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When you go to the polls – take Gaza with you

Op-ed by Hagai El-Ad, B'Tselem's executive director, originaly published on the Foundation for Middle East Peace Blog

The Gaza Strip is the most silenced issue in the current election campaign. Silenced? Apart from certain politicians vying for credit for discovering the tunnel threat, Gaza is completely absent from this election – erased, along with this summer’s unpleasant war. Gaza is gone. Its residents do not exist. Our future, our suffering, isn’t interlinked with theirs. The Gazan neighbors of Sderot, Ashkelon, Nahal Oz, and Tel Aviv are invisible. Only six months ago, and for 51 days, Gaza was the hot topic. Countless talking heads on television chattered incessantly between one rocket attack alert and the next, until, suddenly, everything fell silent. Only the suffering of those who lost loved ones and the pain of those wounded and left disabled haven’t died down, even if no one is listening.

A-Tuffah neighborhood, Gaza city, 21 Sept. 2014. Photo: Anne Paq, Activestills.org
A-Tuffah neighborhood, Gaza city, 21 Sept. 2014. Photo: Anne Paq, Activestills.org

One might imagine that in an election that takes place so soon, not even six months, after a national trauma like this, there would be at least some politicians who insist on addressing it. You might imagine that even if all politicians tried to distance themselves from it, the public wouldn’t just take it and would insist on getting explanations for what happened and information about what’s to come. Why did we kill more than two thousand people? Why have more than seventy Israelis been killed? What are those who seek our trust planning other than the cruel inevitability of the next war in two years’ time? How many dead are planned for the summer of 2016?

If we’re not going to demand that Gaza be front and center in this election because of the hundreds of children we killed in Gaza this summer, then maybe we should for 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman’s sake. If we’re not going to talk about Gaza because of the tens of thousands still living in tents, schools or on the street, then maybe because of the 51 days of rocket attack alerts? If we don’t demand our politicians address Gaza in this election campaign because of the poverty and anguish, the eternal closure and the despair in the Strip, then at least let’s demand it because of the next round of violence, which is getting closer by the day.

Whether we think about Gaza or not when we go to the polls, Gaza isn’t going anywhere. The Israeli power, of which we are citizens, will continue to neighbor Gaza and the residents of the impoverished piece of land that is internally controlled by Hamas and externally controlled by Israel will continue to be our neighbors. Their future is our future is their future.

The fact that this future is inextricably bound together by the chains of history, geography, politics and violence is out of our control. What is under our control, ours and theirs, is how this future plays out. It’s difficult, complicated even, to imagine a different future for Gaza and Israel, but those who avoid imagining it and taking action to make it happen, are sentencing us all to more loss and suffering, to a future of more bloodshed for both Israelis and Gazans.

Israelis aren’t fools. Those who have had to run to shelter with their small children time and time again have a better understanding, a better recollection, of what their decisions rally mean, certainly more than silent, deceitful or cowardly politicians. Gaza is the most silenced issue in this election, and the silence speaks volumes. But things that are repressed reverberate with much more force than ones that are objects of constant banter. Every time they talk to us about the cost of living, our subconscious is thinking about Gaza, the rocket attack alerts, the shelter… the next time. Politicians will keep doing what they’re doing, but it doesn’t matter. When we go to the polls, we’ll take Gaza with us.

Because Gaza is the most talked about issue in this election.