Gaza and victimhood

Apr 30, 2024
Flag of Palestine against the background of the world, concept, political situation, Gaza strip

The regimes in Israel and Palestine both claim to be victims in the violence that engulfs them. Interpreting the situation through “victimhood” assists in understanding the human forces that arise from age-old conflicts and that continue to cause so much horrific suffering.

Pope Francis is calling on people of goodwill to raise their voices for peace concerning the complex and long-standing Israel/Palestine conflict. He asks, “Do you really think you are going to build a better world this way? Do you really think you are going to achieve peace? Enough, please! Let us all say: Stop! Please stop!”

Members of the Sisters of St Joseph Justice Network, along with countless other people, join with Pope Francis in that call for a just and lasting peace.

Entrenched in a history involving religion, culture, land and a range of international players, the long- standing oppressions across Israel/Palestine continue in widespread mutual hatred, suspicion and revenge.

The historical persecutions of the people of Israel, including the genocide of last century, continue to weigh heavily on the conscience of the world. Christianity has a prolonged and reprehensible history of anti-Semitism, based on blaming Jewish people for the death of Christ. Non-Christians also engage in the potent force of anti-Semitism. Israel can be seen as a useful enemy, a convenient scapegoat.

Palestinians suffer in parallel ways. They have been forced from land that was home to them for centuries. They endure persecution and oppression, their land and rights relentlessly eroded. Their aspirations to statehood have been thwarted by Israel and other nations. Palestine has now become a scapegoat. Its misdeeds are held to be the cause of all the conflict, its more upright leaders are sidelined and its prospects for universal recognition as a nation face renewed opposition.

The Israeli treatment of Palestinians has been intolerable, inhumane and self-defeating for years. In response to the recent indefensible Palestinian attacks Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are wreaking destruction upon the people of Gaza causing suffering to the great numbers of Palestinians innocent of the October 7 violence. This Israeli atrocity in Gaza denies people the means of escape, it has killed well over 30,000 people including thousands of children, and leaves tens of thousands injured. Children are starving to death and famine is facing the whole population. The world waits to see if a ground offensive in Rafah will happen as promised by Netanyahu.

The destabilisation of the region by the Palestinian group Hamas has been violent and inflexible for years. In the most recent attack, Hamas killed over a thousand Israeli people and continues to hold over a hundred hostages in secret locations. It does not, however, display adequate interest in the welfare of its own people. It is content to allow the Israeli bombing and killing to continue with only minuscule efforts to negotiate the hostages’ release in return for Palestinian lives.

The Israeli ferocity exacerbates the existing situation. Reciprocal violence is bound to result, given the reality of revenge that pervades the history of the Middle East. Does anyone seriously believe that there will not be pay-back for the current overwhelming death and destruction?

In Australia and across the globe, supporters of both Israel and Palestine are caught up in the deep-seated passions that drive the mutual violence in the Holy Land. This destructive situation can be contemplated in terms of the “victim”.

The human tendency towards victimhood pervades societies worldwide. On the one hand, our world supports victims as never before. We recognise the downtrodden of history and in myriad ways we champion the down and out, the battler, the underdog. Despite ongoing misogyny, new awareness of the age-old repression of women arises. Care for sick, aged and mentally ill people is a social priority. People tend to show sympathy and kindness even to strangers in times of tragedy. In 1978 René Girard commented on this phenomenon:

“Our society is the most preoccupied with victims of any that ever was. Even if it is insincere, a big show, the phenomenon has no precedent. … Examine ancient sources, inquire everywhere, dig up the corners of the planet, and you will not find anything anywhere that even remotely resembles our modern concern for victims.”

However, a downside to this recognition of the victim is that the mantle of “victim” can be donned so easily – personally, socially and nationally. From the soccer player feigning injury to the volume of hurt feelings on social media, victimhood is alive and well. Trumpian America’s slogan “Make America Great Again” implies that the nation’s lack of “greatness” is everyone’s else’s fault. Trump himself, as we are repeatedly told by him, is the greatest victim who ever lived. Late in 2023, opposition to an Indigenous Voice to Parliament included totally unfounded claims by “no voters” that invoked victimhood, such as assertions that non-Indigenous people would have their votes tampered with and their land taken, and that the UN would take over.

The Palestine and Israel regimes are both playing the victim. The blame directed at each other is as absolute as their refusal to build peace. The world at large is implicated in this mutual condemnation as neighbouring nations facilitate Palestine’s continual destabilising, and western nations provide much of the weaponry and hyperbole that assists Israel.

We Josephites raise our voices for peace:

  • We urge the Australian Government to speak out strongly against both the Israeli bombardments and killings and the Hamas attacks, and to denounce Netanyahu’s plans to attack Rafah;
  • We grieve for all the dead and injured, both Palestinian and Israeli, and for those detained by Hamas;
  • We call on the government to agitate robustly for an immediate and lasting ceasefire and to contribute to the rebuilding in Gaza;
  • We condemn the sale of any Australian armaments to Israel;
  • We urge the government to support publicly the International Court of Justice’s ruling that the treatment of the Palestinians is potentially genocidal;
  • We advocate for the development of policies on the Australian relationship with Israel and Palestine that honour principles of justice to all;
  • We call on the government to argue for the establishment of a two-state solution where both Israel and Palestine are accorded equal rights and responsibilities.

Australia has the capacity to campaign on behalf of justice and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. We have no right to expect peace here if we are not willing to stand up for it everywhere.


Article endorsed by Josephite Justice Network members:

Jan Barnett, Adrienne Gallie, Mary McDonnell, Vittoria Albanese, Carmel Hanson, Josephine Mitchell, Jo Brady, Lee Tan, Jane Woolford, Violet Cabral, Megan Li, Clare Conaglen, Emilia Nicholas, Ann Love, Maria Sullivan, Therese McGarry, Margaret Robertson, Bev Turello, Rebecca Scanlan, Marion Gambin, Kath O’Connor, Joan Healy, Noelene Quinane, Ruby King, Margaret Daly, Joelle Sassine, Mary Ellen O’Donoghue, Kay McPadden, Kenise Neill.

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