I came online to the horrible news that there have been attacks along Israel’s southern border. Details are sketchy at the moment. At first I read that five Israeli soldiers had died as they travelled on an Egged bus, then I read that they were critically injured, then I read that they were dead, then injured, and so on. At first there were reports of three gunmen firing on the bus from the Egyptian side of the border. Then came reports of explosions in Beersheva. And then came a hailstorm of responses on Twitter, mostly from Israeli and international supporters of the Palestinian cause.
They were targeting armed soldiers, so it’s not terrorism.
Getting on a bus with civilians when you’re in military uniform is like using the civilians as human shields.
Israel does far worse…
This is resistance.
I know that Israel does worse. I know that hardly a day goes by without F16s and drones being heard in the Gazan sky. In Bethlehem my throat used to go tight whenever I heard fighters screaming southward overhead, because I guessed where they were going. I know that only a fraction of what happens to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is widely reported; I’ve seen the crimes, and I’ve heard the silence afterward. I know that there is a terrible double standard in the portrayal of attacks on Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military and attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian militants. Operation Cast Lead made that clear enough.
But why is the cheapness at which Palestinian life is held by the Israeli military a reason to hold Israeli civilian life equally cheap? Resistance is worth nothing when you become the mirror image of your oppressor. Integrity is one of the few things that can’t be robbed from you at the point of a gun, and in responding to the death of a human being with, “But they do worse,” you relinquish that integrity and damage yourself more than you know.
To begin with, it’s not about ‘them’. It’s about an individual who has been killed or hurt. One person. I can’t look at any Israeli (civilian or soldier) and see them as just a representative of their state. I refuse. After talking to many IDF soldiers, I know that army life itself is often painfully effective in reducing people to mere symbols. As one soldier said to me and Rousol in Hebron, “I’ve got my political views, but as soon as I put on this uniform, I have to forget about them.” Another of them, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen, responded to our question on how she felt about life in Hebron with, “What I feel doesn’t matter.” Her voice was so low and thin and sad. And a third soldier: “My opinion doesn’t count.”
I am not joining in with that. No matter what they do, no matter whether they choose it happily or they’re forced into it against their will, I refuse to see them as occupation’s symbols. I can’t be anything but unhappy when they die or get hurt. Oppression hurts the oppressors too. And a supporter of the Palestinian resistance, I resist oppression wherever I find it.
Through the influence of my Palestinian colleagues, who are among the most loving and courageous people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet, I stopped caring whether a person is civilian or combatant long ago. Firstly, even the worst criminal has the capability to change and become good. Often the most peaceful and loving people are those who fought against their hatred and their anger – and won. Secondly, no matter who we are or what we do in life, we all bleed the same.
So I am not going to enter into any debates over whether this was justified. Whether it was terrorism or armed conflict. (‘Killing’ covers both of them nicely.) I don’t want to hear that Israel commits worse atrocities – I know it does, and I don’t want any part in anything that resembles those atrocities, even if it’s pale in comparison. If it’s wrong when they do it, it’s wrong when anybody does it. Instead of debating, I am going to spend my time praying: for the dead (the deaths of those five people were confirmed as I wrote this), for the wounded, for their families, and for the unfortunate souls in Gaza who are going to be pounded with a bloody vengeance tonight, because Ehud Barak has announced that Gaza is responsible and Gaza will pay.
I know what that means, and I know why my friends in Gaza are frightened today. Something tells me they won’t be sleeping so well tonight.
I have a feeling that the grieving relatives of the dead five people will have a bad night too, albeit for different reasons. Let’s pray for them all.