Any group or movement that holds peace and love at the center, refuses hate and rejects violence deserves our support. But because hate is a tool used by power to retain power, we are not going to convert all hate to love by example only. We cannot be afraid to see and acknowledge that which lies beyond the realm of love, to speak by name the brutal and the grotesque. Those who suffer cannot wait while we indulge a fantasy only a few can afford. Not only naiveté but all too often willful denial blocks understanding and meaningful action. In social media discussions about Gaza, there is a growing narrative that suggests any attempt to dismantle media-supported governmental abuse of power by sharing facts that have been purposefully obscured risks polarizing communities of people who might otherwise find a meeting of minds. I reject this theory in all its well-meaning and darker manifestations. Although truth is one pole of a dichotomy between fact and falsehood, it is almost always the rejection of verifiable, empirical evidence that acts as the polarizing agent not the facts themselves or their telling. Ignorance is polarizing. Fear and hate are polarizing.
The targeting and killing of civilians, including children, is polarizing. You either find it inexcusable or you (sadly, in my view) believe it’s OK under some circumstances. If you find it unacceptable under any circumstances, no facts will justify it. If you believe it’s OK, be clear that this is your position and at least give some energy and thought to constructing a rational argument that engages the actual facts on the ground and an accurate historical context. Please refrain from offering, instead, a slogan or a picture or video of individuals who are supposed to stand for “the other side” looking scary or seeming to attempt to commit violent acts. Even if real (the one I recently saw was proven a hoax), your pictures do not tell the whole story. They do not show the backdrop of years of occupation, the extreme deprivation inflicted through economic blockade, or the futility of resisting, with little to no means, the powerful military actually killing children and their parents in large numbers right now.
Consistent with my refusal to stop speaking out against the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of civilians we killed there while US citizens slept through a vast media cover-up, I will not stand silently by and watch as Israel uses its immense, U.S-backed military to commit genocide against the Palestinian people. At times like this it is the responsibility of each individual to search for the truth using a wide variety of independent sources, to reject any narrative that seems to support actions one would find morally objectionable in any other context, to separate oneself from tribal loyalty, whether it be familial, national, religious or political, to the extent necessary to make sound intellectual and moral judgments, even if it hurts. Many Israelis and people of all walks of life all over the world are doing just that and their courage provides the only real hope we have to hold on to.
The language of hate will get us nowhere and can cause real damage. Sickening videos of people cheering or singing and dancing in celebration of the slaughter of children probably inflame prejudice more than they add constructively to the conversation, and for that reason, I avoid them. But as damaging as inflammatory posts can be, there is a force I find far more insidious: the great hush that moves in like fog once the initial shock of witnessing atrocities has past — atrocities that, in this age of social media, are no longer as easily sanitized and hidden from our view but are somehow just as easily buried and forgotten. In the lead up to and during the Iraq war, we were lulled to sleep by fatherly voices who cast just such a hush over the multitudes. They made false distinctions between “terrorists” and governments that kill hundreds of thousands of human beings and justify those acts with lies. These voices told us it was unpatriotic to question, that our duty was better served by shopping than seeking the truth.
The people of Gaza are living in a hell beyond our imagining and it has been going on far too long. Right now our tax dollars are being used to kill mothers, fathers and children and to destroy essential life-supporting infrastructure for a population already on its knees. Our dollars are being used to bomb schools, UN shelters, hospitals full of injured people and the dedicated medical staff trying to care for them. Have we learned anything since 2003? Are we going to hold our government accountable for financing and obfuscating the crimes against humanity we are witnessing in Gaza?
The US, again and again, has blocked UN resolutions to hold Israel accountable and, just last week, earned the distinction of being the only country to vote no to a UN investigation into human rights violations in Gaza, despite what the UN council called “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The first thing we can do is say no to CNN, Fox, MSNBC and their omissions, their propensity for false equivalence and decontextualized “facts.” I’m convinced there will not be an end to the immense suffering we are seeing until we demand an end to U.S. complicity in voices clear enough to cut through the propaganda machine, loud enough to be heard over distraction and distortion, strong enough to go the distance. So read, write essays, boycott, write letters, sign petitions, go to rallies and create your own. Talk to people; share reliable information. Remember to bring compassion and civility but don’t stop talking just because it becomes uncomfortable.
When I kiss my own beautiful daughters good night, taking for granted they will be there in the morning, I make a point of remembering the child I cannot see, the child who is just as beautiful and deserving as this one before me. No government should use its power to inflict suffering on children. I am grateful for all people who choose not to rationalize, compartmentalize or otherwise distance themselves from suffering, for whom peace is not an abstraction but a calling to act – a calling, most of all, to see people, really see people: their fearful, determined faces, their shattered bodies, the hope and resilience in their voices as they tell their stories and the stories of those whose voices have been silenced by war.