledge do all too little to alleviate that suffering. I count myself as residing squarely in the latter camp. So we can if we want to focus on Israel, or the United states, or the UK, or Egypt, or AIPAC but as so often responsibility also lies closer to home.