Cruelty, power and forgetting

Gaza Palestine Killed

Anyone with a heart will surely be aghast at what’s happening in the Middle East. The cruel slaughter of innocents, the destruction, the endless cycle of hate, recrimination and vengeance. Bearing witness to all this, day-in, day-out, is a grotesque reminder of the endgame that is more fear and loathing, and endless violence. There’s no respite in sight. 

Yet, according to some, to speak of context is to side with terrorists or to indulge false moral equivalence. To suggest that events since 1948 might have something to do with what’s occurring now is, apparently, to neutralize and demean the suffering of murdered Israelis and support barbaric extremists. UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres has been mercilessly pilloried for daring to refer to the years of Israeli occupation. Mainstream TV stations across Europe, the US, UK and Australia have been cowed by such reaction. Even as the bodies and rubble pile up in Gaza, political leaders refuse to condemn glaring human rights abuses. Palestinian and Israeli commentators are being urged to condemn the killing on both sides, often ending up in screaming matches, as on Piers Morgan Uncensored.

Meanwhile, the US is steadfastly supplying Israel with vast quantities of weapons that are being used to slaughter men, women and children in Gaza and the West Bank under the pretext of self-defence. Hamas militants are still firing rockets from Gaza, there are regular skirmishes in the West Bank, and Hezbollah threatens to open up a second front to the north. Back in New York the UN issues more calls for a cessation of hostilities as a small cluster of nations encourage Israel to carry on regardless. In Australia, Peter Dutton, to his everlasting shame, rejects calls for restraint, deputy prime Minister Richard Marles refuses to support fuel supplies for Gazan hospitals, and Australia abstains at the UN.

So here we sit, day after day, viewing recycled footage of blood and mayhem. The IDF’s claims of precision bombing fly in the face of escalating body counts. To say this in some quarters, is tantamount to appeasement. We’re being urged to remain silent, knowing full well that silence is the enabler of violence and injustice. 

Flaccid calls by President Biden for caution in Israeli military operations or for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor have been largely ignored, just as Israel has over decades ignored hundreds of UN resolutions. It has become a law unto itself. The cruel blockade that is causing such misery for Gazans should have been denounced for the war crime that it is. Forget the handshakes, hugs and words of reassurance. Equivocation, carefully crafted diplomatic statements and double speak have served to dilute responses to the horrors that are occurring before our eyes. Contrast this with the outrage of some Western leaders at the killing of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, or the maltreatment of Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang province or for that matter, the bombing of civilians in the Ukraine. No shortage of condemnation there. The self-serving justifications of the perpetrators have been laid bare.

But when it comes to the current Palestine/Israel conflict, we’re being urged by some to simply condemn, to ignore context, to forget the past. History has been obliterated. This, as Czech writer Milan Kundera observed long ago, is to grant power unfettered legitimacy: “The struggle of man [sic] against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. To forget the duplicity of the Balfour Declaration, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, and decides of violent occupation is indeed to cede justice to power, the raw effects of which we are witnessing daily on our TV screens.

We know that the latest cycle of killing — extreme even by recent standards — is a manifestation of violent othering. It also reflects the almost wholesale lack of adherence to the basic principles of peace with justice, non-violence, commitment to human rights, anti-racism and adherence to international law. Hamas and Israel have both trashed these principles. 

Richard Hil is Adjunct Professor in the School of Health Sciences and Social Work, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia


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