I went to my first demonstration last weekend. As the biggest turnout yet in protest of the Gaza conflict, it was quite an introduction. I’d never considered myself the protesting type, and have never really given much thought to what attending one would be like. I heard several passers-by explain to their inquisitive children that the reason there were so many police present was because we could get violent. This was based on nothing, just an assumption. The overwhelming impression I came away with was one of unity and support. Such stereotyping, presumption and ignorance have characterised my experience of the Gaza conflict so far – my own knowledge of it included. In the last few weeks I’ve learnt a lot about Gaza, namely that I know very little.
I’ve grown up hearing the phrases “Gaza conflict”, “fighting on the West Bank”, and “Palestinian rocket fire” in the background. The bulletins have been so regular that the story has become pedestrian, like coverage of Boxing Day sales, January floods and March heat waves; it’s seasonal. Just like those stories, its importance has washed over me.
But now I’m listening.
It has slowly dawned on me that what has been casually broadcast in the background as I go about my daily life is not just another distant conflict between people unrelated to me in a land irrelevant to me, it is a black mark in our generation that future history lessons will reflect on, asking how and why it was allowed to happen.
Some kids I met at the Protest in Hyde Park
As a historian I have learnt about great atrocities committed against humanity. But it never occurred to me that such barbarism and insanity could extend to my lifetime and that countries I thought championed liberty, freedom, and justice could do so little.
I couldn’t possibly pretend to know anything more than the basics about the conflict. But here’s what I do know. I know that roughly eight Palestinians to every one Israeli have been killed since 2000. I know that “Palestinian rockets” are not the cause or crux of this issue. And I know that any solution to this state of affairs will be like trying to make eggs out of an omelette.
In most conflicts, there is right and wrong, reason and motive on both sides. Bombing civilian areas, from whichever direction, is inexcusable. But Israel has AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jets, Delilah missiles and Jericho II missiles (not to mention nuclear bombs). Palestine has a few rockets that are rendered almost useless by Israel’s Iron Dome. That doesn’t seem like a war; it seems like obliteration.
You may argue that this is a Middle Eastern problem that Western intervention will only make worse but this is a problem that Britain helped make. This conflict dates back to 1947 when, in the wake of the atrocities committed against Jews during WWII, the United Nations partitioned Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the City of Jerusalem. The very next day the area was swept by a violence that, to this day, has not been settled, making Britain inextricably linked with this mess and inexcusably guilty of its consequences. It’s highly disturbing that, like me, so many British citizens are clueless of the chaos my country has helped cause.
There has been plenty of criticism about media coverage of the crisis, not all of which I agree with. As both a historian and journalist, I understand the need to fully explain the context surrounding current events but I am also pragmatic about the reality of covering the conflict in a two-minute news package. It may be the media’s duty to report without bias but, more importantly, it is our duty as individuals to learn the full story – from both sides and with all the facts. Peace will never be achieved until the rationales behind it are fully understood, not blindly accepted as just another war in a foreign land.
Although I am forming my opinions, I do not know enough to sit here and tell anyone to support one side; I cannot be the judge as to who is right or wrong. But I can acknowledge the part I play as a British citizen in this problem and I can take it upon myself to learn more. I started by going to this protest. As you can see from my video, it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t just a Middle Eastern issue and it isn’t going away.