Your Liberal Rhetoric Won't End the Massacre in Gaza
To many Americans, Palestinians are just statistics. As I write this, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announces over 1,255 Palestinians dead in Israel’s recent assault, over 230 of whom are children. The numbers move past the bottom of our television screen and disappear quickly from our consciousness. Their names, ages, and faces are unknown to us. Their families, friends, and homes are nonexistent. And that is exactly the point. Any bit of potentially humanizing information on Israel’s Palestinian victims directly undermines the United States’ ability to garner unwavering support for its pro-Israel policies. The United States donates over $3.4 billion to the state of Israel in military aid annually, more than any other country in the world, amounting to a total of $121 billion since Israel’s founding.
The images of Palestinian bodies strewn across the streets, neighborhoods pulverized to dust, and skies scarred from continuous shelling have prompted Chile to suspend trade negotiations with Israel and South African leaders to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. But where is the equivalent American outrage? Where is the American “liberal” on this issue?
For years, liberal rhetoric has been used as an argumentative shield to justify complacency and to subvert action against complicity. Arguments such as “both sides are wrong,” “I’m pro-peace,” and/or “it’s too complex,” have become word vomit for those “without personal ties to either side.” Not taking a stance used to mean an individual was simply uneducated about a topic. Nowadays, when people take “neutral” stances on Israel/Palestine, they are self-venerated as being “reasonable” or “objective” when in reality, their non-stance enables Israeli violence by framing ongoing complicity as neutrality. In trying to appear unbiased, people end up reinforcing the existing relationship of violence between Israel, the US, and allies, and their Palestinian victims.
The false assumption liberals make when discussing “both sides” of this “conflict” is that Palestinians and Israelis are on equal footing, simply in need of conflict mediation or marriage counseling. Liberals ignore the power disparity between Israel, as a settler-colonial power, and Palestinians, the powerless indigenous population subject to a brutal 67 years of ethnic cleansing. With over 1.8 million people concentrated in the blockaded 140-square-mile strip, Gaza has been called the world’s largest open-air prison. Over half of its inhabitants are under the age of 18. The civilian population, many of whom are displaced refugees (a direct result of Israel’s ethnic cleansing), are currently facing assault by air, land, and sea. Completely disregarding principles of proportionality, the Israeli government’s exertion of insurmountable power over the defenseless Gazan population can hardly be termed a “conflict” and is more accurately termed “collective punishment,” a prohibited act under international law.
As a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, where we are campaigning for our university to end its investments in companies that are fueling violence against Palestinians, I have seen some of the worst liberal arguments against taking action. But perhaps the most absurd stance I have heard is the “I am pro-peace” line, as if to suggest those actively working for justice are consequently “pro-war.” How can one be “pro-peace” when their refusal to act only reaffirms oppression? There is no way to sit comfortably “on the fence” when your tuition money profits off the occupation. Without divesting, students are actively complicit. Equally problematic, the “both sides are at fault” argument asserts that because both Israelis and Palestinians have committed acts of violence, each should be condemned equally. Even if the death toll for Palestinians and Israelis were equal, the death toll does not serve as the ultimate scoreboard of morality. For the record, they’re clearly not: Twice as many Palestinians have been killed over the last 24 hours in Gaza than all projectiles fired have killed Israelis in 13 years. The toll does not account for the creation of the largest modern refugee population, the 50+ laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the blockade on Gaza, the military occupation and the resulting electricity shortages, checkpoints, settlement expansions, home demolitions, etc. Nuance, in this case, only absolves the individual of having to work towards a feasible solution, a form of intellectual laziness, at best.
When bombarded with nauseating rhetoric (and inaction), the words of Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail about the white moderate come to mind:
“[…]the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
To be honest, at UCLA, the train has left the station. The campus groups that have endorsed divestment represent the entire progressive community and more students and organizations are getting involved by the day. This trend is slowly being reflected nationwide: in the most recent CNN poll about Israel’s attacks on Gaza, Liberals, Democrats, the poor and women were most likely to oppose Israel’s actions, while white men ranked as most supportive. In Angela Davis’ formula, Palestine has joined the issues of Prisons, Poverty, and Patriarchy as the four major issues of concern for progressive activists in the United States.
With the death toll escalating in Gaza, the time to act has never been more urgent. For progressives truly committed to a just peace, get involved with a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, organize a demonstration, call your Congressperson, and begin launching your own campus divestment campaign. And for the politically apathetic liberal looking to claim neutrality, end your complicity first.