In the end, it is the conspicuous cruelty that bloodies the collective human spirit, no matter that we weren’t physically present in Gaza on May 14. In the end, it is the conspicuous cruelty that will be remembered.
As scenes of unarmed Palestinians’ deaths at the hands of Israeli soldiers filled television screens around the world, US President Donald Trump’s daughter and high representative to Jerusalem for the day laughed and preened in her pale, pristine outfit. As Israeli soldiers determinedly shot to kill Palestinian protesters — a double amputee, women, children, anyone at all — the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem, just 100km away and declared it a great victory for peace. The US president appeared by video link and intoned in tones of faux-piety: “May there be peace.”
It was the deliberate cruelty of the United States and Israeli governments that was monstrous and striking. They picked the day of Nakba for the most triumphalist act of all — claiming Jerusalem for Israel and extinguishing Palestinian hope. Even former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who is broadly supportive of Trump’s unilateral decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, was pained by the cruelty of picking Nakba Day. “The date was unnecessarily provocative,” he said. If it had happened just a week or two later, “it could have had some separation from the most sensitive and emotional date on the Palestinian side.”
But they chose Nakba Day and, in so doing, the Trump administration joined with Israel to kick the metaphorical crutches away from the double-amputee Palestinian as he painfully stood at their gate to ask for justice. Then they shot him, left him for dead and accused him of deadly terrorist intent towards the Israeli state.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife joined with Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, to take smiley selfies that flashed around the world. Trump’s envoy to Israel, David Friedman, hailed the US president’s “moral clarity.”
By some accounts, the deaths on May 14 mean that Israel has now killed 115 Palestinians in the past seven weeks for approaching the fence it placed around Gaza. That’s more than the total number of East Germans killed for trying to scale the Berlin Wall in nearly three decades.
Not a word of regret or condolence for the Palestinian deaths came from Friedman, the Trump family or the White House. White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah called the bloodshed a “gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt” by Hamas. A CNN correspondent in Washington reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “turned his back and walked away” when asked about the rising death toll in Gaza.
It was left to a scant few US congressmen, the UK minister for the Middle East, Germany, Ireland, South Africa and Turkey to lament the Palestinian lives lost and call for Israeli restraint.
Rupert Colville of the United Nations’ human rights office in Geneva grimly stated the grotesque obviousness of what had occurred on May 14 at the Gaza border with Israel: “The mere fact of approaching a fence is not a lethal, life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot… How much threat can a double amputee be making from the other side of a large fortified fence?”
The question is unlikely to be addressed by Israel and its powerful American backer even as the world demands answers for the Israeli military’s disproportionate use of force. But history offers important lessons on the dangers of hubris and the karmic consequences of conspicuous cruelty.
Back in the fourth century BC, the Aegean superpower Athens massacred all the men old enough to fight on the small, neutral island of Melos and sold all the women and children into slavery. They destroyed Melos because it would not take sides in the war with Sparta. They destroyed Melos because they could. But the massacre killed Athenian power, too. Its people were sickened by what had happened and lost faith in the Athenian project. Barely a decade later, Athens was defeated by Sparta.
Like Athens, the great power of its day, the United States currently bestrides the globe, secure in its military force and wealth. But to make blood sport of Palestinian misery shows the extent to which America is lost to itself.
Originally published at thearabweekly.com.