Palestine and Israel: the heartbreak and the howl

We are all surely heart-broken by the nightmarish cycle of violence and violation in Palestine and Israel. Events there echo deeply around the world, and through our communities, like no other.

Many of us are joining demonstrations and vigils; some of us have spent time there, or have friends and family there. Social media is awash with competing content, and I have friends with very different views on the situation. But all of us hunger for an end to the pain, the violence, the injustice. So is there anything useful we here in Leeds can do?

Yes. Now more than at any time in history, our lives are bound up with the rest of global humanity: socially, culturally, politically, economically, environmentally. Together, our lives, actions, and our words shape the world and the future – for better, or for worse.

Politics – a world of words – is not the whole answer. But right now, we need to stretch every political muscle towards two words: CEASEFIRE NOW.

Israel suffered a horrific trauma on 7 October, but is now submitting Gaza to unthinkable violence and terror. And there is also the less-reported upsurge in violence in the West Bank.

The bombardment and siege – the collective punishment – of Gaza can achieve nothing good. We all have a right to self-defence – but terror cannot be ‘destroyed’ with violence. It merely sows seeds of fear and fury into the future – and undermines any chance of a safe future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Words can also challenge power, inspire, share wisdom, help us reach beyond ourselves. Like the families of the Israeli hostages, demanding that their government “do not use our pain to bring death.” Or the tear-stained testimonies of Palestinian spokespeople like Mira Awad and Wael Al-Dahdouh. Or an Israeli woman I saw who – reflecting on the occupation of Palestine – asked: “If you lived in Gaza, can you imagine not becoming a militant?”

But words are dangerous. The past weeks have seen a fierce and tangled battle of words and truths. Words can generate or justify blindness, violence, hatred, fear. They can drive us into herds, so we lose sight of the humanity of others – and a fair future for all is pushed further away.

So, everyone: step outside your ‘echo chamber’. Seek out different views, and stretch to understand views that challenge you. To understand others is not to justify their actions – especially not the actions of their leaders. Nor is it a betrayal of one community to recognise the humanity and suffering of another heart-broken people.

Understanding does not undermine the pain of your allies. Nor does it insist that all have suffered equally. It simply recognises our shared humanity, as the core principle upon which to build a future.

There is also a time for no words. There is something unspeakable about the pain in Gaza. There’s a clip of a Palestinian doctor, who learns his wife and children have been killed in a bombing raid; his howl of grief haunts me.

And the current pain and fear experienced by Israeli and Jewish people – including friends of mine – undoubtedly brings back the unspeakable trauma of the Holocaust and the oppression they have faced through history. The past forever walks among us, shaping and leading us.

Indeed, this is not just about the current carnage, but the pain of history: the Holocaust, the Nakba (the Palestinians’ loss of their homeland in the 1948 war), the grinding 50-year military occupation of Palestine, and every act of humiliation and violence, stretching back through time.

Meanwhile, we’re the lucky ones, removed from the devastation, the grief, the fear. But I believe we need to try to understand, and to empathise. Do whatever it takes to drink in the depth of suffering: look hard at the photos and footage of the dead, wounded, and bereaved; listen to the howls of grief; choose silence, and fasting; wear black, and mourn.

It’s hard – nearly impossible – to be optimistic in the face of all this violence and violation. But maybe, just maybe, we can build understanding and empathy. Can we – the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, enveloped by the global community – find a better path?

First, we need to demand a ceasefire now. Then can we dissolve the polarised battle lines, and undermine those with power fuelling the violence and injustice? Can we build deep dialogue and cooperation? Can we truly tackle injustice and division? Then undertake the long and hard work that transforms people and politics for good? Can we at least try?


This post was written by Cllr Ed Carlisle (Green, Hunslet & Riverside)

Photo: Hosny Salah, from Pixabay

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