When I read about historical wars, mass murders and genocides, I wonder how people contemporary to those events felt about them. I have noticed that while we, human beings, take pride in our humaneness, we rarely act humanely. We are rarely conscious of the pain of others. We rarely feel bad about all the wrong that is going on in the world.
It is easy to feel pain for the oppressed when we ourselves are not party to the conflict. Think about Darfur. But what if we are the oppressors? What if our guns, our money, our political machine are used to kill, slaughter, torture, loot and plunder people, human beings, like you and me?
It is good to be patriotic. It is also OK to be conscious of one’s self-interest. But it is not OK to forget our humanity. It is not OK to kill and torture innocent people, even if we have been wronged in the first place. Supporting an oppressor against an oppressed people is just as bad and can never be justified.
The United States, for example, supports Israel. Israel, we are told, is the only stable democracy in the Middle East, whose existence has been threatened since its birth by the hawkish Arab states surrounding it.
But we forget that Israel is the oppressor. When you take away a people’s land, when you drive them into exile or cage them in a virtual prison, you are an oppressor. When you take away from a people their right to a government, an economy, to health and education, to freedom, to life, you are an oppressor. You become an oppressor the day you become selfish, the day you stop thinking of other people as human beings, the day you bulldoze people’s houses, when you sanction indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.
Gaza is a prison. It has a nonexistent economy and a frail health and education system, as it has been under siege by Israel since January 2006. No one can enter or leave Gaza. The area has been short of medicine, food and fuel supplies for the past two years. This is the punishment Israel meted out to the Palestinians because they elected — yes, elected — Hamas in a free and fair election.
Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. But in case no one has noticed, neither does Israel recognize Palestine’s right to exist. Palestine is still not a country; it was never given a chance. I guess a country cannot be wiped off the map if it has not been born yet. Here the Israelis have outdone Ahmadinejad.
Israel and Hamas are similar entities. Both kill civilians: Israel kills 100 for every one killed by Hamas. Both do not recognize the other’s right to exist. Both claim to be democracies but in fact are completely dependent on their militaries. But there are key differences.
One is an oppressor and the other is the oppressed. One is good at public relations and propaganda, the other is not. One claims to kill in self-defense, the other threatens to kill but lacks a strong capacity to do so. Both are evil, but one is more evil than the other.
This is a war, and we are the people contemporary to it. How do we feel about it? We do not have to take sides, as it does not take long for the oppressed to become an oppressor. What we can do, and for some this would be the most we could do, is to be conscious, in our hearts, never to support evil, be it by hand or mouth.
We must not think that Israel is right in killing Palestinians. We must not be arrogant and think that the lives and property of Palestinians are expendable. We must remind ourselves not to forget our humanity, to at least feel the pain.
This would be a good first step.
Syed Salah Ahmed is a sophomore in Saybrook College.