by Dr Jehad Al-Omari
Two months ago, my 8-year-old niece, who is living with us, looked up from her iPad and told me that she had received 2,000 views on a video she had made herself and published on a gaming platform on the internet. She was casually slouched in her chair and pronounced this achievement as a matter of fact but was secretly very pleased with herself. I was thrilled to hear about this and envious that I had personally never managed such a feat during my years on Facebook, which exceeded her age. I told myself that this is the world that my niece belongs to. I thought, being bilingual in Arabic and English at her young age, there is a great future awaiting her, particularly as a middle-class kid with Westernized parents. There is a high likelihood that she may gravitate towards the West as a young woman, either to further her studies or to live there permanently. This has been the case for generations of young, middle-class Arabs, including myself.
A few days after the eruption of the war on Gaza she came back from school at lunch-time and lectured us on the importance of boycotting a whole range of products, including her favourite soft drinks and fast-food brands, in solidarity with Gaza and against their makers’ unconditional support of Israel. She extracted a pledge from us and resumed her lunch, content with her moment of heroism and sacrifice. About a week later she was telling me about the re-appearance of a young Gazan kid on social media whose name is Abood and who she, along with other kids, thought had been killed in the bombing. Abood is possibly 14 years old, calls himself a young journalist and is actually very witty, articulate and an unbelievably brave kid, standing amidst the wrecked buildings of Gaza and reporting on various aspects of life in the war zone. My niece told me that it appears that Abood had survived because for every kid that dies in Gaza, he gets two lives!!! I could not believe what she said and when I tried to reason with her, she told me that he is a superhero. You cannot stop wondering how this fairytale will evolve in her mind as she grows up. Last week as the war on Gaza intensified, she constructed a tent on the balcony of our third-floor flat in Amman and spent most of her time in it. This was all happening in peaceful Jordan, hundreds of miles from war-torn Gaza and in the relative security of a privileged family. We can only imagine what the current events are doing to Gazan children of her age, witnessing the bombing day in day out, knowing that their school friends are lying under the rubble of a building not far from what used to be their playgrounds. It is estimated that by now almost one million of Gaza’s population has been made refugees in their own land, sheltering in schools, United Nations centres, hospitals and the houses of relatives.
When the events began to escalate in Gaza, particularly by the end of the first week, I reached out to my ex-partner in London, teasing her as to why I had not heard from her. She told me that she had not been feeling well but she was better now, and we chatted about how events were unfolding. She told me in a parting joke that she knows just the right man to solve all of this: ex-prime minister of Britain, Tony Blair. As weeks went by and as I followed the unprecedented demonstrations in London, I imagined that she would be there among the crowd. I thought of the kind of conversations we would next have: she would tell me about these demonstrations and compare them with our experience when we attended the great rally in 2003 against the war in Iraq led by George Bush and Tony Blair.
Sadly, this conversation never happened and will never occur. I received a call from her sister a week ago informing me that she had died in her sleep a few days earlier. I sit here writing this article, almost two weeks after her departure, unable to grieve properly, mourn her or talk about it with my friends who are all too occupied with the war on Gaza. But then I compare myself with the tens of thousands of Gazans who have lost beloved ones over the past five weeks and will continue to do so as long as Israel’s killing machine desires; and as long as it can withstand the rising international pressure against its war crimes of collective punishment, the targeting of civilians, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Undoubtedly the Israeli people have suffered from the beginning of this cycle of violence and may also continue to do so. However, two facts stand out here that are mostly absent in Western media. Firstly, the fact that this cycle of violence did not start on the 7th October but rather 75 years ago in 1948 when approximately 750,000 Palestinians were evicted from their homes and entire villages were obliterated or massacred to make way for the emerging state of Israel. Some of these refugees ended up in Gaza, which is the most densely populated place in the world and generally accepted as its biggest open prison. Secondly and most importantly, this recent eruption of violence would not have been so severe and ruthless had it not been for the unconditional support of Western governments to the point that the US Foreign Ministry continues to debate whether Israel has committed any war crimes when such crimes are perpetrated in front of cameras.
The events that have been happening over the past weeks have posed many questions, not only about the immediate future of the Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, but also about how we as Arabs will redefine our relationship with the West, both as individuals and countries. How my niece, as she grows older, will see the West is a major thing for her new generation, unlike my generation who became highly Westernized and feel deeply let down by it. More importantly, it is ironic how the USA blatantly and openly jeopardized stability in the Middle East region, particularly by undermining its Arab allies who the US Americans call “moderates”, and supported the most right-wing Israeli government unconditionally and unreservedly at the cost of not only rising anti-Western feelings in the Arab world but also rising pro-Palestinian support across the West. How the ‘Establishment’ in Western capitals will seek to address these major shifts in public opinion at home and abroad is yet to be seen. However, I am not optimistic, as the likes of Tony Blair and George Bush got away scot-free with their war on Iraq despite the fact that it is common knowledge now that the weapons of mass-destruction allegedly stockpiled by the Iraqi regime were never there in the first place.
Living here in Jordan, like many places in the Middle East, we are daily bombarded by Western initiatives to promote human rights, democracy, women’s rights and God knows what other rights. We have sheepishly believed for a long time in the morality of the West. Yet this same West has failed miserably to save hospitals, places of worship and schools from Israeli bombing that will continue for the foreseeable future. Few Western leaders have spoken out for fear of upsetting the Israel government and its influential lobbies. As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to improve dialogue between East and West, I feel my efforts have been futile. For what could have been louder than the bodies of thousands of Palestinians being pulled out of the rubble in front of live TV cameras? The West needs no lessons in cross-cultural communication but in basic humanity.
For this article, I chose not to give detailed accounts of the atrocities and historical facts. These are now available online. I also chose not to use horrific scenes from the war zone but only the simple photo at the head of the article of an ordinary young Palestinian refugee from Gaza heading south with her beloved cat. The Palestinians have no death wish to be martyrs. They love life like the rest of us and love all creatures, great and small.