Still, a child. One life. That should have been enough.
It wasn’t just the sight of grey soot covered children running from the debris or parents carrying the lifeless bodies of their young ones in their arms, pleading for help desperately, but the uneasy delivery of the so-called leader of the free world, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, that further exposed the shifting of goalposts in this war.
Two significant incidents have made this war untenable. But none more so than the fact that Biden, the president of the United States, has had to walk back his own free comments, more than once, to redacted clarifications from the White House.
After the attacks of October 7, it seemed Biden had walked away from his own pain, at the loss of a child or entire family to unexpected violence – which is true, he made it a point to repeat, of victims of gun violence as well as terrorist attacks. Under political compulsion of the US establishment’s commitment to Israel, he claimed, astonishingly, in the midst of proliferating images of children being tortured and killed in this asymmetrical war, from starvation and lack of water and from the cruel shrapnel of a war they did not sign up for, that the Palestinian authorities in Gaza were exaggerating the numbers of their dead.
This while ostensibly trying to rebuild bridges with Arab countries in west Asia, leaving the secretary of state hopping in an unconvincing effort to open the closed doors of Gaza’s border crossings with Egypt and Israel, for the wounded to cross over and for desperately needed emergency aid to be supplied to Palestinians in Gaza. And no one asked, shouldn’t one life lost be enough? Compelling enough? To wage war or make peace? It needs to be asked. Whom does war serve?
“Now is not the right time for a ceasefire in Gaza”. That statement from Biden, as bloodied, maimed and lifeless bodies were captured raw by journalists and residents, risking their own lives and their families’, should send chills down the spines of the world.
Playing god is a dangerous game, and today while the children of Gaza, like the children in the kibbutzim nearby, become unwilling collateral, tomorrow there will be consequences, with the seeds sown by the decisions made today on behalf of the world community by its elected government members.
Will the people of the world continue to accept the decisions of these “leaders” as part of their own legacy, or accept the rippling indiscriminate consequences as part of the package that comes with re-electing them or their counterparts back to office?
Biden has never wasted an opportunity to wax empathetic with victims, whether of America’s wars or of its indiscriminate gun policy, where the second amendment protections (for some more than others) are also a political ticket – nor to talk of his own personal loss. Now he could be seen on shaky ground, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that what was tying his hands was not just the plight of the Israeli prisoners captured by Hamas.
Biden himself went to Israel – even as the Arab countries uninvited the US from political peace negotiations – and over a couple of hours pleaded with Netanyahu and Israel in public not to repeat America’s mistakes after September 11. That is, to get their intelligence and war/revenge policy right, without creating ripple effects around the globe. But he stopped short of actually showing his country as a “first world” leader by calling for a ceasefire.
The perception of Israel, home to the second-largest number of Jews in the world after the United States, is fast changing. And only a change of policy on both countries’ part can do some damage control at this point.
The people of Israel, many descended from victims or survivors themselves of the Holocaust, were given a cruel shock on the morning of October 7, and are themselves blaming their government’s apathy, incompetence and political machinations for what occurred. Israelis were already fighting the Netanyahu government over unpopular constitutional reforms, and are now being made to fight the leader’s wounded ego and blunted intelligence. They will have to determine how the terrifying acts of October 7 were committed under their nose. Hamas must consider itself brilliant for the manner in which they carried out the attack, but now Israel has turned it against their own people on whom it is waging indiscriminate war that ignores the most basic rules of engagement.
While most of the Israeli prisoners are still held captive and many have reportedly been killed in the bombardment, body bags are becoming the greatest import from the world. The question must be asked if nations, with all their might, and politicians, with their images and reputations, are not deliberately playing a greater role to stop this carnage, and therefore, exposing their own people to bear the brunt, in a future likely to unfold over decades and not limited to this region alone.
The US too has become a party to the crimes of this war, that it cannot afford to fight given the chaos in the region and back home over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name the more recent.
The overnight bombing of the Baptist church run hospital in Gaza shifted mass outrage towards Israel soon into the war. Backed by others, the Israeli military did not claim responsibility for just those bombs. It claims that Hamas is using hospitals as operational bases, and civilians as human shields. If that is true, does it justify the murder of innocents who had nothing to do with the attack?
History is unlikely to look back kindly upon all that has happened in the last three weeks, and there are fears this war has now entered the zone of no return. The fact that it has completely overshadowed the war in Ukraine, a concern expressed at the very outset by its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says it all. The world over there are generations that have grown up without seeing war first hand or even in real time, never having witnessed the gut wrenching consequences with their own eyes.
Was the loss of one innocent life not enough, or a veritable war crime, of bombing a hospital where impoverished people, who have no choice and are little more than pawns in a game in which they suffer the most, were not only seeking refuge, but desperately seeking help for the limbless children and orphans of a war they did not see coming?
Israel was appalled at the UN chief’s statement about the “humanitarian crisis” becoming dire in Gaza. Addressing the world, Benjamin Netanyahu has used “9/11” to implore America, “26/11” to call on India for assistance, using relatable horror stories to make an impassioned plea to join the war.
While terrorist attacks must be condemned, including the violent acts in the Israeli settler colonies and peace loving quarters of the kibbutz, when they are used to justify a war it seems more like assuaging one’s own wounded egos for having focussed on winning the war of politics over guarding its own borders, it should be a matter of concern. And now in yet another attempt to keep one’s chair, how much more blood must be spilled?
So, whom does this war serve?
The grey blur in all our minds must be questioned.
It is not about who has the right to occupy or who deserves to suffer. It is about being able to get a bird’s eye view. And it seems that lens has gone out of focus, the blur, like the dust from the virtual carpet bombing of an entire civilization living in virtually uncivilized abandon and careworn, that is now leeching the world of an entire generation.
How is the burnt body of a child different from a child who cannot even run but needs to be held in the arms of a desperate parent, limbless and losing blood, losing life in dire circumstances? Still, a child. One life. That would have been enough. To stop a war. It should have been enough. That is what would have sounded good if the leader of the free world had said it himself.