Updated: Oct 26
One could keep on questioning what is enough in maximising efforts to stop the hundreds of daily deaths Gaza is condemned to attest every single morning since October 7, 2023. Whether being a spectator of calamities, as Susan Sontag put it, suffices to set on fire the fuse of our action. We could keep on shouting at a screen full of pain from the comfort of the so-unquestioned European liberal democracies. We could. Yet we could also stop a collective hypocrisy of passive anger and shout what the colours of freedom should be like in the world today. Black, white, green, red. For Gaza, Palestine and humanity.
Here is a call to consciousness, from a crowd which coloured the city with hope by marching for an end to genocide, apartheid and the siege to Gaza now.
It is four in the afternoon on the 21st of October when the front of Maastricht’s central station starts gathering dozens of people. Palestinian flags are waved and signs condemning the dehumanisation this unjustifiable war is causing have risen to the air. A collective demand is made to expose the complicity of Western governments with the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli state in Gazan territory, and to begin a real fight for human rights in light of a potential ground invasion to wage a war which is set to kill the Palestinian, Israeli and world’s population hopes. Children oversee the crowd from their parents’ shoulders, like eagles flying over scenery to assure that today is theirs. Devoted to Gaza, Palestine and humanity.
The first speaker, joining a group atop a round stone bench acting as a stage, opens the protest with a series of chants, followed by the instructions to be followed, both in English and Arabic. A recommendation to be careful with what it is said to the press is made. Two speeches precede a march before drawing a path of hundreds of faces the city had not seen in a long time.
More than seven hundred people are estimated to have attended the protest which was organised at the beginning of the second week of Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip. Just like dozens of cities worldwide, a call to demonstrate was spread by local groups to show solidarity with Palestinian people and demand the end of Israel’s ongoing genocide on Gaza, the illegal occupation of Palestine, and the Dutch and European Union’s (EU) complicity with the inhumane reality started eighteen days ago.
Once gathered just in front of the Basilica of Saint Servatius, the heat of the crowd embraced the several speeches held by representatives of local associations in English, Arabic, and Dutch. Above all, their words aimed at awakening consciousness on the ongoing human loss and suffering Gaza is witnessing at the time of writing. Calls to keep a critical eye on the one-sided empathy expressed by most of Western media were made, as well as demands to blame the insufficient and even complicit reaction of the international community. Across their loud voice, debunking narratives that overshadow Israel’s regime of oppression, occupation and ethnic cleansing was the central commonality to them all.
The past two weeks have not only seen death through unjustifiable state decisions, but the transformation of such tragic reality into a humanitarian question by Western governments and news media. Factually, it is a question of human rights violations and disproportionate means which find no justification but an intensification in the use of aggression. The problem is not a fortuitous terminological clash between divergent understandings of human rights, but rather the seemingly wilful displacement of attention from human suffering resulting from this war towards masking goal to end terrorism.
A Significant part of Western political leadership has began a campaign to restrict the narrative which demands an end to war, genocide and human rights violations. Almost three weeks after this war started, EU high-level policy official fail to agree upon what the UN Secretary-General urged as an immediate ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ would mean in practice but uphold ‘Israel’s right to defend itself in line with humanitarian and international law’. In a second round of objections at the Security Council, the U.S. maintains its opposition to a humanitarian ceasefire calling for a humanitarian pause considered as ‘shorter and less formal’ in nature. Its first objection to cease the war by means of a Resolution boiled down to the lack of emphasis on Israel’s right to ‘self-defence’. (Brief reroute here to humanitarian terms during conflict and the right to self-defence under international humanitarian and public law.)
Yet, a pause will not be followed by peace unless a ceasefire precedes a long-lasting solution where the Palestinian population lives in a land free from apartheid, deportation, military assaults and constant curtailment of fundamental rights.
Standing for Palestine today is not about taking sides as means to justify anyone’s indiscriminate war, but about ending a system of oppression which the very states we read this from may be silently, or directly, supporting. One should keep questioning whether acknowledgement that a system is oppressive is enough to stop war.