I begin by offering my condolences to the families and loved ones of every innocent Palestinian, man, woman, and child who has been unjustly killed during the ongoing illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Likewise, I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of every innocent Israeli, man, woman, and child whose life has been taken unjustly. When the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) was informed that the deceased was a Jew after he reverently stood for a passing funeral procession, he simply responded, “Is it not a soul?” Are they not souls?
As the latest iteration of the Israeli/Palestinian crisis deepens, many Muslims seem shocked by the hypocritical double standard being displayed towards Israeli as opposed to Palestinian suffering. We Americans have been inundated with images of Israeli corpses lying around the streets, scenes of desperate Israeli youth fleeing from a desert concert turned into a killing field, presidentially legitimized lies of beheaded Israeli babies, as well as video clips of dazed and confused Israelis, including women with their children, being forced at gunpoint into vehicles and then trucked off to an unknown fate. These images have been etched indelibly into the consciousness of the American public by a biased media. As a result, the unprecedented quest for vengeance festering in Israeli society is shared by many Americans.
Meanwhile, the suffering of Palestinians, who have been ceaselessly and systematic brutalized, humiliated and massacred by the thousands over the decades of the illegal Israeli occupation; who have witnessed the ongoing and escalating usurpation of their land; who have endured the bulldozing of their homes, orchards and fields; who have seen their young men thrown into Israeli dungeons, oftentimes with no charges or trials; who have lived through the periodic orgies of obscene violence, including the present one, is almost totally ignored by the American media.
Many ask, why? The answer should be evident. The media, true to the interests of its gatekeepers, simply does not care. When images of Palestinian suffering do slip through the censorship, American public opinion immediately begins shifting favorably towards them. This was starkly illustrated in January 1988, when the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, ordered the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to use clubs to break the bones of Palestinian protesters.The American public reacted with revulsion and shock as the nightly news conveyed images of hundreds of people, many of them children, having their legs, arms and even their skulls smashed by club-wielding Israeli soldiers. When Henry Kissinger suggested that the media stop showing those scenes because they were generating too much sympathy for the Palestinians, the media willingly obliged and made sure that ‘error’ was never repeated. Americans no longer saw the clubbing, but it did not stop. Then, as now, Palestinians were left to suffer in the shadows.
The media is not alone in this regard. The political elites share its callous indifference to Palestinian suffering. It did not take long for President Biden to manifest his disregard for Palestinian lives as the current crisis unfolded. A self-described Christian Zionist, he declared his distaste for the current Israel government after it assumed power. He subsequently gave it a green light to slowly escalate its murderous campaign against the Palestinians in the West Bank by hosting Israeli President Isaac Herzog and inviting him to address a joint session of Congress. After the horrific Hamas attacks, he has quickly endorsed its longstanding plan to ethnically cleanse the occupied territories, starting with Gaza. He is also tripping over himself to rush bombs and ammunition to Israel, ostensibly to fight Hamas, however, no one doubts that those munitions will be used for anything other than the massacre of innocent Palestinians in Gaza.
Biden has also displayed an uncritical eagerness to endorse the vilest Israeli propaganda and lies. In addition to the lies about decapitated Israeli women and children, he has spread the false claims of Hamas fighters raping Israeli women and parading them as trophies. Now he is regurgitating the debunked Israeli claim that it was an errant Hamas rocket and not an Israeli bomb that destroyed a hospital in Gaza, leading to the deaths of more than 500 individuals. In summary, like the media, Biden, Blinken, as well as both the Democratic and Republican Parties could not care less about Palestinian suffering. In fact, they are displaying a willingness to do anything to enhance it, if they believe it will advance the Zionist cause.
A callous disregard for Palestinian suffering is also being displayed by the military establishment. Anyone familiar with the history of the US military in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, post-1967, is not surprised by its eagerness to become so one-sidedly involved in the current crisis. After all, this is the same military that airlifted over twenty-two thousand tons of heavy military equipment and munitions to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That airlift, Operation Nickel Grass, while saving Israel, severely crippled NATO’s preparedness in the European Theatre, almost destroying our fleet of C-141 transport aircraft. It is the same military that ignored the view of crew members that Israel intentionally targeted one of its ships just before the 1967, “Six Day War.” That attack on the USS Liberty, resulted in the deaths of 34 servicemen along with 171 injuries. It is the same military that uses data from the recurrent bombardments of Gaza to gauge the effectiveness of its weapon systems. Why? Because it is oblivious to Palestinian suffering.
It is easy to claim that the unprecedented savagery of the Hamas attack on southern Israel has unleashed a barbaric Israeli assault not seen before in its intensity. Such a claim is dubious if we consider that the establishment of Israel involved the destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages; 70 documented massacres of Palestinian men, women, and children; the estimated deaths of over 10,000 Palestinians, coupled with the displacement of over 750,000 civilians. Similarly, the month-long 1982 Israeli siege and bombing of Beirut resulted in 48,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilian casualties, 18,000 dead and 30,000 wounded. The ongoing destruction of Gaza, along with the heavy human toll it is exacting, is anything but unprecedented.
We can continue in this vein, but the larger issue is what are we going to do to stop the deepening cycles of violence? Here are three suggestions. The first two involve a shift in consciousness.
One: We must engage in an unambiguous, uncompromising affirmation of civilian immunity during war and peace. This is something Muslims should have no problem advocating in the strongest way. After all, it is the Qur’an that declares taking a single innocent life is equivalent to murdering all of humanity (5:32). The Qur’anic language is general in this regard, meaning that the innocent life could be a Jew, Christian, Hindu, atheist, or Muslim. It should not matter if the violating party is Hamas, the IDF, Israeli settlers, the Syrian government in Hama, the United States military, or any other transgressor. We must reach a point where anyone violating civilian immunity is equally condemnable.
Two: We must reject the barbaric practice of collective punishment. No American would accept the demolition of a home of a teenager throwing a rock at a police officer or a soldier. Yet we turn a blind eye to the Israeli practice of demolishing the homes of even those who throw stones at its soldiers. While most destroyed homes have not been those of stone throwers, a significant number have. The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions estimates that over 55,000 Palestinian structures, most of them homes, have been destroyed from the onset of the 1968 Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, until 2022.
The cost in Palestinian lives owing to the Israeli policy of murdering multitudes of innocent Palestinians in response to the killing of even one Israeli is even more appalling. Between 2008 and 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has recorded the deaths of 250 Israelis as opposed to 5,600 Palestinians, and 5,600 injured Israelis vis-a-vis 115,000 injured Palestinians. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian deaths and injuries have occurred as the result of punitive or retaliatory Israeli operations that can only be described as illegal acts of collective punishment inflicted against innocent civilians in occupied territories.
Three: This point is specifically germane to Muslims. We must turn to Allah. Ultimately, there is no strength or power except with Allah. This involves several things, the most important being prayer. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) learned of a calamity, or was confronted with a vexing situation, he would immediately resort to prayer. He is also reported to have said, “Prayer is the weapon of the believer…”
We believe that prayer is mightier than both the pen and the sword. So, if you are stunned by the iciness displayed by formerly friendly neighbors, coworkers, teachers, fellow students, or people you pass in the streets, pray. If you feel abandoned by the political establishment, including the President you may have voted for, pray. If you feel helpless, unable to immediately do anything to help relieve the suffering of the Palestinian masses, pray. If you feel your faith is being challenged by actions you can neither understand nor find any justification for, pray. Prayer will provide you a refuge in a maddening storm.
Let us further pray that we can preserve our humanity in the face of extremely dehumanizing circumstances. Let us pray that our children will not inherit the burden of the crimpling conflicts currently confronting us. Let us pray that their eyes will not weep rivers of tears as they cower, hiding from deranged forces hellbent on their destruction. Let us pray that they may
preserve the light and innocence of youth throughout the entirety of their lives.
Turning to Allah also means preserving His remembrance. We are commanded in the Qur’an, “O you who believe, remember Allah often, and glorify Him in the morning and the evening (33:41).” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) said, “Preserve the remembrance of Allah and He will preserve you.” Part of that preservation is keeping our actions within the limits set by Allah. It is keeping our dignity when circumstances beg us to become uncivilized and base. During disorienting times like these it is keeping the light of hope, faith, and tranquility alive in our hearts. As many of us are sieged by emotions such as anger, anguish, anxiety, and grief, let us never doubt the veracity of the Qur’anic declaration, “Surely, the remembrance of Allah brings tranquility to the hearts (13:28).”
In conclusion, as a human family we must reject the barbaric policy of war as primarily the mechanized slaughter of innocent civilians. This is not a policy sanctioned by ancient Jewish, Christian, or Muslim texts. Rather, it is one of the bastard children of modernity. If we choose not to challenge this idea, we will continue our downward spiral into an abyss whose terminal point is a mushroom cloud. We must recognize that only by clinging doggedly to our highest principles can we possibly prevent the ship of humanity from being torn asunder on the rocks and reefs of vengeance and hatred that are hidden in a dark sea void of empathy.
Imam Zaid Shakir
10 /19/ 2023
Photo: TeleSUR English