Most Israelis and many Jews around the world feel hurt by the fact that, in what seems to them a clear-cut case of Israel’s self-defense, the world talks extensively about Palestinians.
And the talk is not only about the shocking loss of life, not least of children, in the conflict’s newest outburst (how dare they!) but also, and just as enraging for some, about the wider context of Israel's occupation.
Although the recent bout of violence began with the repugnant attempt to throw several Arab families out of their homes and was exacerbated by Israel’s excessive actions on the Al-Aqsa compound/Temple Mount, Hamas’ reaction was an indefensible act of aggression that warranted a pushback. No disagreement here. Not for nothing almost every reaction to these events from a Western politician or a media pundit began with the assertion that Israel has the right to defend itself.
And it has. But this is just one side of the story. The other is the fact that Palestinians have rights too. Just as Israel’s right to live in peace was violated by Hamas’ missiles, Israel has been violating equally inalienable Palestinian rights for decades.
Israel’s rights are threatened once every few years when Hamas launches another attack. Israel is trampling Palestinian rights continuously, every day, every minute, on a massive scale, perpetuating extreme misery and injustice, in an open disregard for international law.
And yet, was it right to talk about the occupation while missiles were killing civilians in Israeli cities? Couldn’t this wait a bit? Wasn’t it insensitive to bring this up that very moment? No, not at all.
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First, the fighting is a direct consequence of a lack of peace.
Many people are at loss about why Gazans remain hostile towards Israel even though Israel sort of left Gaza alone (it did not). It is important, if so, to explain basic facts about the conflict: that Gaza is just a part of the Palestinian territories, and Gazans view themselves as a part of the Palestinian people, so they cannot be expected to just go on with their lives while the occupation continues.
That most Gazans are descendants of the 1948 refugees, whose flight turned a sleepy coastal town into an overcrowded poverty-ridden ghetto. That the strict blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel, even if purportedly aimed against Hamas, exacerbates Gazans’ misery, and fuels their anger.
Until these and other issues are addressed in a permanent peace agreement, there will be no peace. Yes, Hamas may forever remain too intransigent to become a partner but Gazans’ grievances with Israel and their deep disappointment in the peace process or, rather, a lack thereof is what keeps Hamas afloat.
Second, there seems to be no good time to talk about the occupation. When all is quiet, the world and, of course, Israelis, lose interest. While there is a clear, loud, unmissable moment when Israel’s rights are violated by a Hamas missile, the Palestinians' suffering is just background noise.
What could possibly become the shock factor that brings the occupation to the forefront of the media discourse?
Another Palestinian thrown out of their home? Another child losing an eye after being hit by a sponge-tipped bullet? Another victim of settlers’ violence? All this does not usually cut it for the supposedly 'anti-Israel' Western media. The pain threshold is set too high for the everyday Palestinian woes to cross it and grab the public’s attention.
One of the welcome exceptions is the phenomenal essay "One Day in the Life of Abed Salama" by Nathan Thrall, published in the New York Review of Books, where Thrall masterfully uses a personal tragedy of a Palestinian father who lost his son to talk at length about the appalling reality of the occupation.
I hope things will change, and Palestinians’ rights and tribulations will become constantly talked about, as they should be, and maybe when this happens, the road to peace will open again. Until then, bringing up the issue of the occupation whenever possible, whenever the world is ready to listen, is always the right thing to do.
Arkadi Mazin was a journalist at Vesti, Israel’s leading Russian-language publication, and as a freelancer, he collaborated with Yedioth Aharonoth, Haaretz, and YNET. Currently based in Seattle, he is a contributor to Re:Levant Israeli website (in Russian) and a staff science journalist at Lifespan.io, a news source on longevity research