Discover more from Contents and Containers
Don’t let your oppressor turn you into them
Violence and counterviolence are entirely understandable in Israel and Palestine, but don’t forfeit your soul for the sake of vengeance.
I’m an Egyptian-American. I have been formed and shaped by my heritage and skin color in a way that makes it easy—even natural—for me to empathize with Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Gaza is not an independent state and it is beholden to Israel’s government. The rights of Gazans are entirely subject to Israeli power, including all of the resources that come into the region, and the infrastructure within it. Of course, there are people of diverse backgrounds who empathize with the plight of the Palestinians, but for me, it’s deeply personal. What has happened over the last 75 years is radically unfair to the Palestinian people. The tragic irony is that the reason they are forced to endure it is ultimately: European antisemitism.
From my perspective, an enraged and desperate response from Palestine—bloody and horrible as it is—is understandable. This is absolutely not to justify Hamas’ violence, but to clarify why Hamas has support among Palestinians. Palestinian peace activists have been systematically imprisoned, and after years of this sort of oppression, support for a violent counter-response has wide support. Young Gazans who support Hamas do so because they don’t see better options. That responsibility falls on Israel and the U.S. and European powers who back it. Hamas exploits this support by striking Israel in an effort to render a lasting peace in Israel-Palestine impossible. To be clear: Hamas has no interest in a peaceful Israeli-Palestinian state, and neither does Netanyahu’s government. But we can’t let their interests change who we are and who we are called to be.
As I move outside of my own body and experience and listen to the Jewish people around me, though, I can see why an outsized and violent response from Israel also makes sense from their perspective. Throughout their whole history, Jews have been moved from place to place, and have been victims of exile and pogroms. They have not found a safe place to dwell. Even if the longing for a religious ethnostate is not moral or biblical, the failure of the world to accept Jewish people in diverse and pluralistic countries fuels their longing for a homeland. Some Jewish people may want their own state, but from what I can tell, most just want to exist in their own heritage and tradition without persecution. This is precisely what they face and continue to face in Europe and the U.S., and it is understandable that so many Israelis support the actions and policies of Netanyahu’s government in the face of Hamas’s atrocities.
I’m saying this to empathize that violence in the face of oppression is not only ubiquitous, it is also what we have been taught culturally. The nonviolence that I believe in is a radical call, and it isn’t one that can be foisted onto other people. We don’t impose peace, not because it isn’t righteous, but because it doesn’t take into account the way we as humans react to oppression.
What makes matters worse, though, is that often in our conversations about Israel-Palestine, one side is “allowed” to be violent and the other isn’t. The war machine and its war hawks justify violence from allies and condemn it from their enemies. Too often, Israel’s violence is defended –and not just its response to Hamas, but the entire occupation is defended. It is the height of hypocrisy to accept apartheid and atrocities on one side, and condemn them on the other. Likewise, supporting Hamas’ violence and not understanding the Israeli thirst for vengeance is also hypocritical. And when we are hypocritical, we plainly demonstrate our prejudice. Prejudice perverts and distorts our view of justice. It is paramount to see the suffering both Israel and Palestine and to make a direct call for peace. I wish those in power would do so.
But even as we see both sides suffering, we need to be sensible about who is in power and who is not. Hamas’s actions should be condemned, but so should Israel’s, and Israel’s record of apartheid and occupation is more egregious. This is not an equal fight. And Israel is about to demonstrate that.
The call for peace is a radical, and seemingly irrational one. But it is the call God invites us to make. Even if our rage and anger arejustified, killing innocent people never is, and that violence stokes the flames of conflict and prejudice and gets us nowhere to peace. Both sides are guilty of this, and so apparently so, that we should not question the fact that neither Netanyahu nor Hamas actually want peace in the region. They want their own ethnostates, which are rooted in bigotry of the other.
The violence needs to stop. With that said, the birth of that violence is fundamentally the occupation of Palestine and Israel’s continued expansion and settlement. Israel is acting in vengeance, but before being attacked, Israel subjugated and oppressed Palestinians (and before that Europeans subjugated and oppressed Jewish people). If that’s not enough, the U.S.’s support of Israel makes matters worse, and suggests that the most powerful nation in the world does not want peace in the region, but is determined to secure Israel’s future, at the expense of Palestine.
Palestinian and Israeli people both have a right to be enraged and scared. Fear and anger stoke the flames of hatred, and lead us to supporting powers that we would otherwise never support. That goes for both Israelis supporting Netanyahu and Palestinians supporting Hamas. So rarely do people simply act out of hatred, and this is true of Palestine and Israel, but to address the bigoted conflict that continues to go round and round, we need to consider why such bigotry exists, against Jews and against Arabs and we need to wonder how the violence and counterviolence contributes to that. It may seem obvious, but if we want peace, we can’t support atrocities.
It is true that some Arabs and Arab nations don’t want Israel anywhere in the Middle East, and the same is true for some Jews and Israel. If we want the fighting to stop, we need to have a prophetic imagination that declares something different is possible, even in the face of the worst dehumanization. This burden falls on both Arabs and Jews, but it falls even more on the powers that stoke their prejudice. Shame on both the leaders of Hamas and Israel for making matters worse, and an even greater shame on powers like the U.S. and Iran, that back them up. The heads of state don’t have the interests of Palestinians and Israelis in mind, nor do they have a lasting peace in the Middle East in mind. Resisting the propagandistic justification of violence and prejudice seems nearly impossible when we are faced with a lived experience of material oppression, but we cannot allow our oppression to turn us into our enemies.