The language being used to comment on recent events in Jerusalem is familiar: people are shocked and horrified; they abhor and they condemn.
It would be a dereliction of our humanity if we could not condemn the manner of these deaths. We should condemn all violence, whoever the perpetrator, and whatever the form of violence: be it targeted, random, or the product of systematic brutalities.
Noam Sheizaf in his excellent analysis of the politics that have led to this new strife, cautions people to not become sanctimonious. However, when I read an analysis in The Atlantic that describes the event as a “massacre”, it seems clear that the response from a significant section of the Israeli public, from a significant part of the Jewish one, has gone far beyond that of a moral high-ground.
The analysis concludes, for example, “a core issue of the conflict remains the unwillingness of many Palestinian Muslims to accept the idea that Jews have rights in their ancestral homeland … (or) that Jews have a right to live.”
This idea seems hyperbolic to me; a desire to activate national hysteria. There is no doubt that it is an appalling state of affairs when people should feel at risk in the course of their everyday lives. But, violence and oppression does not beget security. This false and dangerous equation is just one of many that continues to obstruct progress on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
There are a lot of problems in talking about Israelis and Palestinians in comparative ways; but, considering the gruesome attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza during operation Protective Edge, evidence for who has superior rights to land and life in the troubled geography of the region seems clear.
At a linguistic level, it troubles me that ‘massacre’ is a word that can be used for five Israeli deaths in violent circumstances when ten times that number of Palestinians deaths is deemed less troubling than the question of whether or not Palestinians should ‘get away with calling it a massacre’. This was precisely the argument raised about the deaths in Jenin during 2002, and which overshadowed the deaths themselves, but there is no shortage of these instances when Palestinian deaths are the issue.
I think we should find the response of the Israeli government to the deaths at the synagogue utterly absurd. There is no rationality to a decision that deems the demolition of the Palestinian perpetrators’ homes as the appropriate course. This response, along with the military violence of operation Protective Edge and many other acts of Israel and the Israeli Defence Force, is an illustration of the absence of strategy or ideas, which, in their absence, sustain the stagnancy of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Yet, I also can’t help but note that Palestinians die in the occupation everyday. And most of us are too tired to express individuated shock or abhorrence about each of them. We don’t even know about most of them. Instead they seem accepted as within the natural (if regrettable) order of things. It is for all these reasons, not just the recent synagogue killings, that the situation should horrify us indeed.
By Micaela Sahhar
Micaela Sahhar is an Australian-Palestinian writer, poet and PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne