Get Ready To Feel Like Palestinians
We're all collateral damage in waiting.
Let’s imagine that you publicly say Ted Bundy killing people was wrong, and that we should prevent such horrible things from happening again. This seems like a pretty straightforward moral principle.
But then for some reason you are immediately harassed by a flood of people who insist that you must therefore totally support and even adore Jeffrey Dahmer killing people. “Why do you love cannibalism so much?” they sneer, “You’re worse than both of them!” Your position is that murder is wrong, and potentially avoidable, and you’re choked with empathy for innocent victims. Their position, based on the virtual nothing they know about you personally and a number of tribal prejudices they brought to your comment in the first place, is that very obviously you must love and cheerlead for other murders, and that’s the only possible reason that you mentioned Ted.
Apparently in their mind Ted Bundy’s somehow a hero, and anyone who condemns his actions must be a villain. As if Dahmer’s not also a villain, but the onlyvillain.
That’s what expressing compassion for thousands of dead Palestinian children often feels like online. So let’s be clear from the get go. When Hamas militants launch a stream of unguided glorified fireworks towards Israel and the few that manage to get through the Iron Dome kill innocent children, that’s a heinous war crime. When Israel’s multi-billion dollar hightech military reduces entire neighborhoods of innocent Palestinian families and homes to bloody chunks and concrete dust, that’s also a war crime. This self-evident fact is largely absent from much of the public discourse.
Now imagine that you’re shopping for groceries at the market to make dinner for your family and when you come home you find your building is now a crater and that your spouse and children are all dead. You’ve lost everything that held meaning in your life and all that’s left is a soul-shattering trauma that sours into a white hot compulsion to take revenge.
Would that experience look or feel different for you if you were an Israeli parent or a Palestinian one?
This cycle of endless violence has perpetuated itself in perhaps the world’s most intractable conflict for centuries, if not millennia. Shored up by violent rhetoric and the cultural mythology of hatred, these sorts of revenge fantasies keep this historic conflict atrocity-fresh.
Every explosion, every bullet, every tiny coffin, provides the best possible recruitment poster for more extremism imaginable, gasoline thrown on a fire that’s already sky high. A self-perpetuating cycle, the best mechanism for ever more violence, forever. Or until a genocide is complete.
Now let’s imagine that somewhere in the city you live there exists a small group of extremists. This should require very little imagination on anyone’s part since Trump first became the global poster child for dialing kakistocracy up to eleven. The last big city I lived in saw hate mongers proudly gathering in front of city hall every weekend for years.
Let's take it a step further.
Imagine that your local extremists organize and commit an atrocity against a neighboring place. Those neighbors start carpet bombing your neighborhood. They tell your neighbors to flee the part of the city you’re into a different part of the city, and then they bomb that part, too.
No neighborhood is safe.
They cut off your whole city’s telecommunications capacity, fresh water supply, access to medical supplies, and grocery deliveries.
The time honoured fantasy of defending your home or community becomes meaningless when hellfire rains down from the sky and the person responsible sits comfortably untouchable many miles away
Those neighbors make zero effort to surgically excise the sliver of extremism from the body of your otherwise healthy and innocent community. Better to nuke the whole patient just to be sure.
A murderous police officer brutalizes citizens while his fellow officers watch? You hear nothing from pundits except how you can’t throw out the whole barrel of apples because just one is rotten.
When you’re suddenly in the crosshairs over something you had absolutely nothing to do with...? Suddenly to merely mention that there might be non-rotten apples in an Olympic swimming pool? It makes you a target. Politicians willing to see you as human get censured just for expressing empathy for you or identifying some of the root causes of the conflict.
It takes a surprisingly small number of individuals to devastate millions of lives. Shooting fish in a barrel isn’t hard.
It's just cruel.
This horror lands on the public consciousness in the middle of an already escalating cavalcade of other nightmares. While all consuming for those caught in the middle, or with friends and family near the firing line, many attention spans ground down by crisis fatigue turn away. A social media cesspool does everything within its power to encourage this.
Every glimpse of it guts me, no less than all the other hideous sights of a civilization hastening to collapse. Spared the pain of having my own friends and family in the middle of this particular catastrophe, I still get second hand servings of agony through friends and acquaintances who do. But my biggest takeaway isn’t the atrocity. Much though I hate this fact, we live in a world where atrocities have always been commonplace.
My takeaway doesn't even entail the most imbalanced David and Goliath scenario imaginable, because those are everywhere, too. To compare Israel’s massive US-backed military apparatus with the frustrated militancy evident among people who don’t even have reliable access to electricity or drinking water is akin to suggesting an experienced military officer in a 90 ton tank does battle on a level playing field with a toddler holding a pointed stick. It's hardly different from grassroots climate activists venturing to stand against an oil industry with hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on lawyers and ad campaigns and buying politicians.
Here’s the thing that really hits me:
The erasure of Palestinians today serves as a blueprint for a whole lot of other erasures to come. It’s just their awful, awful turn in the crosshairs. When “leaders” like Biden or Trudeau loudly condemn the actions of Hamas and remain utterly silent about war crimes by Israel, that silence means complicity. The silence itself is deadly. It has a body count.
Denying Palestinian children food and water and hospital care and homes and escape routes and family begins with denying them a voice. It’s intellectually dishonest to “both sides” the matter in the first place, but it’s orders of magnitude more brutal to “only one side” the matter.
I can utterly abhor what Hamas has done without failing to understand the desperation of a population under Apartheid. Those are two different things, just like terrified Palestinian children facing the business end of an IDF gun and Hamas militants are very different things. If your neighbors can’t keep the lights on, can’t put dinner on the table, can’t fill a drinking glass with clean water, there’s no hope of a quiet peaceful neighborhood. Desperate circumstances push desperate people into desperate acts when the only other option involves watching their loved ones suffer. You don’t have to condone them to understand how it happens. Experiencing a modicum of safety makes it a million percent easier to be a good neighbor.
I can equally abhor the historical terrors of the Holocaust as readily as the many murders of October 7th and every atrocity in between, but one war crime or two or twenty does not and cannot justify committing additional war crimes. Killing ten Palestinian children, or twenty, for every Israeli child killed by Hamas will never in a billion years become a recipe for peace.
Sometimes hurt people hurt people.
Children who are bullied often grow up to become adults who bully, and it feels easy to suggest that this journey from victim to victimizer explains some of Israel’s behaviour, too, but that’s also a cruel oversimplification. Israel’s not a person, it’s a set of lines drawn on a map (and repeatedly moved since then). Just as millions of Palestinians want nothing whatsoever to do with any violence, millions of Israeli citizens, and countless Jewish people elsewhere in the world, look on in pure horror at war crimes being committed by the IDF.
Most citizens of the world everywhere are just trying to get by. To see their loved ones smile, to squeeze out a little joy and avoid becoming a target. Nations don’t have warlike populations, only warlike leaders.
The only possible solution I can personally imagine for this particular ongoing hell is to create Mutually Assured Security. It’s the only foreign policy approach that’s never been employed on the global stage, unless you count the EU as an example. The USA is feared as a bully around the world, considered the greatest threat to democracy in nation after nation. For but a fraction of its military budget it could obliterate global hunger and fill every hungry mouth on the planet instead. Starving children and their parents in nation after nation would immediately adore them for it. Wouldn’t that good will make them safer than a handful of extra warplanes? What is gratitude worth?
What is humanity worth?
To my eye, a lot.
To a Hamas rocket builder, nothing. To an IDF pilot bombing a medical team or the home of a journalist, also nothing.
That thinking doesn't imagine a world of plenty. It simply erases any obstacles to controlling a certain patch of land. It doesn't matter if those obstacles live breathing people. Othering sits a stepping stone away to erasing. Once you erase neighboring citizens, you can start erasing anyone else you find inconvenient as well.
And the shit’s hitting the fan in earnest now. The road ahead’s uglier from here. Runaway global heat is poised to make large parts of the world too hot to survive without reliable air conditioning to hide in. Crop yields are shrinking at an increasing rate, and multitudes will be fighting over the scraps of what’s left. Our global economic model has decided that any and all of our lives are worth sacrificing to the economy. There will be many more inconvenient populations to erase. They're all hopelessly outmatched.
All of them will lose their voice.
For the most part, it’s already happened. It’s just rarely this obvious. In Gaza, telecommunications are completely dark as I write this, to prevent any livestream of slaughter. In Canada, you can’t share news links to Facebook. Any news, even if it might save your friends’ lives. Elon Musk unilaterally decides what Twitter’s algorithm throttles while giving hatred, incitement, and disinformation the biggest megaphone in human history.
He also controls about half of the world’s satellites. He already cut off Ukraine’s access in defense of Putin’s military forces once already without facing any consequences.
Isn't that something?
Our global economic model and legalized bribery in politics will offer up our well being to maximize billionaire profits at every opportunity. So if you can sit comfortably on your couch today and enjoy the luxury of not empathizing too closely with suffering families trapped in the hateful hellscape of attempted genocide, your turn will come.
Some day in the next few years, as the wheels come off, you’ll end up in the way, too, and you won’t be considered worth saving either.
If a corporation’s toxic spill contaminates your water supply, you’ll get to feel the crushing weight of the same silence.
If basic living expenses climb out of your reach and you can no longer afford your home, you’ll get to sample that invisibility. It may be megabucks spent on lawyers and lobbying rather than warfare that crushes you. The force may be delivered in police uniforms rather than military ones.
But the end result is the same.
If you’re not in the billionaire class or one of their temporarily useful hangers-on, you’re outmatched. And when you get in the way, you’re expected to vanish. This isn’t a bible story, it’s real life. Anything you do to defend yourself will become enemy action, justification for grinding you underfoot. Or you’ll be collateral damage, a human shield for some enemy, even an imagined one if necessary. Any voices raised to call for a cease-fire before you get blasted aside will be shouted down, too.
Today, it’s Palestinians.
Israelis are suffering, too, and that is also very real, but they’re in no danger of being wiped off the map from under their iron dome. They aren’t lacking voices raised on their behalf. The most powerful men on Earth are loudly championing their cause. Even to the point of pretending that every example of obliterating Gazan lives counts as defending themselves. As if children and journalists and hospitals are monsters that need to be defended against with $23 Billion a year of the deadliest weapons that money can buy.
Any voices for Palestine will have to come from us. From ordinary people like you and me who can still reach out to the world as Gaza drowns in silence and darkness. It will take many millions of us calling for a cease-fire all together to create any hope.
Make them listen.
We’re going to have to do it over and over again, so we need all the practice we can get. We have to get good at it. We have to be heard.
Until then, it will only get worse.
Read more of Michael's work here.