“The suffering in the ghetto was extreme, and conditions deteriorated rapidly. At its height, more than 450,000 people were crammed into an area of 1.3 square miles, and in some buildings as many as 20 people were living to a single room. Around 100,000 people died of starvation, sickness and maltreatment. Anyone caught trying to leave was shot.”
This story sounds familiar doesn’t it? Given the violence going on in Gaza at this exact moment and the indiscriminate shooting of protesters who are trying to escape the open air prison that serves as a holding cell for 1.8 million Palestinians, one could rightly conclude that the excerpt above is a page taken out of today’s newspaper. However, the passage above is a retelling of the horrors faced by Jews in the ghettos of Warsaw. The same way Palestinians are currently being demonized by Zionists and their supporters in corporate media and by politicians is how Nazis used to malign Jews as they brutalized men, women and children and kept them locked behind walls and wire fences.
It should be easy to condemn barbaric acts. Injustice is injustice; our perspectives should not change depending on the faces of the victims. Sadly, we live in a world of hypocrisy; too many view morality through situational lenses. What is outrageous when committed against their tribe is glibly dismissed when it is perpetrated against people they don’t identify with. This is how despots are able to carry out crimes against humanity; when we let identity become more important than what we have in common, we give allowance for evil to flourish.
Hitler rose to power by demonizing Jews and relegating them to the status of undesirables. A steady stream of xenophobia by the Nazi establishment eventually seeped into the public square. If you ever wonder how every day Germans could have turned a blind eye to the suffering of millions of Jews, it’s because they were turned into abstractions—indifference was the womb that birthed mass carnage. What took place in Germany during the 1930’s and 40’s is not an outlier as much as it is a regular occurrence throughout history. Native Americans who were decimated, Africans who were turned to chattel and led to slaughter, Japanese civilians who were blown apart by atomic winds; the first step towards mass injustice is to assign collective guilt and then consign humans to their collective graves. Violence is a terror that destroys both the perpetrators and the persecuted.
What else do we call it but terror when the Israel Defense Force—one of the deadliest military in the world—deploys sharp shooters who use high impact bullets that explode limbs and amputate lives? What else do we call it but ethnic cleansing when an entire population is displaced from their homes and quartered behind barbed walls and razor fences? When one side bears more than a thousand wounded and fifty dead while the other side engages in a turkey shoot and does not suffer one causality, only zealots and and extremists can justify these war crimes as acts of self-defense. Nikki Haley can walk out of the UN chambers and refuse to hear the plight of Palestinians, but history will record who stood with the oppressed and who cravenly applauded in Jerusalem while civilians were being decimated in Gaza.
Gaza has been turned into a gruesome mixture of internment camps and an open gun range. Israel, which is the number one per capita exporter of weapons in the world, is using Palestinians as target practice only to turn around and hawk their battle-tested arms to despots in every corner of the globe. I don’t write this not to diminish the ruthless legacy of the holocaust and the pains endured by Jews at the hands of Nazis, however when Netanyahu gives a Mengeleian green light to test ammunitions on civilians and then partakes in propaganda worthy of Goebbels, it is imperative for all who care about justice to speak against this slow-motion genocide. We must do so knowing that those who speak against the excesses of Israel’s government will be tarred and slandered with the cudgel of antisemitism, which ignores the fact that Palestinians are Semite too. Killing them is beyond defamation, it is criminal—appropriated history will not shield atrocities forever.
It is important in times like these to speak up without regard to tribe or identity. When wrongs are committed, our first action should not be to ask who but to find out how we can ameliorate human suffering. Some would have us believe that 1,300 Palestinians who were shot yesterday in the span of 8 hours were all Hamas terrorists. As if people who protest and demand a life with a modicum of happiness are the same as suicide bombers. When rocks and chants are met with rockets and butterfly bullets, we must call the actions of Israel an act of terror or we join league with Germans who held their tongues for fear of being labeled sympathizers. Click To Tweet
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
This is a most powerful quote by Elie Wiesel, a man who survived the horrors of Auschwitz and lived to remind the world what happens when mass suffering is neglected. We must be resolute in seeking justice for all without bias towards any. ‘Never forget’ rings hollow if horrors are only remembered when committed against one group and forgotten when it is being purveyed by another. Moreover, those who have felt the tinge of oppression should be the last to persecute anyone else. Having once felt pain does not give a right to pass pain to others. Anguish should be a soil for empathy not a hotbed for vengeance.
This is not to isolate any one group for condemnation. Collective judgement is immoral whether it is being done to Palestinians or Jews. The actions of Israel and their monstrous treatment of women, men and children who they have locked up behind the ghettos of Gaza should not be laid at the feet of all Jews. I know this to be true from personal experience, there are a lot of Jews who are vehemently against the actions of the Likud party and stand astride Zionism as a whole. Nuance is needed in all things, if we are quick to judge all for the sins of the few, we end up being the very thing we are standing against. Justice does not have to be an all or nothing prospectus, I pray for Jewish children in Tel Aviv to live in peace as I do for children in Gaza City.
If we are to seek justice, we must do so without tribal and political blinders. There is no need to compare and contrast justice, hurt is hurt irrespective of race, creed, ideology, or faith. I’ve written this plenty of times in the past, the only way we can alleviate suffering in this world is by seeking inclusive justice instead of trying to monopolize pains. It is high time we stop seeing injustice through prisms and stand up for humanity. Or else, if we keep silent as others are targeted for repression and if we become complaint by extension, in time they will come for us and there will be no one left to speak on our behalf. Sound familiar? #ComparativeJustice
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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If we are to stand up for justice, we must do so without regard to identity. Suffering is suffering, we don’t have to view pain through tribal lenses. That is the message I proffer in this Ghion Cast below.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Latest posts by Lij Teodrose Fikremariam (see all)
- Ethiopia’s Choice: Poverty through Grievance or Prosperity through Unity - September 9, 2019
- Bloody 60s: the Decade that Aborted Leadership in America - August 22, 2019
- A Matter of Life or Death: We Cannot Afford to Ignore Mental Illnesses Any Longer - August 17, 2019