Gaza and 9/11: Innocent Bystanders? Legitimate Targets? Acceptable Collateral Damage?

By Joe Scarry, from Scarry Thoughts blog

I spent a long time examining the map of Gaza in yesterday’s New York Times. The narrow strip of land was oriented straight up and down on the page. The locations of casualties were designated with red circles. It looked as if the top of the page was glowing with fire.

Casualties in Gaza
View the interactive New York Times map

My eye kept traveling up and down the page, and I asked myself: what is this telling me? what can this help me see that I haven’t seen before?

I understood that possibly the answer was “nothing.” Israel has a story about how all these people are there enemies, and the people of Palestine have a story about how all these people are innocent bystanders. Could both stories be true? Maybe there was no way the map was going to clear any of this up.

Later, it occurred to me: that tall strip, glowing with human suffering at one end — I had seen it somewhere before.

One week ago, I was in Manhattan and visited the new 9/11 Memorial.

The 9/11 Memorial provokes so many thoughts and emotions that it will take a long time and a lot of words to work through them all.

The Memorial is principally about the valor of those who tried to save others. I remember particularly a film clip in which Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen is quoted as saying, “My men can get everyone below the fire out.”

But lingering over the whole 9/11 Memorial experience is the reminder that “we” were attacked. At the end of the museum exhibit, there is a small section about Al Qaeda and the hijackers. Alas, it is a timid effort. It avoids the question, “How could one set of people think that the towers and the people in them were legitimate targets, when others saw them as innocent victims?”

Put another way: Does the “they brought it on themselves” argument stand up to scrutiny?

It seems to me that the world long ago evolved into a situation in which the lines between war and peace, between civilian and combatant, between innocent and complicit, became blurred.  The more we avert our eyes from this situation and hope the blurring of the lines will stay far away from our own lives, the more we hasten the arrival of a world that is irrecoverable.

There needs to be a conversation in which everybody takes part, and in which everyone accepts responsibility, in order to avoid a permanent “war on terror” intermingled with a permanent imperium. This is what we owe to the 9/11 dead, and to the dead of Gaza.

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