What the genocide in Gaza teaches us

As a social work educator, I’m committed to helping students learn the knowledge, skills and values they need to – amongst other things – assert and protect the human rights of the people with whom they work. The IFSW (2014) definition of social work states, “Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work”. But our understanding of human rights is informed not only by academic learning but also by our observations of the operation of international institutions in the real world.

Today, in Palestine, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been turned to ashes. The post-war global vision of a rules-based international order asserting that “All human beings are born free and equal” has been disavowed by hate-filled Israeli politicians and hobbled by Anglophone states led by the white supremacist superpower of Amerika, with Genocide Joe at the helm.

The relentless bombardment of homes, hospitals, refugee camps and schools continues to rain down on the civilian population of Gaza. Today the death toll is over 30,000 including 12,500 children. This rises every day in the most intense slaughter of a civilian population since World War Two. Israel targets medical staff, humanitarian workers, journalists and even dissident poets with impunity. In an enclave where “at the beginning of 2023, UN Agencies reported a literacy rate of 97.7 per cent for young Palestinian students” there is not a single university left standing. Air strikes and ground forces have systematically demolished them.

The few orchards, farmlands and greenhouses the Strip managed to sustain during years of siege have been deliberately obliterated. Gazan fishermen–who could net a meagre harvest from the six nautical mile fishing limit enforced by the Israeli navy–have had their fishing boats turned to charcoal on the beach.

In the Occupied West Bank, IDF raids on refugee camps arrest and assassinate hundreds of Palestinians tearing up infrastructure and demolishing houses with their bulldozers of collective punishment. These arrests and detentions include human rights defenders like the social worker Munther Amira. Plans are in place in Occupied East Jerusalem to restrict access to Al Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world, during Ramadan, the most sacred month of the Muslim people.

In time, the act of solidarity by South Africa at the International Court of Justice, with massive support from the global south, will ensure that history recognises the reality of Israel’s genocide. Still, today, we are helpless to halt it from happening. We don’t need an ICJ decision to confirm the horror we watch daily on social media and Al Jazeera News.

So what have we learned? There are points in history when events reveal the true nature of our world. What has Israel’s war on Gaza revealed to us? It has uncovered:

We have been reminded that our world is a deeply unequal and unjust place where a self-interested matrix of global political elites and billionaire capitalists dazzle and distract the multitude with symbolic statements, docile media, sparkling commodities and an endless stream of disinformation. The global elite are adept at masking inherent systemic violence playing out at home and overseas. 

Of course, there is no worldwide conspiracy of the global elite with a shared plan to dominate the world. They are not that organised. No, the truth is closer to the idea of a constantly shifting set of powerful and well-financed networks and alliances that support and bolster each other in a wide range of social and economic domains in the context of the capitalist world order. Money and power seek more money and greater power. A good example of this dynamic played out recently in Aotearoa when the media reported on the coalition government’s connections to the tobacco industry and a right-wing think tank called the Atlas Network.

Another world is possible. A new international order committed to the idea that “All human beings are born free and equal” is achievable. That is another lesson we can take from the staunch and steadfast Palestinian people. Given the chance, the people of Gaza and Palestine as a whole will rebuild, restore and reimagine their devastated land. We must march, rally, and organise to support their right to do so. 

But the lessons from Gaza and Palestine are broader than that. A new world is possible here in Aotearoa too. A decolonised world that respects te Tiriti, addresses climate change, tackles poverty and inequality, dismantles neoliberalism, and pushes for peace on the world stage. There is no shortage of good ideas on how to progress this plan. For example, the recent proposal that we should abolish the military instead of signing up for the dangerous AUKUS alliance

Bringing new worlds into being takes mahi. We cannot achieve this by watching yet another “fight the system” Netflix movie. Altering our reality will take time, courage, and motivation. The international labour movement has always known this. We have marched and we have rallied but we need to do more. We need the leverage that can only be gained from the power of our organisations. We must mobilise the labour movement, faith-based organisations, political parties and trade unions.  We need to educate, agitate, and organise. These are ideas that have been part of the workers movement since the end of the 19th century:

  • We must educate, because we need all of our intelligence.
  • We must agitate, because need all of our enthusiasm.
  • We must organise, because we need all of our force.

Mā pango, mā whero, ka oti te mahi

With black and with red the work is completed. 

2 replies on “What the genocide in Gaza teaches us”

Kia ora Neil,
Great post again – and thank you for your consistent and strong advocacy for the Palestinian cause.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I wholeheartedly agree with what you’re saying here although there is one area that I believe needs more before the other two are of any use.
I also believe we must educate; however, this is going to take a long time to get to bedrock state on which the agitation and the organisation then leaps from. You can’t do the latter two (in my opinion) without FULL education.
The New Zealand public is quite ignorant on global and historical events, couple this with just needing to survive the day-to-day grind, and Gaza is ‘something over there’ let alone something they are going to want to agitate on.
And to think this is the same country where apartheid was hit head on when The Tour arrived and we came out in huge numbers during the TPPA negotiations
It is easy, and almost sounds arrogant, for me to say that we need to take our time educating the public about the horrors, the history and the global implications before properly agitating and organising, while 12500 children have perished, but if we (the global we) are really going to fight injustices, then it has to be everyone because they’ll pick us off easily if we go in half-heartedly.
Like they are now.
They’ve dumbed us down over the last 37 years – we need to smarten up quicker than that, but thoroughly, if we’re to fight and (more importantly) force our Governments to end these slaughters / occupations / genocide.

Thanks for your reply Luis and your concerns about public awareness of the issue. For me, I think education, agitation and organising are all necessary at the same time, and they feed into each other. People learn by taking action and media reportage of the action feeds into public awareness. One of the helpful and horrifying things about the war on Gaza is that we can all watch it on television.

Of course not everyone watches AL Jazeera but the horror seeps into mainstream media and the protests across the motu and the world signal that politicians are out of touch with public opinion, as they were during apartheid South Africa. I still remember the time when Mandela was largely condemned as a terrorist and I was with my comrades on the streets, outside grocers, boycotting South African fruit, and marching and rallying.

Public opinion in Aotearoa is in favour of a ceasefire. Back in November 60 percent of Kiwis agreed the New Zealand Government should call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza (including 59% of National voters). If that survey was repeated today sentiment would be stronger. Evidence of that sentiment can be seen everywhere. During the recent Newtown Festival in Wellington, Justice for Palestine invited people to send a postcards to parliament calling for a ceasefire and other demands. The public signed 4,000 individual cards that are winging their way to the PM, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Defence Minister.

Three days ago Students for Justice in Palestine at Victoria University shut down a speech by a Senior US Official and at the weekend, during the Wellington Pride Festival, a free Palestine bloc chanted “No pride in genocide”! So, I am optimistic Luis, we have to be. There is more to be done, much more education, agitation and organisation. As Mandela once said “It always seems impossible, until it is done!” #FreePalestine #Fromtherivertothesea

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