Talking about Gaza: what’s possible/what’s not

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It’s possible to be Jewish and oppose the Israeli military operation ‘Protective Edge’ in Gaza.

It’s possible to be Israeli and oppose it.

It’s possible to be an ex-IDF soldier, or to have a family member in the IDF, and oppose it.

It’s possible to be a rabbi and oppose it.

It’s even possible to be a self-identified Zionist and oppose it.

It’s possible to empathise profoundly with people who have to endure living under the sickening threat of missiles, rockets and terrorist attacks in crowded public spaces and with the fear of having to put your kids to bed at night not being certain you will be able to protect them from this violence, and to still oppose the war in Gaza.

It’s possible to be an Israeli academic, writer, or world-renowned expert on the Israeli-Arab conflict and oppose it.

It’s possible to believe that Hamas is a violent extremist organisation that uses civilian structures and civilians themselves as human shields to further their military/political objectives, and exploits the deaths of Palestinian children to change or manipulate international public opinion – and oppose it.

It’s possible to oppose it on the grounds of a moral-political logic that is not simplistic, reductive, myopic, ignorant, hypocritical, non-pragmatic, the byproduct of black-and-white thinking, or racist.

What’s not possible is to have a meaningful/rational/constructive/respectful debate with those who do not strongly oppose Israel’s military actions in this latest outbreak of conflict – usually on the grounds of the military and/or moral right to self-defense – but who are not open-minded enough to consider the possibility that those who do might NOT be brainwashed, misinformed, deluded, stupid, hippy-dippy, politically naive, pro-Hamas, anti-Israel (whatever that means) or anti-Semitic lemmings.

The reflexive defensiveness that seems to have infected the majority of this “side” is extremely frustrating and depressing. It makes me, as one of many others, think that the future for Israel, Palestine and the rest of us on the planet is looking pretty dark at the moment.

Days of Activism

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On 10 December, International Human Rights Day, I went to an event held in the Burmese migrant community to start off the annual global campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The stalls were run by local organisations, including mine, with support from international partners – iNGOs like the IRC and donors like USAID – and there were crowds lined up waiting to play games like ‘throw the bucket on the can of coke’ or ‘stick the pink post-it on the wall’. The main draw card of our stall was to pick a question out of a hat like ‘It is ok for a husband to beat his wife sometimes. True or false?’ then – if you get it right – you get a tub of jelly and a packet of chips! It was kind of like a cheap, slightly warped amusement park with a social justice theme, and no rides.

Everything was in Burmese so I found it all a bit disorienting. At around 3pm I wandered over to the plastic chair area where some teenagers from my organisation were gathered, half-watching a blaring outdoor rock concert that was playing at the front. I sat down and watched them open their ‘showbags’, filled with things like booklets on Healthy Sexuality. As the girls flipped through their booklets, a Thai pin-up babe in short-shorts and a red bra was jumping around on the stage discharging erotic ‘yip! yip!’ noises into the microphone at regular intervals. I had a funny feeling this might have been the entertainment highlight of everyone’s week.

On Monday, back at the office, I noticed that my work friend TT was looking tired. When I asked her how the rest of the stall had gone she let out a dark, bemused chuckle, rubbed her temples and told me that a few men had got the questions on domestic violence wrong. What do you do with that? Shame them in front of the rest of the line? No pink post-it note for you? Where to begin?