This article represents the views of the founder and president of the Friends of Medical Aid for Palestinians Society
On Friday 20th September, the Global Climate Strike led thousands of people on a walk from Kelvingrove Park, in Glasgow’s West End, to St. George’s Square, in the city’s centre. Within the march flying high, high above any of the other signs and slogans, was a Palestinian flag the size of a tablecloth.
A viral tweet over the summer showed a makeshift banner displayed in a Loyalist area in Ulster: amongst the Scottish saltire, English flag, Soldier F, and UVF paramilitary flags were, stitched side by side, an Israeli flag and a swastika. The dissonance of those two flags beside each other—the repugnance of that disrespect—is sobering.
And this is where we are now: flags, symbols, colours, causes, are co-opted by different sides and different agendas. The result is a tension that cuts people off. We are reluctant to discuss a topic that is too controversial; reluctant, almost afraid. The result is a disconnect that is cold, and we saw it in May.
Last year, Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest, qualifying them as hosts. Two days later, Israeli forces in Gaza murdered sixty-two Palestinian people, including six Palestinian children. Groups within Palestine called for a boycott of the Eurovision this year, asking Europeans not to watch. And largely, we ignored them.
This was not, to my mind, a radical request. It was not a difficult undertaking. It did not require a vast sacrifice on our parts. It should have been, however inadequate, a mark of respect to those people murdered, and to their grieving families and communities, who were asking for the boycott. But we ignored them, and I wonder if it wasn’t, in part at least, because of that fear—that sense that to have chosen would have been too strong, too forceful—that we chose to carry on as though we knew no better.
The situation in Palestine is complicated. I could never claim otherwise. The scale of the suffering in Palestine—its magnitude—is impossible to communicate, and the dehumanisation of Palestinian people, through their treatment and our media’s response to it, is what allows those of us, who are privileged enough to do so, to disconnect. And this is where we are now. We are disconnected, or we are connected only in so far as we use their symbols as shorthand.
We have to do better. We live where we do, with access to the information and resources that we have. We can’t claim ignorance. We can’t ignore ugly truths because they make us feel uncomfortable. And the truth is that you do not have to understand the situation’s every facet and influence to know what is right and what is wrong; and that while we remain disconnected, the UK Government engages makes statements in our names. Last year, it asked Israel to: “Show greater restraint.”
The people of Palestine are suffering more than hopefully any of us will ever have to endure. Currently, even when they reach out and explicitly ask us for our support, we ignore them.
I know that when we read history, we each like to think of ourselves as the one who would have known that that evil was wrong—that we would have fought to abolish slavery—that we would have supported, and fought, and questioned, and won.I know that none of us thinks we would have ignored what was happening, justified it, or enabled it. But the truth is that there are millions of people suffering—right now—and we are ignoring them, even when they are asking us directly for help. And it’s just not that complicated.
[Caoimhe Quinn – she/her]
[Photo credit: Gigi Ibrahim/flickr.com]
Friends of Medical Aid for Palestinians is a student-run society at Glasgow University which aims to raise awareness of, and funds for, the work of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, and to encourage people to reconsider how they engage with the situation in Palestine.
More information on what we do and how you can help can be found at MAP’s website (https://www.map.org.uk/) or the society’s Facebook page (@glasgowfriendsofmap, “Friends of Medical Aid for Palestinians”).