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May 27, 2021

There are no 'two sides' to the Israeli Palestinian conflict

This is the first time I’m witnessing an escalation in Gaza as a Canadian living outside of Israel. I have been through three severe attacks on Gaza, or as Israel calls them in the oh-so-clinical name “operations”. In two of them, I worked in a human rights non-profit, posting daily testimonies and photos from Gaza, reading interviews with people who have just found their loved ones shattered after bombings, recording the dead children’s names for radio, while going to the bomb shelters from time to time as Israeli cities were being attacked.

No two sides to this conflict

Morally, I find It hard to describe what’s happening in Israel while there are attacks on Gaza. There are no two sides to this conflict; there is an occupier and occupied territories. Yes, there are actions that violate humanitarian law committed by officials in Gaza and by Israeli governments, and both are to blame for attacking civilians, but by no means are there two sides to this conflict. They are not equal in power, agency, military force or casualties.

During the day, I worry about my Gazan friends and colleagues; I’m terrified for them. Yet, I am more than aware that the terror is not only the war, but also the ever-present threat of an attack that can burst at any moment in the world’s largest open-air prison, where there is nowhere to escape. My heart breaks for every civilian killed in Gaza, for every child.

At night, I look at my social media feed and see the stories of my friends in Israel, their terrified kids, their accounts of awkward meetings with neighbors in stairways, the safest place when a bomb shelter is not nearby. I see a report about a woman killed, only 20 minutes away from my parents, my brothers, my nieces and nephews - and my heart trembles. I know that there are no two sides to this conflict, but I am afraid for my Israeli friends and family as I am afraid for my Gazan friends. Fear for loved ones knows no political differentiation.

The occupation brought israel to moral bankruptcy

Writing this from the comfort of my new Canadian home makes me feel like a hypocrite. Who am I to pass judgment on what’s going on when I’m far away? Yet under my hesitations and doubt lies an unapologetic truth: the occupation is wrong, and this war and the suffering of my friends in Gaza and my family in Israel is a direct result of it.

The blockade on Gaza is a draconian measure, leaving Gazans squeezed between Israel and Hamas’s tyranny. Then there is the annexation in the West Bank, where Israelis force people out of their homes and demolish them, evict civilians in order to have military practices on their lands, let settler violence go unpunished and use unnecessary force that gets protestors, some of them minors, killed. And all of that is justified under the banners of “security” and “safety”. Look where your security measures brought us today.

Some people fear that ending the occupation will be the end of Zionism or Israel as we know it. To that I answer, the occupation brought Israel to moral bankruptcy, and if it needs to change to redeem itself, so be it.

Easier said than done. This has been going on for decades. I took two years off of working for nonprofits operating in the West Bank and Gaza, and when I jumped back in recently, I laughed with bitterness. Nothing has changed in two years, as I imagine nothing really changed in decades.

"I used to think that they can change their views as I have. Today, I am not so sure."

So many people I know will resent me for writing those words above, immediate family members included. I can hear their comments and remarks as I write this.

As a kid, I held the same worldview: “The survival of the Jewish people requires sacrificing in morals”. “We can’t be both safe and take the higher ground”. “All Palestinians want is for us to get out of here, by dying if need be, and whoever thinks otherwise is dumb or naive at best, or a traitor at worst.” 

How can things change if that is the perspective of so many Israelis? I don’t have an answer to that. I used to think that they can change their views as I have. Today, I am not so sure.

What I do know for sure is that when I close my eyes tonight I will envision the bombing video my co-worker Hazem sent me from his window in Gaza, right before I pray that no missile will hit my parent’s house. 

There are no two sides to this conflict, yet I have friends on both sides: the occupier and the occupied, and the only way I see out of it is a radical change of minds.

Ita Skoblinski is an award-winning digital media and UX consultant.

Image: Chiara Benelli