At this moment, there is a mother in Ethiopia sobbing uncontrollably while burying her child and a teenager in Gaza weeping while hugging a picture of her dad she will never see again. These scenes are not outliers but the norm in two ancient lands that are being roiled by brutalities few of us could ever imagine. The roots of senseless acts of carnage that are gashing Ethiopia, Israel and Palestine alike span decades if not centuries; generations of unrecognized pains, marginalization and systematic brutalities waged against people based on their ethnicity, religion and/or political beliefs are being manifested in Tigray, Benishangul-Gumuz, Addis Abeba and beyond in Ethiopia and in Gaza and the West Bank.
Agonies birthing rage, sorrows pixilating into bitterness, the strife that is taking place among people who have shared histories and common blood coursing through their veins is an outward display of buried inward emotions that are exploding before our eyes. I know about these inhumanities first hand; the sheer amount of bloodshed and human suffering that is occurring in my birthland Ethiopia on a daily basis is beyond description. A country that survived intact for more than 3,000 years is currently unraveling at the seams as too many are giving their hands to ethnocentrism and letting proximity determine their pursuit of justice.
If you search Ethiopia on Twitter, you will see a cavalcade of Ethiopians highlighting the atrocities that are taking place back home through the lens of tribe. There are few Ethiopians who are purely of one ethnic group; to the contrary, the vast majority are products of mixed marriages and interwoven communities. Sadly, this fact is overlooked by so many as the default position has become to claim only one tribe and then cast stone at others who don’t belong in the same clan. The outbreak of violence in every corner of the country—where people are singled out for mass-murders based on their ethnicity—is a direct outflow of diseased thinking.
The same can be said of the horrific bloodshed taking place in Gaza as two sides, who are locking in an interminable conflict, take turns ravaging one another. Both Israelis and Palestinians believe that they are the aggrieved parties and refuse to give an inch to the other side. In this maximalist paradigm, nuance is all but impossible and demonizing someone who does not share one’s religion, identity or philosophy has become acceptable codes of conduct. It’s this uncompromising stance that has turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world and normalized the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Palestine and in Israel.
Semites killing Semites, Ethiopians exterminating Ethiopians; genocides have become as commonplace as Covid-19 yet there are few peacemakers to be found because most are convinced that their side is right and the other side need to be put in their place. This level of indifference, which is mutating into hate, is propelling untold thousands of Ethiopians, Israelis and Palestinians to their early graves. Too many would rather die over principle than co-exist. It’s understandable though, hopelessness is a pathway to bitterness which eventually leads to malice towards others who are struggling just the same.
This will be one of the enduring images of this latest assault on Gaza. Two children, Nana and Ahmad, proudly show the pet fish they rescued from the rubble. pic.twitter.com/sXjAGhmO5D
— Laila Al-Arian (@LailaAlarian) May 22, 2021
This same zeitgeist of tribal grievances that forsakes inclusiveness is evidenced in my new home America and beyond. I frequently say that the devil divides and God multiplies for this reason, the root cause of anguishes are the social and political divisions that continue to metastasize around the globe. While the few who lord over billions thrive by indoctrinating us to covet separatism, the rest of us—the marginalized humanity—are being ground into dust the more we fight over our differences. This is why the establishment keep promoting demagogues to incite all sides;as long as we are bashing each other based on distinctions, we will never form a united front that is a prerequisite to defending our common interests.
This is not to minimize the feelings that are leading to this type of polarization. When people feel robbed of their identities, are given nothing but indignities and their only hopes for the future are the lack of it, they end up identifying with what gives them miseries. The same way a “black” child broken by poverty in the inner cities turns to gangs for acceptance or a teenager in Gaza turns to Hamas for protection, when people feel excluded they end up embracing tribalism and forgetting about humanity. Until we start to address these underlying socio-economic inequalities, we will keep hacking at the branches of injustice and never getting at its root.
I started a room in Clubhouse two days ago where the genocides taking place in Ethiopia was the topic. My aim was to create a space where people can discuss the crimes against humanity that are being committed in a land that gave birth to me. To my dismay, immediately the conversation turned into a competition about who has it worse. Diminishing the wounds others harbor in their hearts and trying to monopolize pains have become the modus operandi for social justice warriors who are intent on being heard while refusing to listen to anyone who does not speak their dialect. This same phenomenon is evident between Israelis and Palestinians as well as here in the United States.
Instead of ingesting the poisoned apple of apathy and antipathy, there is another way that could actually bear fruit. Rather than lecturing others about how wrong they are and preaching that some are privileged because they don’t share our exact struggles, how about we try empathy first. I know the redemptive power of love from a first hand experience; up until I became homeless in 2015, I too used to castigate all “white” people and exceled in the art of demonizing Republicans. It took a dance with tribulation for me to realize that poverty and hopelessness do not discriminate; seeing a seven year old “white” girl named Sam eating with fellow broken souls like me in a homeless shelters opened my eyes to the true sources of iniquities.
There was another incident that truly changed me and led me away from peddling tribal grievances. During my nearly two year stint of privation, I had an encounter with someone who was the polar opposite of me that showed me that love twined with conversations can heal wounds and mend broken fences. While I was staying at a shelter in Greenville, South Carolina, I ran into a skin-shaved “white” guy who kept giving me dirty looks. The first couple of days, I returned his enmity with equal animosity as I plotted punching him if he approached me in a disrespectful way. On the third day, I tried a different tactic; instead of reflecting his disposition, I decided to extend an olive branch.
While I was smoking outside, he came near the bench I was sitting at looking for used cigarette butts on the ground. Instantly, I felt a tinge of sadness for this poor guy as my anger melted away; I offered him an unused cigarette and his disposition changed in a flash. He sat down on a bench next to the one I was sitting at and I started talking to him. I told him about my background, about how I arrived in America as an immigrant from Ethiopia in 1983 and the various hardships I endured from missing my grandmother back home who passed away without loved ones by her side to the pains of losing my father to lung cancer and the struggles my mother endured dealing with debilitating depression.
Once I finished telling him my life story, he paused in silence for a few minutes then did something that I did not expect. He apologized to me and told me that he was once a member of the Klu Klux Klan and that he hated “black” people ever since he was a teenager because his sister started dating an African-American. He went on to tell me that he never really talked to a “black” guy before in the way that the two of us share a conversation; a half hour discussion washed away decades of grudges and contempt. Perhaps he went back to his old ways after our sit-down, maybe he only changed his mind about me and not about everyone else who shares my complexion, or maybe, just maybe his heart truly was transformed and he went on to impact others the same way I impacted him.Though there is a common source to global suffering, too many would rather focus on our differences and fight based on tribal grievances. In this way, the #GenesisOfGenocides is indifference that births malice and violence. Click To Tweet
I’m not sharing this story to portray myself as the good guy who salvaged a wayward soul; in truth that chance encounter with a former KKK member saved me as much as it potentially released him from bigotry. If I opted to remain bitter because I lost everything and all my friends turned their backs on me once I hit skid row, I would still be sleeping on the streets at this moment. It’s because I chose forgiveness over pursuing vindication that I am now writing this article in a home, married the love of my life and have a son who is the light of our world. I was renewed by love and all that I lost was returned ten folds; my testimony can be that of Ethiopian, Israelis, Palestinians and humanity as a whole.
We have a choice before us, we can keep seeking vengeance and perpetuating a cycle of antagonism that is driving humanity over a cliff or we can try a road less traveled yet leads to salvation. Like Martin Luther King Jr. once said “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. For the sake of our children and future generations, I hope we choose empathy over enmity and that we embrace love over indifference.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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