Israel Israeli Palestine Palestinian

The Land of Tears: The Israeli-Palestinian tragedy can only end by putting innocent civilians first

“‘It’s such a secret place, the land of tears’ is a line from The Little Prince, one befitting not only the grief I see on people’s faces on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — each locked in their own reality of loss, often unable to see the other’s — but also how I see the Middle East: as a perpetual place of conflict and mourning throughout my entire lifetime.”

As the news of innocent Israeli citizens massacred by Hamas made headlines around the world, I reacted with horror and immense sadness. There is no other way to react to a deliberate violent attack of innocent civilians. The fact that among the dead were 260 young revellers dancing at a pro-peace festival made the attacks even more gut-wrenching and unconscionable in my mind. 

We should all unequivocally and loudly condemn the mass murder of innocent people. There is nothing that justifies their abduction, their killing, torture or rape. No human-rights struggle will ever make such reprehensible actions okay in my mind, and I will never condone the intentional and deliberate loss of human life as “acceptable” collateral damage in any fight for freedom. 

To echo British-American broadcaster Mehdi Hasan’s words, “Morally, you cannot justify the killing of Palestinian civilians, even if you say it’s fighting terrorism. But morally, you also cannot justify the killing of Israeli civilians, even if you say you’re fighting occupation.”

Sadly, this violence is only going to contribute to more violence as Hamas’s attack didn’t come out of nowhere. It came after years of escalating Israeli raids in the West Bank have killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians. As many have already pointed out, in terms of human costs, the losses have historically been much higher for Palestinians, and there is no doubt, as the Israeli government prepares to retaliate, they will remain that way. While writing this, the death toll is reportedly more than 500 in Gaza and over 800 in Israel. Those numbers will soon change.

Decades of unending grief and loss 

It’s impossible to condemn the massacre of innocent Israeli civilians without placing the violence in context. As much as some people will see it as justifying the unjustifiable, it’s necessary to contextualize it. Because minimizing it or ignoring it only allows it to continue. The current situation in the West Bank is simply untenable.

A long time ago, maybe in 2006 or 2014, when tensions were once again high and many Palestinians and Israelis were killed in escalating violence, I remember writing about it. I chose my column’s title, “Land of Tears” after a line from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince

“It’s such a secret place, the land of tears.” 

The line referenced not only the grief I saw on people’s faces on both sides of the conflict — each side locked in their own reality of loss, often unable to see the others’ — but also how I saw the Middle East: as a perpetual place of conflict and mourning throughout my entire lifetime. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember both Palestinian and Jewish readers reaching out, so it must have been a fair attempt at understanding the incomprehensible. I’ve now reached a point where I wonder if I will ever see a resolution in my lifetime.

The simple truth we need to acknowledge is that violence begets violence. 

Violence comes in many different forms 

Yes, suicide bombings are violence. Targeting innocent civilians is violence. Torturing and abducting innocent civilians is violence. But bombing the hell out of a population that can’t defend itself against one of the most advanced military systems in the world is also violence. Living in an “open air prison” described as “hell on earth,” where the majority don’t even have access to clean drinking water and barely a semblance of freedom of movement, is violence. Enduring life under occupation where the borders, the sea and the airspace above you are constantly under Israeli control is violence. Being shot and killed in demonstrations by Israeli forces is violence. 

Imprisoning thousands of Palestinians — many of them children, many with no knowledge of why they’re even being thrown in jail — and prosecuting them in military court (the most common charge is throwing stones, which is punishable by a maximum punishment of 20 years) is violence. The ethnic cleansing of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the demolition of Palestinian homes (Gaza is comprised mostly of displaced Palestinian refugees) is violence. Israel’s defence minister now ordering a complete siege on Gaza, cutting all power, blocking fuel, food and supplies, and calling them “human animals” when half of Gaza’s population are children is violence.

This violence deadens the spirit, creates hopelessness and in many cases, feeds anger and incites more violence. Again, explaining the context is not akin to justifying terror, because nothing can justify the scenes I’ve seen and the stories I’ve read. But right now, neither the Israeli government nor Hamas are interested in real peace and a resolution that places civilians first. As a consequence, there will be more deaths to come.

Most pro-Palestine marches are not support for Hamas

I can only imagine how painful and unnerving for the Jewish community — currently in shock and grieving its dead — it must be to watch pro-Palestine marches unfold right now. I’ve seen many quick condemnations of these marches. However, I think politicians and pundits should be careful not to conflate support for the plight of Palestinians and Palestinian liberation with support for Hamas and their violent tactics. 

With the exception of a small vocal minority openly celebrating the massacre of innocent Israelis and seeking to justify the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, most people are marching in solidarity with Palestinians. They already know Israel is supported by most of the world’s superpowers and every Western political leader will issue carefully written statements condemning Hamas’s violence. 

Palestinians’ plight will, once again, be relegated to something less important, less pressing, less deserving of empathy. Many have somehow managed to normalize the daily dehumanization inflicted on innocent Palestinian civilians as being “their fault” because “they don’t really want peace.” That’s why people are marching in solidarity with them. Not because they hate Jews or are anti-Semites. Most protesters are against the occupation, not for an attack on people’s Jewish faith or the right of Jewish people to exist and also live in safety. 

If we’re capable of understanding that people can support the Jewish community and fight anti-Semitism all while loudly condemning Israel’s right-wing government, then we should also be able to make the distinction between those who stand in support for Palestinian liberation and who don’t condone Hamas’s terrorism and violence. 

Can we find a meeting point? 

There’s no way to get opinion pieces like these “right.” People from all sides will come at you. My Jewish friends will be disappointed I’m spending too much of this column focusing on Palestinian oppression. My pro-Palestine friends will begrudge me for failing to draw a more direct line between Zionist oppression and constant violence in the Middle East. Like a friend of mine aptly said, it’s like trying to thread a needle with a RAV4. I can’t win. But right now, I’m seeing people too horrified, too sad or too angry to even contemplate the opposing point of view. And they desperately need to.

I was incredibly moved by a statement issued by the father of Noa, a young Israeli woman abducted by Hamas. Jacob Argamani could have met hate with hate. Instead, he said, “Let us make peace with our neighbours, in any way possible. I want there to be peace. I want my daughter to come back. Enough with the wars. They too have casualties. They too have captives. And they too have mothers who weep.” In his grief, this father still had room in his heart for compassion and for understanding others’ grief and humanity, too. 

My support always and forever continues to be with the innocent victims of war and conflict — the people who have lost daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, spouses, grandparents and friends. My heart goes out to people now inconsolable, mourning their loss, their lives forever changed by the irreversible demise of those that mattered to them. I mourn the dead, and I pray for the safety of those abducted. 

Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve peace and a life free of fear. The price paid for these conflicts is always pain. And it’s routinely paid by those least to blame. Let this tragedy be a catalyst for real efforts to end this violence, not an instigator for more of the same. ■

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.