Selective Outrage

Photo by Marcin Monko | CC BY 2.0

Not once, but twice, Donald Trump seized upon the specter of alleged chemical use, by Bashar al-Assad, to punish Syria with missile attacks.  With predictable and expedient faux rage, he risked elevating a seven year horror into a cataclysmic nightmare; at least that’s the common political sentiment.

Perhaps, this calculation is more than a bit frayed given the certainty of a choreographed agreement between Trump and Putin before the attacks began.

To be sure, only a political novice would overlook the bargain that enabled Trump to stage his domestic political show and afford Putin ample time to move his forces to avoid his own domestic fallout should any of the US missiles have missed their Syrian mark and fallen, instead, upon a Russian fighter jet or pilot.

Pardon my cynicism, but I have little doubt that when it comes to the Middle East, or elsewhere, neither of these autocrats sees much beyond their own political and economic self-interest no matter what flag their rhetoric comes draped in. It’s not just the way of the times, but the accomplished trait of each.

Perhaps, I’m being a bit too harsh on Trump, in particular. No doubt he was moved by images of Syrian children swept up in the crosshairs of military carnage that, for years, has denied them the laugh of youth in their native land.

Indeed, given his long and, very public, strong support of Muslim and Arab communities throughout the world, only a hardened skeptic would deny the president his just dues for his latest public tear-drop.

Can it be convenient overlook that I fail to recall candidate Trump’s criticism over thousands of Palestinian civilians and children slaughtered by repeated attacks from Israel upon Gaza, typically utilizing chemical weapons as a mainstay of their onslaught?

And have I missed Trump’s displeasure over hundreds of Palestinian kids, some as young as 13, detained by Israel without any modicum of due process or trial during his tenure in office? Or his pointed challenge to the policy of kidnapping children from their homes in the middle of the night to be subjected to endless Israeli interrogation without legal counsel and with sexual harassment the seeming mainstay of the inquisition?  And has his human rights concern over Syrian children not earned Trump the benefit of the doubt for his marked silence, these last few weeks, over Israel’s use of prohibited weapons of war and the outright assassination and cripple of hundreds, if not thousands,  of Palestinian youth on the border of Gaza?

Pardon my haste, however, consistency would seem to indicate that righteous indignation over attacks upon Syrian civilians would somehow not end up as so much companion silence when the victims are Palestinian.

But then again, Trump’s calculated quiet is not so unlike that of many world leaders who display almost pious devotion to Israeli power yet absolute indifference to Palestinian pain.

And what of those, with clear eyes and aching heart, who sit and watch, night after night,  paralyzed with disbelief, for decades, as millions of stateless people have been relegated to little more than a passing historical footnote.

Hardened by the mayhem that has, by now, grown so rote and stale at their side, many nod their heads in disgust and, with needless surrender, turn off the light and go to bed. Tomorrow is another day, a better one… or so they hope. It won’t be… unless we act.

Soul is not just pain we feel when faced with the hurt of the moment. It’s not a devotion to shed tears at the next image, offense, or slay sure to come. Nor is it made of voice alone… one that prevails at the tenth, fiftieth or hundredth outrage. Eventually, it can become so much a passé piqued cheer heard but among our own choir… and little elsewhere.

For some, history has a way of freezing moments in surreal times; of providing ample opportunity to nod in denial, as if we did not know when, all the while, we did know yet did not care. Or maybe we did… but did not dare to act.

Jews recall the box cars and ask where we were as furnaces overflowed with the ash of humanity. The Khmer Rouge farmed with the feed of millions while a world deadened by a river of Asian blood saw none and moved on.  In Rwanda, the machete defined our passing view while the swing of sharpened steel proved to be but a shadow beyond belief… one shriek and done.

Time and time again, we have proved that ours is a collective journey filled with endless promise but, alas, one often framed with narrow pretext and sheer denial.

For those of us ensconced from the safety of afar, it will always be better, tomorrow, as reality passes by leaving spectators free to decide what price is worth the cost… while others always pay.

Romance knows no age. It warms the heart no matter its touch or language. Suffer knows no difference. It’s a universal travel that reduces all to the lowest common denominator no matter the stone of its path. A dead child, a crippled woman, a funeral wail is a universal rite of mourn that knows no narrow race, faith or class. It’s the draw that connects all who pass-on, from this world to the next, and leave behind those stunned, no matter what their status, lost for all their days yet to come, desperate for reason, rhyme, and purpose.  It never arrives.  Memories may dim. Love never leaves.

How does one explain away the loss of laugh, the slip of smile, the end of endless hope; you can’t. But yet in Gaza for many after a decade of siege, attack, and boundless slaughter there is now only one way home… in victory or in death. What else can be said when martyrdom becomes an all too welcome respite to an endless life of suffer?

For weeks, now, Gaza has stood against the world. Armed with little more than purpose and determined principle, tens of thousands have willingly walked from the safety of their prison cell to the courtyard of casualty. With dozens murdered, thousands wounded, and hundreds crippled, the best and brightest of Gaza… its young, its women its elderly… have thrown caution to the gas filled wind facing off against ruthless snipers, drones and tank fire. No Israeli has been injured.

Yet, the Great March of Return continues. For Gaza, there is simply no choice. For us, there is.

For more than a decade, we have seen the rise of BDS… a powerful, peaceful, world-wide movement that, despite the insipid Israeli chant to the contrary, has not only educated hundreds of millions to the plight of Palestine but has cost the  pariah state billions of dollars in lost revenue. It’s not enough.

By design, BDS was intended to open a new, peaceful attack upon Israel… outside of the occupied territories… while decisions on the nature and extent of resistance on the ground is, as it must, left to Palestinians to determine for themselves.

Of necessity, over the years, Palestinian resistance has embraced a wide range of ever changing strategy and tactics. Decades ago, at times, it included pitched battles and spectacular isolated attacks. With the intifadas came popular uprisings that ran the gamut from mass boycotts and labor strikes to attacks with rocks and Molotov cocktails. In their deadliest days, they included martyrdom operations and isolated rocket and sniper fire.

In the years since, as Israel has increasingly resorted to mass slaughter, extrajudicial assassination, collective detention and community siege, the résistance has, per force, continued to evolve to meet ever changing exigencies.

At times militant and fierce, some Palestinians have embraced their international and lawful right to armed struggle… be it as individuals or as a member of a movement or a group. Many have chosen a mask and rock over silence in an ever present clash not just for land, but collective dignity. Hunger strikes have ensured that thousands detained behind bars have, still, the freedom to speak with command and purpose. Others have elected peaceful challenge with the slap of a hand or turned their voice to song or psalm to ensure that those who follow will know well from where they come.

Today, outside of Palestine, there are millions who, through their collective voice and determination, tell the world Palestinians are not alone as they struggle to reclaim their home and obtain the equal justice that is a birthright for all who walk this earth.

By BDS, mass protest, and petition this movement of Muslims, Christians, Jews and non-believers, alike, have united to challenge the Israeli narrative in creative ways that are companion to the resistance on the ground in Palestine. Yet, there is more to do.

No Israeli political leader, politician, or other mainstay of that state should receive calm passage through any of our own. Where they walk, where they talk, what they say must be challenged by protest at each and every step along the way. Their lobbyists, PR firms, corporate partners, banks and funded think tanks must understand that to support Israel is to invite a boycott of their own.

Political leadership in our own countries must come to realize that our collective resolve carries a political price for their willing, blind obedience to Israel. Visiting academics, scientists and artists that fail to challenge Israeli apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing, themselves, must understand that the sale of their soul is not a purchase of ours.

Not all that long ago, the world community came together, as one, to break the back of apartheid in South Africa. It did not happen overnight. Nor was it accomplished through the prism of one view or a single overarching political strategy or without great personal sacrifice.

Resistance demands diversity in thought and action.  It is a lesson learned…  and taught…  by those among us that have blazed a long, and often difficult, path in the march of freedom throughout the world. The challenge to Israel is, today, no different.

History has shown that, without the ever-present voice of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King’s legacy would be very different than the one we honor now.

Those who find comfort in Gandhi’s passivesalt march, yet deprecate the notion that throughout his journey he understood militant resistance was, at times, a necessary means to liberation, do not know the reality of the steps he took along the way.

Offered a chance to end his imprisonment after 17 years if only he renounced violence as a legitimate means of fighting apartheid, Mandela refused and returned to his cellfor ten more years.

This is by no means a call to arms or a plea for violence. It is, however, a verse of solidarity and love for our Palestinian brothers and sisters on the front lines of occupied Palestine.

In the darkest of their hour, they are not alone.

Today, throughout the world, their family in resistance stands with, and for, them as they struggle for their freedom by any means necessary.


Stanley L. Cohen is lawyer and activist in New York City.