Gaza, August 2014: the familiar plumes of smoke billowing from dense urban areas, the cries of children and anguished parents, the death toll, the blood and guts of the injured, the ruins.
In the midst of this ghastly vista are the justifications, the condemnations, the calls for peace, and of course, the deception and broken promises.
We gaze at our TV screens and wring our hands, we argue with friends about what should be done, we call for an understanding of history, power, geo-politics; we rage against America for supplying weapons to Israel while acting as a would-be mediator.
We raise our eyebrows when countries fail to condemn, and when they do. Yet another shell crashes into a UN ‘safe haven’.
More screams, more blood, more anguish.
‘There’s no end to it’, ‘it’s so cyclical’, ‘peace will never come’, the ‘one state solution’, the ‘two state solution’ – the status quo.
In Sydney thousands of protestors march in support of Israel echoing Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for ‘decent’ nations to support the ‘war’ against Hamas.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the Sydney, pro-Palestinian protesters call for an end to the bloodshed. Speeches are made, accusations levelled and the rage maintained.
Calls are made for ‘peace with justice’, but whose peace and what sort of justice?
I hear a friend talk about the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestine that took place in 1948 as part of the creation of the state of Israel; I recall visiting a Jewish cultural centre in Melbourne where a historical time-line made no mention of Palestinian homelands or the fact that the modern Israeli state is founded, literally, on the remains of burnt out Palestinian villages.
And I wonder what has happened to Shimon Peres, once dubbed a man of peace, now the aging president who sounds just like ex-military hard man, Benjamin Netanyahu.
To question what is happening in Gaza is to risk being labelled an anti-Semitic, a racist, a bigot; or if you happen to be a Jew, a ‘self hating’ one.
To question whether in seeking to destroy tunnels, Hamas’s weaponry and indeed Hamas itself, it is acceptable to kill more than 2,000 civilians is seen in many quarters as irrelevant. After all, this is self defence. The objective has to be achieved, come what may. It’s our mission, and we have to succeed.
Back in Australia the government is on another mission, this time to stop the boats and smash the smuggling trade. So, in a display of deterrence, we cram ‘illegals’ (including traumatised children) into detention centres, well away from public scrutiny.
There’s no choice you see, we have to be cruel to be kind. It’s a variation on the theme of ‘we have to destroy the village to save it’.
The mission overrides everything, even if this means breaking international law and thumbing our noses at the international community. It’s about maintaining overeign borders. Our way. Strong. Tough. And when the Coalition government decides to cut welfare support for young people and others; well, it’s the mission you see; we have to balance the budget, come what may.
We have to be cruel to be kind; how else do we get those young people off sofas and into work? We all have to make sacrifices, and that includes the world’s poor.
So: press delete and $7 billion worth of foreign aid disappears. For the sake of ‘us’, ‘future generations’, ‘economic prosperity’ there’s simply no choice; ‘difficult’ decisions have to be made. No matter that we are one of the most affluent countries on Earth. It’s the mission you see; we have to balance the budget.
I was about to say that I can’t think of a time when ‘the mission’ has so overridden values of respect, kindness, decency, care, compassion, empathy.
That would be wrong.
The powerful have always demanded sacrifices for the greater good, civilians have always paid the ultimate price, the mission has always come first. Kindness, compassion and respect have no place in this scheme of things.
Richard Sennet, the great US sociologist, said that the opposite of respect is indifference – something that we see in bucket loads every single day on our TV screens. Indifference to human suffering, the collateral damage associated with our self seeking objectives, the lack of empathy for others.
Instead, we have embodied what Anne Manne refers to as the Life of I: the narcissistic assertion that life is simply about you/I/me/us.
The rubble that was once a house and the dead bodies of children being pulled from concrete tombs are ‘unfortunate’, a ‘tragedy’ and of course, ‘we don’t target civilians’. Hand on heart. Turn off the TV. Put down the paper, it’s too much.
Most of us of course don‘t have to live with the consequences of this sort of violent mission, we can forget about it.
I reached saturation point over the weekend – that’s it, I can’t watch any more, not another second. But imagine living this, day in, day out. Imagine living under the heal of ISIL, or awaiting yet another bomb in Lagos or Kabul, or the next drone attack in Yemen.
It’s hard for us Aussies because we live in such a peaceful place.
The other day my partner was driving through a small country town in NSW. She saw a gaggle of people huddled around a large bed sheet held up by two poles. It said Peace for Palestine.
She stopped and talked to the assembled, a motley crew of young and old holding lighted candles. They were angry, sad, confused, powerless. They just wanted to show passersby that they were concerned; that they really cared.
It was a cry in the dark, literally. Whatever the justifications for what’s going on in Gaza, men, women and children are dying for a mission that can never succeed. Blowback. The boomerang effect.
Tunnels can be replaced, weaponry can be resupplied and hearts can be hardened and radicalism ensured.
The iron dome, the iron fist is just that: self protection and aggression all built into one. The rockets come, they are destroyed, the assault on Gaza continues, the bodies pile up; a temporary peace is agreed, more rockets, more bullets and bombs. That’s the problem in this asymmetrical war. But as we already know: walls are just that, destruction is epic and routine.
But military might will never provide justice for historical wrongs or address the grievances of a people dispossessed, disempowered and abused.
They will never take away the fear on both sides, the hatred even though some say, I shall not hate.
The greatest tragedy of this enduring conflict is that its origins have been well and truly forgotten, its antecedents reduced to simper minded assertions about ‘terrorism’.
Respect, kindness and empathy are vanquished.
The Arab other remains, the ‘existential threat’ to Israel is entrenched. Meanwhile a buffer zone is created involving the removal of tens of thousands of Palestinians, the US replenishes Israel with more bullets and bombs, and the tunnels are under reconstruction.
That’s the easy road.
Respect demands intelligence, critical thought, an understanding of history, context, motives and meanings, and an appreciation of the other.
We know what ‘mission accomplished’ meant in Iraq and we know that peace with justice is not about bullets and bombs.
The muscular-macho fast and furious, shock and awe action that we see daily in Gaza is today’s ‘war’ and tomorrow’s impending catastrophe.
* Dr Richard Hil is Associate Professor School of Human Services and Social Work at Griffith University. The above views do not reflect those of Griffith University.
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