The price of our silence in the deadly occupation of Gaza is too high

Protesters in the Phillipines protest in solidarity with Palestinians. Photo credit: Facebook.
Protesters in the Phillipines march in solidarity with Palestinians. (Photo credit: Facebook)

There is a scene in And The Band Played On where Matthew Modine’s character explains the origins of the phrase “The Butchers’ Bill”: a phrase coined by British Admiral Lord Nelson when asking for the daily casualty reports of soldiers lost in the Napoleonic wars. In the film, Modine’s character creates his own Butchers’ Bill for the AIDS epidemic, and it remains one of pop culture’s most poignant visual reminders of the devastating cost of the disease in human lives.

The Butchers’ Bill in the ongoing violence on the Gaza Strip is equally heart-breaking. In less than two weeks time, Israel has launched airstrikes against Palestinian residents of Gaza targeting over 1500 sites; Hamas has also launched over a thousand rockets into Israel that have all been largely ineffective. As of today, the Butchers’ Bill for Palestinian residents of Gaza nears 350 after 11 days of fighting, nearly fifty of those dying in the last 72 hours at the hands of invading Israeli ground troops. The United Nations estimates that three-fourths of Palestinians killed in Gaza by Israeli offensive actions this month were non-militants, and approximately 50 — a third of them killed since Thursday — have been children. An additional 2000 Palestinians have sustained serious injuries in the attacks. The UN reports that yesterday the number of Palestinians displaced by the violence has nearly doubled to 40,000 — all seeking refugee status in one of 34 UN shelters.

There are no words to describe the rage and grief I feel in watching this senseless killing unfold. But the price of my silence — and the silence of too many of us in America — is also far too high.

A Palestinian family, displaced by the violence, flees Gaza City.

On Wednesday, reporters and bystanders watched in shock and horror as an Israeli gunship brutally slaughtered four young Palestinian children (none older than eleven) on an otherwise deserted Gaza beach. After an initial strike, the Israeli planes returned to chase and gun down the four young boys — all cousins — as they ran screaming for their lives. Just 24 hours later, seven children were shot — four of them fatally — by an Israeli naval gunboat while they were playing soccer on a Gaza rooftop.

In the last two weeks, four Israeli have lost their lives.

This past months' Butchers Bill in the Gaza Strip
This past months’ Butchers Bill in the Gaza Strip.

Too many  of us are allowed by the comforts of distance to pretend that what is happening in the Gaza Strip right now does not affect us. That distance comes in many forms: geographic distance, cultural distance, religious distance, racial distance, and linguistic distance. That distance gives shelter to our assertion that what is happening to Gaza is not happening to us. It gives shelter to our rationalizations and our justifications. It gives shelter to our dehumanization of the Palestinian people. It gives shelter to our silence.

That distance is also a lie and an illusion.

David Palumbo-Liu writes about how violence in Israel-Palestine is a matter of American studies, particularly in light of our country’s hand in shaping the conflict. He and many other writers have noted the US State Department’s stance in defense of Israeli airstrikes targeting Palestinian civilians; President Obama defended that stance to Muslim American guests at the White House’s annual iftar dinner. Like it or not, America is involved in what is happening in Israel-Palestine.

Let me be clear: most of us do not know what it is like to live as a Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. As a Canadian-born (East) Asian American, I do not know what it is like to live as an occupied people in my own Holy Land. I do not know what it is like to live under constant threat of overwhelming military violence and death. I do not know what it is like to find myself staring down the barrel of an assault rifle, or be targeted by the sophisticated weapons mounted on a gunship or an F-16. I also do not know what it is like to be brown and Muslim, and to have these two simple facts of my being cast me as a villain and a terrorist.

But, what is happening in Gaza still touches me on a fundamental level.

In Gaza City, a Palestinian man stands amid debris after an Israeli airstrike. (Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
In Gaza City, a Palestinian man stands amid debris after an Israeli airstrike. (Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

For so many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the plight of colonized people is familiar and deeply personal. Most Asian and Pacific Islander countries still bear the scars of both military and cultural occupation, whether by Western powers and/or by other Asian nations; some of our lands still remain occupied to this day. Most of us in the AAPI diaspora share a blood memory of the violence that is wrought by occupying forces against indigenous peoples, and the political, cultural and militaristic tools that have been used in the exploitation of our lands and our people.

Most of us can still identify the after-shocks of colonialism on the course of our lives. Some of us share family memories of the atrocities of war that came with revolution against occupying forces. Some of us are in America as refugees fleeing the violence of war. As Americans and/or descendant of certain Asian nations, many of us are complicit as colonizers; some of us also still live as colonized peoples today, and for many of us that fight against the colonizers rages on.

It is true that I am not Muslim and I am not Palestinian. I also do not need to share in those identities to see the connection between their struggles and my own political narratives. I do not need to share in those identities to recognize the humanity of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and to lament their devastating and senseless slaughter. I do not need to share in those identities to stand in solidarity.

I need only be human.

The mother of one of the children killed Wednesday on a Gaza beach by Israeli forces grieves the death of her child. (Photo credit: Daily Mail)
The mother of one of the children killed Wednesday on a Gaza beach by Israeli forces grieves the death of her child. (Photo credit: Daily Mail)

I do not know how to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All I know is that this bloodshed has got to end.

Millions of activists around the world — including protesters in many Asian countries — have taken up the cause of the Palestinian people fighting against occupying Israeli forces. It is time for Asian Americans to join our voices to this expanding international chorus of outrage.It is time for us — as AAPI and as moral humans —  to take a vocal stand in solidarity with Palestinian people, and all our Muslim American brothers and sisters in the States. We can no longer allow others to pay the price for our silence; for now we are again reminded that the price of our silence is too high.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Tanzila Ahmed (@tazzystar) for inspiring, and providing many resources, in the writing of this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this post had Tanzila’s name misspelled. My apologies to her, and thank you to reader B.G. for the correction.

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  • Diggs

    This is a 3000 year old war, these people HATE each other, and they teach that hate from a very young age. Small kids will tell you that they are better than the other side in a very discriminant manor and that eventually they will be victorious.

    All the activists in the world can get together, head over there, and sit around singing kumbaya, but NOTHING is going to stop this senseless violence until the two go to war and one of them wins. It’s sad, very sad, but there’s nothing that can be done, and anybody that says otherwise is a fool.

  • SupportPalestine

    UNRWA is the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees all over the Middle EAst. It’s short of resources under normal circumstances but right now it’s struggling to provide for the tens of thousands of people fleeing Israeli fire in Gaza right now. If you any ability to do so, please consider making a donation. If not, then please spread the word.

  • SupportPalestine

    Also, for the jerk commentator above:

    Things the Israel/Palestine conflict is about

    Land use

    Things the Israel/Palestine conflict is not about


    Things the Israel/Palestine conflict is not

    A conflict

    Things it is

    Settler colonialism
    Military occupation

  • And how is Israel to defend itself from leaders who have declared that they will not rest until Israel is driven into the sea, and who place their rockets in schools and hospitals to force Israel into a corner? There is more than one group of oppressed people here. 100s of rockets are being fired at Israel every single day…what would you do?

  • Good question, snapdragon99. The Israel-Palestine conflict is pretty much the dictionary definition of an intractable situation, where neither side is wholly right nor wholly wrong. While I obviously do not support Israeli airstrikes, I do not support Hamas firing rockets into Israel either. Importantly, rocket launches by Hamas in this current conflict did not occur in an unprompted manner; as much as we can ask if rocket attacks should go unaswered, we must also ask if ground incursions should also go unanswered?

    While I think both sides need to stop firing their weapons at one another, what most compels me is the high civilian death toll being suffered by the Palestinian people. It’s also worth noting that it’s not as if Palestinians have a bunch of land in the region, which give them the opportunity to place their rockets elsewhere: in Gaza, everything is basically right on top of each other at least in part because borders have been shrunk so substantially over the last five decades.

    But more to the point, it is important to address the question of whether or not Israel’s airstrikes can be considered a reasonable defense of itself. Again, while I do not condone Hamas rocket launches, Gaza is considered in international courts to be an occupied territory. Therefore, under international law (and again not excusing or justifying Hamas’ rocket launches), Palestine’s attacks are not classified as the kind of aggression that justify legal defensive measures.

    Of course, the final point is that I don’t condone violence by either side, but I do think that airstrikes that have largely resulted in mostly civilian deaths is morally indefensible. A full-scale ceasefire is absolutely necessary here.

  • Lozzy_Popp

    @Diggs If you researched the specific history of Palestine and how the UN provided sanctuary to persecuted Jews there from all over the world (especially following WW2) then you would see that this is not a 3000yo war. People are quick to add the religious war label to everything nowadays.
    Palestinians have been treated as second class citizens for generations in their own country. Which is not fair by any means. Israel is receiving funding from world superpowers so of course they can arm themselves and have been able to build up their armies and defences for a long time.
    The US went to war with Iraq multiple times and yet there are still hostilities between the two. Letting them fight it out does absolutely nothing. Would you agree with other nations battling it out if it were on a larger scale?? Imagine the same idea but involving nuclear weapons on a globally destructive scale. Would you just tell them to go ahead and see what’s left at the end??

  • “Letting them fight it out does absolutely nothing.”

    Maybe, maybe not. If not for fighting it out and getting it out of their system, so to speak, Europe may not have its current status quo.

    I’m not advocating anything here. Just noting that complex situations are complex.

  • Lauren

    Yes, complex situations are complex. However, these complexities are not within the understanding of the babies and children being slaughtered in Gaza, Syria, or the rest of the world… We can’t just stand by and watch.

  • Lauren

    Thanks for the article link too @Pzed… Interesting reading!