Thursday, October 19, 2023

The burden of history

This bloody conflict in Palestine and Israel is deeply distressing, a constant rollercoaster of emotions, with events unfolding rapidly, leaving little time for reflection and processing. For me, it's not a matter of lacking understanding; in fact, it's painful because there's an overwhelming amount of information to process, which can cloud clear thinking. 

The scale and nature of Hamas's actions hit a personal chord, considering the historical context of blood libels, pogroms and the Holocaust.   No one should be targeted based solely on their identity.

I'm repulsed by an organization whose charter still references the Protocols of Zion, a 19th-century anti-Semitic forgery. However, I remind myself that there's a complex context of colonial occupation, humiliation, and dehumanization. The subsequent days characterised by the medieval siege of Gaza served as a stark reminder of this complex and terrible reality. It is also reminded me about the brutality of a rationalised bureaucratic machine.  The kind of brutality which starves, humiliates and kills while still presenting itself as civilised, democratic and sane.  

I recoil at those who simply side with Israelis because they look and live like them, while they perceive Palestinians in their reality as less than human.  There is an underlying racism among those who identify with Israel on the basis of this premise.  They are exactly the kind of people who would have hated the dirty starving jew in the ghettoes.  No wonder some on the far right feel so comfortable supporting Israel. 

As the days go by, I'm becoming increasingly exhausted by the weight of history, both past and present. History can serve as a tool for understanding, but it can also become a heavy burden, even a justification for violence and genocide.

For instance, one can argue that Israel's formation is linked to colonialism and an ethnocentric ideology, marginalizing Palestinians as a 'people without history,' similar to the treatment of other indigenous groups worldwide. Yet, many years after the Nakba, there are Israelis living in a society they created, who should not be under the constant threat of elimination and genocide. Israel is here to stay, and part of its identity is that of a 'homeland for the Jews', but hopefully not at the exclusion of Israeli Arabs and surely not as an occupying power.   

But while Israelis have their reasons to be be scared, their government's policies have turned Gaza into a  prison camp, where an entire society is confined and regularly subjected to punishment. In this sense, Gaza evokes memories of the Warsaw Ghetto. And the forced evacuation of Palestinians evokes older memories not just of the nakba but of jews expelled from their homeland in Spain. We must remember and never forget. Yes history can be odious. Yet it can serve as both an antidote and a lesson, helping us remain sensitive to the darkness that can affect both the oppressed and the oppressor.