As the world watches on and argues about who or what to condemn that led us to this reality where thousands have been killed in Gaza with no ceasefire in sight, we must ask ourselves what we would like to happen. Do we just want a world of retaliation and retribution, or do we desire a meaningful solution? As members of the Hopkins community, we need to ask ourselves: What should be the goal when addressing global conflicts? Is it retribution, or is it resolution? If a so-called "solution" results in more harm and destruction than the problem it intended to solve, is it still a solution, or has it become a part of the problem?
The media, political activists and politicians are all shoving opinions down our throats, telling us who is to blame and what is to be condemned, while governments move to restrict freedom of speech. Even a single social media post voicing solidarity with the people of Gaza can be cause for arrest in Israel or the loss of job offers in the U.S. It is a disgraceful race to the bottom of victim blaming, built upon ethnoreligious tropes and dehumanizing the other. I hope that the Hopkins community rises above the hate and censorship to emerge united on the side of humanity at a time when a simple statement like “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are” is considered offensive.
Whenever any ethnic or religious group becomes a victim of violence, it should break our hearts. Hate crimes are especially heinous and should always be met with condemnation. However, condemnation is not the same as vengeance, especially when that vengeance takes the form of war crimes, as we have seen in Gaza.
If our goal is to create a generation of Palestinians and Israelis willing to reconcile and develop lasting peace, we must ask ourselves whether our current actions are leading to that goal. If we aim to end the cycle of occupation and violence, can more occupation and violence truly be the answer? Does anyone think peace can be achieved by keeping over two million Gazans in what is known as the world’s largest open air prison? All governments have the obligation to defend their citizens; however, this obligation should not and cannot entitle a government to violate the human rights of others, especially those under its occupation.
Imagine we could set aside the calls to end collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza, the tragic loss of thousands of lives, the Israeli airstrikes that endanger mosques and churches and the brutal killing of innocent civilians as they try to evacuate. Let us ignore the use of white phosphorus and put aside forced ethnic divides, which have perpetuated misery in this conflict. Let us continue to disregard the calls of the United Nations, Save The Children, Jewish Voice For Peace and other groups to end the violence. Let us blame the Americans trapped in Gaza for visiting Gaza, the people of Gaza for being Gazans or descendants of refugees forced into Gaza. Let us hold every Gazan accountable for the actions of their leaders. Even then, do we believe that the actions being taken by the Israeli forces will help pave the path to peace?
As people of conscience, how should we react to the Israeli military’s decision to “increase the attacks” on Gaza at a time when the United Nations is calling the situation in Gaza an “unprecedented catastrophe”? What should we think when Israel says it avoids the targeting of civilian homes but at the same time claims it will provide security for Gazans and their homes in exchange for intelligence? Does this mean Israel has the ability to do more to protect civilian homes but is choosing not to?
We all have different personal views on the conflict — which "side" we align with, who is to blame for the conflict. Human nature often inclines us to feel more empathy for those with whom we can identify more closely, be it along ethnic, religious or linguistic lines. However, we need to reflect on the consequences when hundreds of thousands of young Israeli soldiers are drawn into urban warfare. How will they emerge from the war? What happens to the over two million Gazans who are forced to endure devastation, both physically and mentally? Are these people expected to be the generation that paves the way for peace after enduring atrocities, displacement, death and uncertainty? We all need to unite and support actions that will promote peace while prioritizing the well-being of all civilians all the time, not just in times of war.
Before we rush into arguments about “who started it” and who is “more at fault,” we should pause and ask ourselves: Do we want to be on the side of peace or the side of vengeance? Do we want to allow people to think and speak freely or do we want to suppress voices that are already marginalized? The choices we make today can significantly impact the path we take in addressing global conflicts and humanitarian crises in the future.
Anyone who thinks that pointing blame and justifying violence is more important than saving lives and working toward peace is part of the problem, regardless of which “side” they are on. The road to peace starts with standing up for the rights of the most vulnerable people in a conflict, and in this conflict, it is the people of Gaza who, in the face of violent destruction and psychological torment, are being intentionally denied access to even water.
I pray that we can all rid our hearts of hatred as we strive for a world where peace, reconciliation and understanding prevail over the destructive cycles of occupation and violence. The Quran (5:2) guides humanity to not let the hatred of a people who once wronged us be the cause of our own transgressions. We, instead, are instructed to cooperate with one another in goodness and righteousness and not to cooperate in sin and transgression. Therefore, let us be among those who cooperate for the betterment of the world, not its destruction.
Hamad Hamad is a Masters of Public Health student at the Bloomberg School of Public Health from Fairfax, Va., currently based in Atlanta, Ga.