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What about the violence everywhere else?
Sudan, the Congo, Yemen, and the world at large
A couple days ago someone sent me an email asking why I keep talking about Palestine, and not the Congo, Sudan, Armenia, or other places where genocide and ethnic cleansing are ongoing as we speak. And I’d like to tell you I read it thoroughly and responded clearly, but I didn’t. Taking feedback, especially about my writing, and especially when I see similar lines of reasoning used to tell people they’re talking too much about Israel’s mass murder of civilians in Gaza, is very difficult for me. So I deleted it. Not my proudest moment by a long shot, but that’s why I’m writing to you right now. I want to respond in a full and complete way, because there’s so much to say. I want to talk about why the world is so focused on Palestine, why I’m so focused on it, and why we should undoubtedly also be talking about other atrocities and the systems that fuel them.
It’s evident to anyone who consumes media of any kind that people have not stopped talking about Israel and Gaza for over a month now. Few issues last in the news cycle this way. And in part this is simply because there are more developments, and often more horrors, nearly every day. But there are a number of other reasons as well. To my mind, the clearest one is that Israel is a part of the West. It competes in Euro-vision, in European soccer tournaments, and is politically and economically aligned with the U.S. and Europe. America and the European Union provide important material support to the state of Israel, in addition to a broader alignment going back to the origins and founding of the nation as a settler-colonial enterprise. For all of these reasons, support for Israel is a major political issue in Congress, and in the court of public opinion. And it should be. Sending $14 billion to another country as it perpetrates a series of war crimes is a big deal, and people are rightly upset.
But some Zionists argue antisemitism also plays a role. And that’s true. Some on the far-right love to hate Israel because of their hatred of the Jewish people. We’ll ignore, here, the conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism that’s leveled falsely at the left. I wrote about that recently, and it's not the focus here. But what I will mention is that Christian Zionism in this country, which has tens of millions of adherents, helps keep Israel in the spotlight as well, and is fundamentally not about supporting Jews in any way, but rather about an evangelical vision of the return of Jesus and the end of days. There is also, maybe most importantly, the fact that Palestinians have turned for decades now to Western media and a Western audience in an effort to get people to care about the relentless ethnic cleansing they’ve been subjected to since Israel’s inception. This has been one of the many strategies they’ve pursued in an attempt to save lives and stay on their ancestral lands. And in a vital way it appears to now be working. The general population of the U.S. and Europe, not to mention the rest of the world, is on the side of the Palestinian people in a way we’ve never seen before. Social media has played a significant role in helping people across the world see what’s really happening in Gaza, and therefore in debunking the propaganda Israel has effectively wielded in years past.
I personally write about Israel and Palestine for all the reasons outlined above, and one more. I think as an American we have a clear duty to do everything we can to get our government to stop sending arms and money to a genocidal and fascist state. But as a Jew I also know that this is theoretically being done in my name. Zionists try to conflate Judaism with support for the state of Israel, and therefore conflate opposition to Israel’s crimes with antisemitism. I’ve written about how this is untrue and about how it makes Jews less safe in the long run. And it’s been some small comfort to see that I am not alone, that across the globe Jewish people are saying “No. Not in our name. Israel and its crimes do not represent us.”
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At the same time, even before I received that email in response to my work, I had been reading and learning about mass tragedies happening as we speak in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Sudan forces loyal to the army chief – Sudan’s de facto head of state at the moment – have been at war with the paramilitary forces commanded by his former deputy for the past seven months. At least 10,000 people have been killed, likely more, and over 4.8 million have been displaced. In the Congo, nearly 7 million people have been displaced since the M23 rebel militia, internationally acknowledged to be a proxy force backed by Rwanda, has broken a ceasefire and launched attacks in several provinces. This conflict has been ongoing for two decades, but recently exploded into mass violence once again.
The immense displacement of millions, death of thousands, and violent horrors in both countries are largely ignored by the world. We don’t see Sudan of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in our headlines, we rarely see videos of what’s happening, and we don’t see political movements in the West calling for peace in these nations. Our governments have taken some action, like the U.S. suspending military aid to Rwanda over support for M23 rebels in the DRC a month ago, but those moves are few and far between. The simple fact is that Israel commands infinitely more attention for people in the West and in our media, for all the reasons outlined earlier. At the same time, Africa is generally sidelined and mass violence on the continent is habitually ignored. But that does not need to remain the case. We can and do have mass movements in the U.S. and in the West more broadly that center conflicts and struggle in Africa, and seriously pursue real remedies. Pan-Africanists and others are already pursuing these vital ends, but the peace movement and internationalists and everyone on the left should join them.
In fact, what we need to pursue is even bigger than solidarity with folks in Africa. Yemen, Nagorno-Karabakh, West Papua – places around the globe also need our attention and organizing. The media and social media cycles that appears able to only focus on one international conflict, or one atrocity at a time are insufficient for this moment. Even more importantly we cannot understand each of these situations as isolated events or isolated tragedies. We must see how they are interconnected. The systems that built the current state of Israel, and which have therefore led to the genocidal attack on Gaza have also fueled the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Sudan and the Congo. While in Palestine we see raw settler-colonial violence from the IDF, made worse by modern technology and the mass violence of the 16-year blockade on Gaza, what we see in the Congo and Sudan is related to colonialism and neo-colonialism. The long history of instability in some African nations is a result of Europe pillaging and under-developing these countries, often after creating them within arbitrary borders. The current violence is often part of the long shadow cast by these colonial enterprises, combined with the neo-colonial endeavors to continue extracting resources from these areas without sharing that wealth with the people.
So we need to be organizing against these systems, against capitalism and its international reach, against the greedy extraction corporations perpetrate both here and abroad, against the neo-colonial framework that says taking from nations of the global south and giving us a piece of the crumbs is an acceptable and even desirable approach. In short, our organizing in the West must be internationalist and aimed at the biggest scale, the broadest scale. I know that talking about structures and systems isn’t as gripping as the immediate atrocities we see before us. It doesn’t pull at our emotions and our heartstrings, which are rightly moved by witnessing atrocities on video and hearing testimony from people who have been attacked. But our focus on systems can and should be driven by a deep sense of justice that is aroused when we see a singular and specific horror.
The righteous anger we feel when we see people forcibly displaced, when we see schools bombed, when we see mass starvation must be harnessed and translated into change that will actually prevent further atrocities. Our burning desire for a better world, for peace, for an end to the horrors we see before us on the world stage must be taken and turned into justice. And in this world, where international systems regulate our lives and rule much of the behavior of even the most powerful of national governments, we must orient ourselves toward those systems. Our most intense emotional response will always come from the stories of one individual, one woman forced to drag her children through the rubble of Gaza, one man who has escaped war in Sudan, one person whose life has somehow been shown to us and grips our heart. And it is our duty to see how that one precious soul cannot be saved, cannot be helped, cannot be protected without replacing systems that discard life itself with systems that care deeply for each of our lives and for all life on Earth. That is the work before us today, not just in one country or one place, but everywhere.
Thank you so much for reading. If this writing is valuable to you and you’re able to support my work, I’d be immensely grateful - Josh