Our grandparents went to war under a banner of incontrovertible good, where the brave were willing to lay down their lives to protect our way of life. They went on the side that was just; the one that was a defender against the perpetration of evil within the world. It was that plain, that simple, and of the starkest black and white. It is a foundation of our collective national pride and it is supposed to be the pole that pulls our moral compass in times of conflict in the modern era. Remember, lest we forget? Remember, because we were good. We stopped the oppressors; the murderers of millions. We stopped it because it was the right thing to do. Didn’t we?
I’m sitting here, now, in my chilly little flat in a wealthy resort town in one of the most developed, peaceful and least corrupt nations on this earth. This morning, I complained about how the lack of snow was resulting in a poor ski season. I try to be engaged in the world around me and follow the news. I’ve seen the scenes of war played out from countries I can’t pretend to understand, and seen the images of people whose anguish I can’t begin to empathise with no matter how much I told myself I could. I’ve reassured myself I care, because I express outrage on social media and strike up conversations about it with my friends. Syria. Iraq. CAR. Ukraine. I’ve done my part because I’ve shaken my head in disdain, and expressed my frustration at world leaders to take meaningful action. It is ok, because it has weighed on my heart that people suffer because the rest of us have not forced our own leaders to take a meaningful stand to protect innocent people, because there are reasons. I can explain it all away by musing over international relations, wonder at the role of game theory, and ponder the tragedy of the commons.
That is my privilege showing. My fortune of being born into a good place of stability with opportunity resting at my fingertips and my white skin a free pass into a life of my choosing, and the work of those in the same position in years gone by to provide fodder for my education. I get to reduce inaction at the suffering of millions down to academic musings.
It isn’t like I haven’t felt sad or frustrated at this position before. I felt sickened when I first read about the genocide in Rwanda, and horrified at the nations that hold sufficient power to save lives in Syria content to tiptoe around Russia. So why should Palestine be having this effect on me now? It isn’t new, it isn’t unknown. And why today? The truth is that I have seen countless pictures of dead children and felt bad. I have seen the excuses offered by supporters of the Israeli government and felt infuriated. But today I saw a , who was an older white male with a posh, privileged English accent. The type we are used to seeing dryly describing the horror they’ve seen. They sometimes shed a tear, but usually do that detached descriptive thing we read is a way for these people to cope when they have to witness ongoing suffering. This man, in his office, tried to describe the most recent targeting of a UN school in Gaza where the IDF had been informed repeatedly that civilians were sheltering, and he shattered into uncontrollable sobs. In that moment I hated myself.
I hated myself because all the images of dead children hadn’t had that effect. Maybe it is due to an underlying benevolent form of racial discrimination I haven’t yet managed to expunge from my system, but it took someone from my world who represented impartial restraint falling apart on live television to hit me with just how wrong, how despicable, and sickening it really is that we allow ourselves to be lead by leaders who attempt to say they “disapprove strongly” or sometimes “strongly condemn”. They are disingenuous, because they are complicit and they are liars. We are complicit. And every time we stroll to the cenotaph on ANZAC Day to the mantra of “Lest we forget”, we are liars. We are taught that a great atrocity was perpetrated by evil, and that our side was the good side that stopped them. It was witnessed, and now there would be no reason to allow such things to happen again. Our allies the USA, UK, the countries of the European Union are collectively a force that wield more power than can barely be fathomed in the scope of human history. There is no legitimate excuse as to why these actions cannot be stopped, except there is no will. With no will, there is no way. There are international laws that have been written for these precise times, and they lie unenforced due to the sickening priority given to political and economic ties to the government of a nation that should know better than any other the difference between right and wrong in the name of war. What the Israel-Palestine conflict represents to me right now is the very worst of humanity, and the very destruction of the dearly held childhood notion that the good will fight for the weak and the wronged. They won’t, and they are not. There is no good, there is only the convenient. The weak have nothing to hope for. The few of us who were born lucky will get to experience privilege, security and aspire to happiness and we will squander it. Even when we tell ourselves through that narcissistic media echo chamber that we can change world with a vote, is it true? Or how can we elect a leader once we realise they will all lead us to the same place?
I spent a childhood proud of us here in NZ because I thought that we would stand for something when it counted. I thought that even if those large foreign nations lost their way we would still shout out, and we are not. We are not speaking against our ally, the USA who support the current perversion of events that is “…the right of Israel to defend itself.” In that action, are supporting the government of Israel. Israel is committing atrocities. We are supporting atrocities.
This is a world I do not want to be in right now.