• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Israel, Palestine, empathy, and double standards

ByAlex Baxter

Oct 25, 2023
A keffiyeh - a traditional white Palestinian scarf with black criss-crossed lines and stitching - draped across a desk in the shape of a triangle. Below the right lies green fabric, with red fabric to the left. Slighlty offset to the left side, over the red fabric and the keffiyeh, lies a leather-bound notebook with the embossed initials "AB" in its bottom right corner. A yellow fountain pen with a black lie rests against the book.

The past weeks have been incredibly distressing for most of us, both within our student community and across the world: we feel angry, heartbroken and, for those of us with direct links to the area, existentially threatened. But we cannot allow ourselves to let fear unrecognisably twist our morals.

It should go without saying that Hamas’ brutal terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens on the 7th must be universally condemned: killing over a thousand innocent Israelis and taking many more hostage in a clear demonstration of abhorrent war crimes. It has been the spark to light a slowly-growing tinderbox of violence both in the region and beyond: since, it seems that everyone’s social media feeds have been covered in infographics, events and statements about the conflict. Far too many have been misguided, filled with misinformation about and justification for the atrocities plastered over the news.

Jewish members of our community feel affronted through their ethno-cultural affinity with the area, friends and family who have been suddenly plunged into danger, and especially by a shocking spike in antisemitic incidents across the UK: Jewish storefronts ravaged, Jewish schools shutting out of fear of attack. This is a fundamental assault on their existence – they have every right to expect our anger, solidarity and support after a weekend that has resulted in the most Jewish deaths since the Holocaust.

Jewish and Israeli people are not the state of Israel: under no circumstances should they be associated with or blamed for the policies of their government. The past year has proved more than ever how persistent and dangerous antisemitism continues to be in the world today: our Jewish friends need and deserve our empathy. No matter the severity of what it does, Israel’s actions will never justify biased and vitriolic hatred. Antisemitism has zero place in our community (or anywhere else).

But neither can that twisted judgement be aimed at Palestinians. They are not terrorists: they are a people who have spent decades suffering under the iron fist of Israeli occupation, which multiple local and international human rights organisations have labelled as apartheid. Every time violent clashes such as this occur, the overwhelming civilian cost is theirs.

War crimes aside, what shocks me about this is how one-sided people’s responses seem to be. While we all mourn the thousand dead Israelis (as we should), why is it much more controversial to grieve the more than 1,500 Palestinians that have already been killed in Gaza, or baulk incredulously at the 1.1 million Israel has ordered to abandon their homes lest they meet the same fate? While we do condemn the hundreds of hostages taken by Hamas, why do we fail to highlight the 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel without charge? While our expressions in solidarity with Israeli victims are accepted as necessarily peaceful, why is it that equivalent Palestinian events are necessarily labelled as supporting terrorism? Israelis’ suffering is rightfully highlighted, but Palestinians’ is inexcusably ignored.

This is not a fair fight; it is a vulnerable people being oppressed by a nuclear-armed, military-industrial superpower. Though it doesn’t justify Hamas’ response in any sense, ignoring that oppression contributes to a devaluation of Palestinians’ plight that is dehumanising and utterly immoral. As Charles McBryde lucidly put it lately, we cannot let tribalism and fear inhibit our empathy. We must stand with every innocent victim of this conflict, regardless of which side of the wall they die on.

To those of you who are only just becoming informed about the conflict, I implore you: maintain that awareness. This issue is painful to watch, but without our attention and our voices, its victims are far too easily forgotten. All of us desire for a world in which Palestinians and Israelis can live together in their indigenous homeland in peace. But that peace must be formed based on accountability, not violence. As the UK has learned over centuries of similar sins, those who use military and political power to oppress others, and those who explicitly or implicitly work to justify it, never end up on the right side of history.

We had best make sure we don’t fall into that trap.

For those who feel affected by the crisis, support and information from the University can be accessed here.

Image via Alex Baxter