William Van den Broeck
Young Development Professional

A call against dehumanization


I’m writing from Brussels, not from Israel, not from Palestine. Here, there is no war and there are no sirens warning me to run to a bomb shelter. But, Israel and Palestine, specifically Gaza, are, of course, dominating the news. And, for me personally, I am glued to my phone, glued to social media and news outlets from various countries, in various languages. I am sending out messages to everyone I know in the region, friends of mine in Israel and Palestine. Thankfully, friends, loved ones and former colleagues are safe.

In the last war between Israel and Gaza, I was in Israel. At the time, in May 2021, I was living in Lod, volunteering in some of Israel’s most vulnerable communities, as a Yahel Social Change Fellow. Quickly, we were evacuated and ordered to leave Lod where we finally returned once the war and ethnic violence had come to a halt. Slowly but surely, things returned to normal and the focus of the international news moved away from Israel. While my friends in Europe and the United States were no longer focused on Palestine or Israel, I was still in Israel. I was in Israel, working with children and adults who had just spent a week in bomb shelters and seen civil war erupt outside of their windows. Others had simply escaped, fled from their homes for safety.

But now in 2023 I am not in Israel. I am away.

I am, of course, concerned. I am concerned for the senseless loss of life and the horrific pain families in both Israel and Gaza have and will continue to experience.

The rallies of support and the celebration on social media praising and justifying Hamas’ actions, the so-called resistance, on Saturday October 7th, are sickening. Celebrating death, kidnapping and torture is grotesque, even if you agree with a cause. Sending support to the people’s right to resist when THESE are their resistance methods is truly sickening and unjustifiable. It is inhumane!

Thankfully, these protests and social media posts don’t represent the majority responses from world leaders and local representatives or communities. Cities have lit up in white and blue and world leaders have strongly condemned Hamas’ actions and offered their support to Israel and its right to defend itself.

I hope Israel succeeds in eliminating Hamas and PIJ. This retaliation will be brutal, many innocent lives will be lost. Meanwhile, multiple western countries have cut off all aid funding to Gaza and the Palestinian Territories in the West Bank. It’s easy to forget that the imposition of sanctions, in practice, simply causes suffering and stress on everyday people who have no say over their leaders’ actions. Think about the sanctions levied on Iran. Who suffers? Ordinary Iranians! The same goes for the sanctions imposed on Niger after the latest attempted coup. And the same will go for the people of Gaza and the West Bank. They will pay the price for actions they had no control over. I always complain that vulnerable populations must suffer at the hands of corrupt governments when sanctions are levied on their countries.

An unimaginable number of Gazan civilians are going to die and an unimaginable number of families will be mourning. I can’t rejoice in this.

I can’t rejoice in the loss of life that has already happened and will continue to come in Gaza. I can’t rejoice in the fact that 2 million people are about to lose access to electricity because an autocratic military terrorist organization decided to wreak havoc against a population who has an army and whose only rational answer can be to respond with the harshest response possible. Because the cruelty and savagery of October 7, 2023/22 Tishrei 5784 (Shmini Atzeret) cannot go unanswered.

I see posts on social media that claim to be appalled at the celebration of death from supporters of Hamas while at the same time offering the exact same kind of dehumanizing rhetoric for Gazans on the other side and West Bank Palestinians, calling for destruction. What is about to happen in Gaza is, in my eyes, unfortunately necessary. It is unfortunately necessary because Hamas’ actions demand that it be removed permanently and a nation has a duty to protect its people and fight back after living through such atrocities. There isn’t a single nation on earth that could take a so-called moral high ground and not respond in the same way. But that’s nothing I can celebrate or rejoice in. How could I? In fact I feel pain, pain for what the people of Gaza are and will be experiencing. And, of course, the pain that I feel for Israel – a country so dear to my heart – its people, the fallen victims, hostages and families mourning and praying for their loved ones to come back alive. A recurrent theme that I saw in Israel and in my time with Israelis and Palestinians is the inability to recognize another narrative, recognize another person’s humanity. In Lod, especially, this could be seen on a daily basis! And in May 2021, I saw Palestinians I personally knew celebrate their people’s resistance, rockets being launched at innocent civilians. Rockets that ended up killing a student of a colleague of mine. These were people I had recently spent pleasant evenings and afternoons with. They were celebrating the launching of rockets over my head – as I was in a bomb shelter!! But then also telling me, at the same time, that they hoped I was safe. That was hard to take in.

While the social media posts from local West Bank Palestinians were hard to take in, they paled in comparison to the content being posted from people all around the globe with no connection to Palestine or Israel, the West Bank, Judea, Samaria, Gaza, Zion, the Holy Land! These people made some of the most atrocious and dehumanizing comments in that horrible snug vicious language that appears on social media. These people’s posts, comments and ignorant opinions kept me upset for months, even after the war was over. They were there comfortably in the US or Europe, not in the middle east, taking some stupid side because that’s what was hot in the news right now, to then just forget about it a few weeks later, while I was still in Israel.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in group mentality, but it is so necessary to remain aware of, and, in touch with our emotions so we don’t let our evil inclinations take over, because it’s so easy. It’s so easy that without realizing it you can find yourself rejoicing over death for the sake of vengeance or righteousness. Both camps are guilty of it, no doubt about it. If you are far away from the conflict, if you are not in Israel or in Palestine, please have the decency to remember that we are dealing with human lives, mostly bystanders to a conflict who ultimately have no ability to make any decisions about what does and doesn’t get done. Don’t allow yourself to support the killing of innocent people for a cause or in the name of revenge.

About the Author
Born in Paris to a Belgian father and an American mother, William grew up between Paris, New York and Ostend, Belgium. From 2020-2021, he lived in Lod, Israel where he volunteered alongside underserved communities. He currently lives in New York where he works in local and international development.
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