Now that I’m back in Scotland, I’ve been spending a lot of time on social media recently, trying to keep up with the reports from Israel-Palestine. Twitter gives me the official stories coming out of the main news outlets. Facebook gives the more personal stories from friends who are witnessing firsthand the effects of the violence.
The news stories are becoming a bit of a blur, the ‘events’ sadly all too similar: a Palestinian stabs an Israeli and the Palestinian is shot; an Israeli feels threatened by a Palestinian and shoots and the Palestinian dies; bystanders watch in helpless horror or in cruel mockery as a Palestinian/Israeli lies dying.
I realised this morning as I felt the tears welling up in my eyes and my fists clenching yet again that every article names the race or nationality of the attacker and victim. It’s always ‘an Israeli’ soldier or ‘a Palestinian’ youth. On the one hand, having the reports phrased in this way underlines the imbalance of power: Israeli guns vs Palestinian stones, screwdrivers, knives. Knowing who attacked whom, who survived, who didn’t, makes for pretty clear statistics which should alarm the international community.
But reporting in this way further polarises already polarised positions. In a place where ‘the other’ is already dehumanised and viewed with fear or suspicion or anger, identifying those involved only by their race or nationality only contributes to their dehumanisation. And so the fear, suspicion, anger deepens. And the responses become more extreme.
Then, for those looking on from the outside, it appears simply as two groups of people bombing and shooting and stoning the hell out of each other. We don’t have to acknowledge our own complicity or that of our governments (or that of our churches!) in the creation and perpetuation of cycles of violence. We don’t have to try to wrap our heads around the complexity of the situation, the generations of pain, the inheritance of trauma passed through families.
But let’s be honest. Really, what we are witnessing, what we always witness in horrifying situations like these, are fathers killing fathers, brothers stabbing brothers, mothers attacking mothers. That’s the reality. That children are orphaned, sometimes after watching their own parents dying in the street. That parents scream with grief at the news they never wanted to receive. That lost innocence weighs down the souls of the living, and the shadow of death darkens the whole land. That lives don’t need to be directly touched by violence to be affected by it.
How long, O Lord, how long?