Opinion by Maria Lucia Uribe
There was silence and pain. We reached out to close ones, family, colleagues or anyone who has an Israeli or Palestinian connection. We held space, we listened, we joined in crying, in praying. We consoled and we felt the pain. We watched the pictures, read the messages of families, and prayers for those indiscriminately killed or abducted on 7 October by Hamas. We saw the war unfolding before our eyes, the fear of Palestinians living in Israel and in the West Bank as retaliations grew, and the unshattered suffering of the people of Gaza. We saw the growing fear of Jewish people, as if history was repeating for them, their appeal to be protected, as if they had to beg to exist; their uncontrollable panic as if someone was coming for them; their collective trauma surfacing again.
What can explain such an act of terrorism against innocent people when nothing can justify violence for the sake of one’s truth? And yet, there is an explanation that cannot justify the act but can shed light on human suffering and actions: Hatred.
It has been 56 years since the occupation of the Palestinian Territory by Israel. For 16 years Gaza has been under siege, it is being referred as an ‘open-air prison’. Both the occupation and the blockade have negatively affected every aspect of Palestinian’s lives and violates all their rights. It has impacted their economy paralyzing their business and creating a recession; it has caused food insecurity, restricted their education opportunities, and possibilities to flourish as human beings. It has fragmented Palestine and their desire to live in freedom as an independent State.
Structural violence as coined by my former professor and founder of Peace Studies, Johan Galtung, is the systematic ways in which some groups are hindered from equal access to opportunities, goods, and services that enable the fulfillment of basic human needs. These can be formal as in legal structures that enforce marginalization or they could be culturally functional but without legal mandate, such as limited access to education or health care for marginalized groups. What has been happening in Gaza and to Palestinians in the occupied territories for half a century now is a continuous, often silent, and brutal structural violence.
When all these conditions are compounded and persistent for decades, hatred is bred in the bone, and hatred manifests itself in acts of defiance, violence, terrorism and self-destruction. Hatred undermines any effort to transform a conflict and can only be addressed from within and through empathy, compassion and inclusion of the other. Hatred needs to be understood to be addressed, and to be addressed its causes and roots need to be spoken about.
Despite several efforts to help bring peace and find a solution to the often-seen intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine, we have witnessed shameful silence by most governments about the structural violence Palestinians go through and particularly the people in Gaza. This type of violence seems to be normalized as it were something deserved by the people of Palestine, or some kind of collective punishment for the violence used by Palestinian militia groups, or as a necessary condition for Israel to exist. There is silence, there is complicity and there is justification of structural violence.
The security within and safety of its borders sought by Israel is a valid and reasonable demand as it is their right to exist and the recognition of the State of Israel, which Hamas categorically denies – a maximalist position to erase Israel from the map. The recognition of the State of Israel is not just an important demand but a critical need and right for many Jewish people. What is not reasonable is the maximalist position for a greater Israel, with an expanded land occupying Palestinian territories, forcing settlements that jeopardize water resources, block agricultural development, and pose a threat to peace and security as it undermines the possibility of a Palestinian State.
What is currently happening between Israel and Palestine is the result of a long-standing history of failure to go beyond maximalist positions and of decades of sown hatred for the other, the irreconcilable possibility of living together and the impossibility of empathizing with the needs of one another. The terrorist attack of Hamas in Israel is clearly a poorly considered tactic with mistakenly calculated risks that will have a life-long impact and scars on both peoples of Israel and Palestine. As a result, the disproportionate response of the Israeli government is clearly a myopic strategy to destroy Hamas with the hope to find safety and security for its people in the future, without consideration of the scale of the humanitarian crises it has created and the unfolding genocide that we are witnessing. Hatred has blinded both sides, and hatred will only breed more violence, insecurity, demonization, polarization and more hatred for the future to come.
I have been silent during the last weeks, not knowing what to say, with fear of saying something that might hurt any of my friends, or not saying enough to do justice to the suffering or the historical perspective of this conflict. I have been silent as we debated internally in my organization what right words to choose, what statements to make and why, and keeping a ‘neutral position’. But today I don’t want to be silent. We can’t be neutral when injustices prevail. As Desmond Tutu said If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. What we are witnessing today in Gaza is the indiscriminate killing of innocent people, that cannot be justified as a response out of fear or hatred; we are witnessing a disguised genocide in the name of the right to self-defense, and to achieve a maximalist view of Israel. We can’t be silent when people, including more than 1 million children and young people (half of the population) in Gaza have been bombarded on daily basis during the last 20 days; when hospitals, schools and mosques are being destroyed, when people are being forced to flee leaving behind all they know within the boundaries of an already crowded and underserved territory; when all means of communication are cut off and when people are hit not just with bombs and rockets but with fear and unspeakable acts of terror. Nothing can justify this violence, as nothing could justify the terrorist attacks inflicted by Hamas.
We can’t remain silent when we are breeding hatred in the next generations, not just of Palestinians, but of many Christians and Muslims around the world who stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine, and who feel underrepresented by their governments, particularly in the West. We can’t remain silent when we are breeding hatred in the next generation of Jewish people who have been asked, tacitly, to choose between supporting Israel’s government position and actions in the name of security and defense, and becoming traitors and enemies of their own country, as I have seen on social media and shared by friends.
Today we need to call up our moral compass and reclaim our humanity. Let’s go out to the streets and demand a cease fire, sign a petition for your government demanding a stop to this war, humanitarian support, respect for International Humanitarian Law and for civilians; write to your government or member of the parliament, particularly in those countries supporting Israel’s right to defend; unite in prayer for peace; call your Jewish, Christian or Muslim friend and provide solace and consolation; raise awareness about the non-sense of this war; challenge hate speech against Jewish or Muslims with acts of kindness and friendship; tell your children that nothing can justify any kind of violence, and teach them that there is always a choice to solve conflicts. Education for peace today is more needed than ever!
I know that finding a negotiable truce is almost unthinkable at this moment, but we need more governments trying to mediate, and in this the Middle East countries, particularly those who have relationships with Israel, have a critical role to play, as it does the United States.
History will judge us for our silence today. History will judge us for our complicity, and history will show us that when hate is all we know, there is no pathway to peace. Let us no lose sight of the two-state solution and the longer term and genuine desire of both peoples of Israel and Palestine to live in peace.
Let me finish by quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s words in his Quit India Speech back in 1942 when he spoke about the voice of conscience: “You have to stand against the whole world although you may have to stand alone. You have to stare in the face the whole world although the world may look at you with bloodshot eyes. Do not fear. Trust the little voice residing within your heart.”