Nearer the start of the most recent conflict in Israel and Palestine, I was horrified and felt a tremendous animating force in me to do what I could to make it known that none of this was in my name. I took to the streets, I organised with my union, I sung with my Arab sisters, brothers, and others. I proudly stood and demanded a ceasefire, with some vague hope that this all must stop at some point, right?

This post is going to get rapidly brutal and graphic. Consider this to be a content warning, if you need one.

Over the few months that followed, I saw tragedy after tragedy. I saw the videos of the pure visceral devastating aloneness and fear in the eyes of children who were in the immediate aftermath of their parents being killed in front of them. Children too young to know to whom they prayed or why, screaming for God to hear them. I watched children cling to whichever adult was closest to them, usually a blood-stained doctor in a hospital, because they had just had everything they knew of their life ripped from them, by the most advanced weapons in the world falling from the sky over them, whose explosions tore through their house and their family. I saw very young sisters forced into the position of holding their slightly-younger brothers to them to try to reassure them, when neither of them understood why they were suffering this, neither of them knew what would happen next, and neither of them had anywhere near enough emotional development to even begin to work through violently, loudly, chaotically, instantanously losing everything, including their parents.

I saw fathers screaming and crying, trying to dig through rubble with their bare hands, yelling out the names of the children they knew had been crushed and killed after their home collapsed after being directly hit by an Israeli bomb. The fathers must’ve known their kids were gone, they must’ve known their efforts were in vain, they must’ve known the lights of their lives had been taken already. I watched the panicked and desperate digging of pure fatherly instinct turn into a weeping so uncontrollable that their ability to try to dig started to fail them, until they collapsed into a defeated and destroyed pile, screaming up to the sky for God to hear them.

I saw people with limbs missing. I saw mothers carrying the only remaining pieces of their children in bags. I saw mothers collapsing in the street, screaming for God to hear them, upon being told that their child had been brutually and carelessly murdered by bombs big enough to level a whole block. I saw people with nothing but scars and the knowledge of how many funerals they have not yet had the opportunity to have walking down dirt roads desperately attempting to reach the safe zones promised to them by Israel, in hopes of some amount of peace, some amount of time to mourn, some amount of time to find some sort of reason to live, among piles of blood and corpses rotting under concrete. I saw those safe zones get bombed.

I watched every new event, every new tragedy, and each time I said to myself “if this doesn’t change the situation, what will?” Each time I said to myself “if this doesn’t cause a unilateral public backlash over here, what will?” I watched as my Government explained why those traumatised blood-soaked children were actually just too complicated for me to understand and we must continue supporting and arming Israel. I watched as kind and caring people around me said “it’s so awful what’s happening over there” as they went about their normal business.

I became numb. I still attended every march I could, I flyered events, I did speeches just because I knew this was important even though I could no longer empathise with those children, those fathers, those mothers. I knew I had to do something, I had so many luxuries, and they been wounded and maimed and killed with so little to their name. It’s easy to defend myself here; if I thought about this stuff all the time, I would never get anything done, and if I got nothing done, I would not be out on the streets protesting. Many would insist that it’s a natural and predictable response that humans respond to trauma by shutting down their ability to feel things, but in the last couple of days, I have snapped. Maybe it was Shaun’s Palestine video, maybe it was the news about Aaron Bushnell, maybe it was just a matter of time, but something has caused these images and news stories to cut me deeper than they ever have before. Although my heart has grown too callous to imagine what the suffering feels like, I am aggrevated by the hole blown right through my humanity.

Elijah himself and the roar of the river Jordan would struggle to wash away the sin that has now fallen on all of us. When this is all over and people are picking pieces of skull and brain and connective tissue out of the mangled piles of concrete and rebar and bomb shrapnel to try to rebuild Gaza, I am going to look inside myself and find nothing but ferocious disgust and unbearable shame. In a way, I did this. In a way, we all did this. The shrapnel embedded in those civilians and their homes was paid for by my taxes. I killed those Gazans. I sit on a throne of private healthcare, underfloor heating, Uber Eats deliveries; The Gazans lay dead, pieces of their bodies strewn across streets the kids once played on. The markets, the places of worship, the cafes, all the places where in the midst of occupationary deprivation a people who refused to die celebrated and enjoyed what little they did have and built loving community with their neighbours while Israel was given international cover to choke and drought and starve them, are now soaked in the blood of anyone that got in the way of the bomb.

I am angry at Israel, I am angry at my Government, I am angry at Joe Biden, but worst of all I detest myself, and I detest my fellow countrypeople. I know the story of how we got to this point is important to some people, but I can’t find it in myself to think about that right now, and I insist we do not have time to endlessly discuss it. How we got here has no impact on the viscious moral transgression that is happening in Gaza, and the fact that it needs to stop now, and the fact that it should never have been allowed to happen. I know some will say that understanding how we got to this point is vital to what happens next but what happens next isn’t just a question of what happens to the people of Palestine, but also a question about how we live with ourselves elsewhere in the world. The global power structures of today lay dilapidated and exposed on the floor. My soul and your soul now have a rot deep inside them. There is a stain on any principles we ever claimed to have that declares them to have been lies. I hope for your sake that you have a way to find a comfort in repentence for what we have let happen, because I do not.

If you have not yet stood up to demand a ceasefire, what is it going to take? In a thousand lifetimes we would never be able to adequately apologise to the Palestinians for the machinations of global politics that permitted this, nor apologise for the fact that we did not do everything within our power to stop it, but you, reader, and I, can take to the streets and not let our rulers have a single moment of peace until this stops, while there are still Palestinians alive for us to try to apologise to.

Many of us like to ask ourselves, “What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?”

The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.

~ Aaron Bushnell, 2024-02-25