by: Cristina Violante on November 21st, 2012 | 1 Comment »
I am sure that I am not the only one whose heart is heavy during these days. Waking up to read the news, that civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli, have been killed, including children, and that Operation Pillar of Defense will most likely commence, as rockets and bombing continue in both directions, feels like a nightmare. Maybe I have not in fact woken up at all.
I first lived in Israel while studying abroad in fall of 2009, only a number of months after Operation Cast Lead. Once on break, I went with a friend to vacation for a few days in Sinai, near Sharm al-Sheikh, a very popular place for Israeli tourists. We met some guys there who had just been discharged from their IDF service, and were there to relax on the beach and enjoy their new found freedom.
They had a lot of glow sticks with them, and as we hung out we sort of jokingly played with them and passed them around. The glow sticks, they then explained after a while, were from Gaza. As they spoke, I started to put the pieces together, and realized they had been on the ground there during Cast Lead. They had stolen these glow sticks from their army unit after the fact, but the main purpose of them had been to provide light after they cut off electric power to the strip, so that they could continue their operation unhindered.
As someone who had grown up far from the realities of war, (my father is a Vietnam veteran, but even that feels far away), I was astonished by the casualness with which they joked about it all. I did my best to hide my shock from the group, but could not help but feel bewildered by the levity of the situation.
I am not proud of this story. I am neither proud of my naïve silence, nor am I attempting to distinguish myself as morally different from or superior to these veterans.
I tell the story because, now, as we stand on the brink of Cast Lead II, I am reminded of the danger of being overly desensitized to the sufferings of war. The world now sees a cycle of violence that shows only signs of acceleration and growth, not prospects of peace and reconciliation. It makes me sick to think that this is happening all over again.
I have heard a lot of debates about violence, from many, varying perspectives and experiences. I would like to discuss the virtues of nonviolence, not because I can speak from years of firsthand experience, but because I view myself as part of a greater human collective, and I feel as though humanity is hurting right now.
Once you have resorted to violence, you have lost that which makes you different from the evil that you are supposedly targeting. You have lost any claim to moral superiority. Violence and physical aggression is not suddenly ok because of who is doing it or to whom it is done. At the end of the day, we are all only human.
What separates us and makes us different are not traits such as religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. What makes us different from one another, and what truly defines us, are our actions.
Violence is never justified, and, as a tactic, it is not only dangerous and careless, but also counterproductive.
In fighting against something, in resistance, in demanding just progress, the only way to change the system is by entering a new term into it. Violence only begets further violence, creating a snowballing cycle. In such a cycle, rhetoric and ideology employ history in such a way so as to turn people, people who are, fundamentally, the same human beings, against one another. Labels like “Jew” or “Arab” (just to give a couple examples) take on the function of arbitrarily binding together people into some sort of static group or entity that is suddenly entirely guilty and deserving of blame, and therefore a legitimate target. This group, this supposedly solid entity then becomes the “other” — something and someone that stands inherently opposed to the “us.”
In order to catalyze a fundamental shift in the system, to break this us vs. them opposition that was created to justify, and therefore can only endorse violence, a new term must be introduced. To break this cycle of violence, in order for real progress to be achieved, the term of nonviolence must enter.
Now, this breaking and reordering of the structure, the entering in of new terms, is in some sense metaphysically violent. It requires a reordering, and therefore a deconstruction of terms in order to rearrange them. This, ideally, brings about a fundamental shift in the way in which two “groups” of people view and conceive of, not only one another, but themselves, so that they are no longer two intrinsically opposed others, but one co-entity.
It is not, however, a process of physical destruction or violence. The entering in of nonviolence is, by definition, a wholly peaceful process.
Without challenging the system, without that metaphysical shattering and rearranging of the current structure, violence does not vanish, and conceptions of “the other” do not diminish. The disparity between “us” and “them” becomes further exacerbated, and violence becomes more readily accepted. Ultimately, the two groups are driven so far apart, made to feel so separate and other, that they no can longer identify with one another as fundamentally human.
I am reminded of a segment from Mahmoud Darwish’s A State of Siege, a poem that the famed Palestinian writer penned during the Second Intifada, while living in the city of Ramallah as the IDF held it under blockade.
You [Israeli soldier] standing at the doorsteps, enter
and drink Arabic coffee with us
(you might sense you’re human like us)
you standing at the doorsteps of houses,
get out of our mornings,
we need reassurance that we
are human like you!
(translated by Fady Joudah)
It pains me when I think of how many innocent lives are about to be ended. Not lost, but deliberately ended by a party claiming that life to be a logistical inevitability, justified as the means to a wholly desirable end. Such an argument completely ignores and misses our shared humanity! It misses that all are deserving of a full life, of a life of human dignity.
It is easy for me to sit here, in my simple life and comfortable home, and advocate for nonviolence. I have lived a life of luxury in that I have never been pushed to that brink, that edge of humanity in which it is entirely “us” vs. “them.” Yet I do wholeheartedly believe that nonviolence is the only way to successfully move forward, to break the system and update it, to break the cycle that has become the status quo.
I don’t wish to tell these anecdotes or spout these ideas as though I am sitting on some sort of moral pedestal, casting judgment upon those people who have maybe had much more trying circumstances, and much more serious life decisions to make than I. What I am saying here does not apply exclusively to the current situation in Israel and Gaza, or to any one conflict in our world today. I can, for example, also reflect on my own country, whether I recall WWII internment camps, 2004 in Abu Ghraib, or our current drone usage.
I wish not to judge, but to cry out, from one human to another. I truly believe that we are all part of a basic, common humanity, and I hope for us all to choose our actions bearing this in mind.