People are not “Collateral Damage”

Amid all the finger-pointing over exactly who is to blame for the atrocities currently taking place in the Gaza Strip, one very important point is being largely ignored: more than a thousand civilians, including many women and children, have been killed.

The response from both sides, as well as many people reporting on the war from here in America is the same, that these casualties are collateral damage and part of the unavoidable cost of war.  This is unacceptable and also blatantly false.  Every single death in war is avoidable.  War itself is avoidable and to treat it as some sort of inevitability is to disrespect the lives of those whose lives are lost, both those who choose to fight and those who do not.

An infographic from the Washington Post details the casualties.  As of July 29th, they count a total of 1,170 deaths.  Of those, only 61 were Israelis (7 civilians among them).  The remaining 1,109 people killed were Palestinians, including 127 women and 232 children.  It can be hard to determine who among the rest of the dead were actually involved in the fighting, as rebels rarely wear uniforms or identify themselves as combatants.  But, the Post counts only 179 armed militants among the Palestinian casualties.  Even adding the 115 dead who had an “unknown role” brings the total to 294, a number dwarfed by the total of 815 identified as civilians.  And, as the fighting continues, these numbers will continue to grow.

Both sides, of course, blame the other for the terrible loss of life.  Hamas claims the fighting is provoked by the Israeli occupation of Gaza and their ongoing blockade, leaving Palestinians often without food, water, or electricity, and in constant fear of attacks from the air and on the ground.  Israel blames the rockets launched from Palestine into Israel, claiming that the Hamas must be destroyed and that their invasion and constant bombing and shelling is the only way to truly eliminate the rebel threat.  While both sides can be assigned blame, fairly or not, the fact remains that none of the resulting deaths were necessary.

Hamas is accused of keeping its weapons in houses, schools, and other places where civilians are assembled.  This means that these civilians are being drawn into a fight they may want no part of.  It must be remembered that it is Hamas, not Palestine as a whole, that is doing the fighting in Gaza.  Putting civilian lives at risk is deplorable.  And, to use those deaths as propaganda, as some have accused, is even worse.

Yet, Israel is still choosing to bomb these weapons caches, knowing that each bomb dropped or shell fired is likely killing innocents as it destroys weapons whose threat is questionable at best.  But, no one is forcing Israel’s hand.  Israel, and those whose fingers are on the triggers, can simply choose not to fire, not to slaughter civilians, not to perpetuate a fight that does not need to be happening.  They blame Hamas, but their own hands are stained red with the blood of a thousand people who did not need to die.

The fight in Gaza is rooted in thousands of years of history.  Israel is a small country fighting to maintain its identity in a world that is hostile to it.  Its people have been bullied, but they have been made strong by the support (both financially and militarily) of the United States.  Now, they are the bullies, keeping the Palestinians in a virtual prison in Gaza as vengeance for the injustices they have faced over the years.  They are two sides who cannot agree, and so they fight.  They fight over geography, over religion, over years of oppression.  But, none of those things are really worth killing or dying for.  And, they certainly do not justify the killing of people who want no part of the fight, and seek only to live their lives peacefully in a place they call home.

But, there is a solution, and it is a solution so simple that it is easily overlooked.  Just stop fighting.  That’s it.  It really is as simple as that.  Don’t shoot any missiles or drop any bombs.  Don’t kill any soldiers or women or children.  Just stop.  Too many people have died, and too many more will follow.  It’s so simple, even a child could see it.  But, in Gaza, children do not think of history, or geography, or religion, or even peace treaties.  They only think of staying alive as the bombs continue to fall around them, fired by their parents and fueled by the ghosts of their ancestors.  And so, the fighting continues, even if it doesn’t have to.

(The original posting of this cartoon, via Tom Tomorrow and The Nation, can be found here.)

Misogyny and Warmongering – Not Just for the GOP Anymore

Here is the winner for the worst tweet from a so-called “liberal” today:

There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet, but here are just a few:

  • Comparing Hamas to a “crazy woman” is demeaning to both.  Hamas is an extremist group within a community that has been oppressed, attacked, kicked off their land, and terrorized for years.  Are they themselves guilty of violence?  Of course.  But, their actions are a reaction (albeit an extreme one) to what has been done to them.  And calling a woman “crazy,” even the hypothetical woman in this tweet, perpetuates the stereotype that women are irrational or overly emotional, as opposed to people like Bill Maher, who theoretically has his shit together (though one would question his “craziness” after tweeting this nonsense).
  • Advocating violence as a practical solution to either Hamas or your hypothetical woman is merely a continuation of problematic behavior that has already proven to be of no use.  Again, the actions of Hamas are a result of what has been done to them, including being “slapped” by Israel.  And saying that hitting a woman under any circumstances, even if she is “crazy,” is inexcusable.  Misogyny like this is exactly what women have been trying to bring to light with the #notallmen and #yesallwomen trends on social media.  For anyone to advocate violence against women, but especially a so-called liberal like Bill Maher, shows that women sadly still have a long way to go in their fight to be treated as equal members of society.
  • Trying (and failing) to make a joke about either the atrocities in Gaza or violence against women belittles the struggles that Palestinians and women face on a daily basis.  A lifetime of oppression can make people act in a way that privileged people like Maher may see as “crazy.”  But, this just means that he needs to open his eyes to the reality of the world around him.  There are horrible things happening out there, and making jokes about them just makes it easier for Maher and other people like to him to ignore them.

I have generally been a fan of Bill Maher, and I have watched his shows for years.  But, lately, I watch far more for the guests than for Maher himself.  His anti-Muslim and misogynist views are getting harder and harder to ignore.  I get that he is a comedian, and that he is “edgy” and deliberately provocative.  But, this tweet, and comments like it are not funny or edgy.  They are offensive and potentially harmful.  Maher is in a position to have his voice heard by a very large number of people, to change minds, and influence attitudes and behavior.  To waste that opportunity by spouting garbage like this is a shame.