The common thread of humanity

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A collage of the flags of Canada, USA, Israel, Palestine, the Métis, and Treaty 4 territory.
So many flags, so many different names, but always the exact same problems. Wikipedia and Openclipart-Vectors via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

There is such a thing as too much abstraction and academic detachment

by sonia stanger, contributor

In January, the Carillon published an article by Mikayla Tallon connecting the ongoing genocide in occupied Palestine to our own violent settler-colonial context here on Turtle Island, calling for justice. In a critical response the following month, though, contributor Jack Nestor claimed that, “…the differences between settler colonialism in Canada and settler colonialism in Israel are more pronounced than the similarities.” 

The complete absence of the Palestinian context left me uncertain what differences were actually illustrated. But, more importantly, I question the fundamental goal of this analysis. When 2 million of our fellow human beings are being bombed and starved, should a detached academic dissection of historical specifics be our top priority? I’m far less interested in whether there are more similarities or differences than the question of what we can do about the devastating human impact of that colonialism. 

I think this intellectualization of the issue reflects a tendency to distance or disconnect ourselves to avoid stress, pain, and discomfort. Avoidance can be a necessary coping strategy that protects us from situations too overwhelming to bear, but I worry that we have become used to keeping the real pain of mass-scale crises at a distance, because it is the only way we know to continue functioning.  

I do not blame anyone who feels paralyzed and at a loss for how to process and respond to the horrors we are witnessing, the depth of the crises facing humanity right now. But retreating to the realm of thought to escape the overwhelming feelings and sensations that show up in our bodies means making the human lives at risk abstract, a mere idea, making it easier for us to look away and feel ourselves as being separate from the crisis. This abstraction is another act of colonial violence.  

I have heard many times since October 7 that if you are unable to withstand the pain of witnessing what is going on, the pain of the truth, you should put down your phone, protect your peace, turn away. But is our comfort more important than Palestinian lives?  

Like escape, pain serves an essential function, both within a body and a society. If you break a bone, the pain you feel is a signal that action is needed. It needs care and attention. Ignoring that signal would mean worse damage to the part already injured. Likewise, the terrible pain we feel when we see a father in Gaza carrying what’s left of his child in a plastic grocery bag is a glaring alarm signal that action is needed to address a serious threat to our shared global body. It urges us to fix things, which none of us can do alone.  

Emphasizing the situational differences between Canada and Palestine also ignores the active role Canada has played in the Israeli occupation’s violent colonial project, both in terms of financial investment and public support. After considerable pressure from the public and the threat of complicity in genocide under international law, the Canadian government has made a non-binding commitment to pause the approval of weapon sales to Israel, but this does not include the $30 million of military exports previously approved since October. Whatever differences exist, the same colonial bodies are perpetrating violence in both places.  

Moreover, the illusion of safety we get from turning away from seemingly distant issues is false. As we’ve already seen happening, the knock-on effects of localized conflicts can be vast. In addition to the devastating human cost of Israel’s attack on Gaza, the environmental impact is profound. The bombing and ground invasion have resulted in catastrophic water, land, and soil pollution. The belief in our separateness fails to recognize the interconnected and interdependent nature of life. We all share one water supply, one planet.  

In his article, Nestor dismissed Tallon’s call for the humanitarian crisis to provoke people on Turtle Island to strive for liberation and justice here, writing that “if Indigenous peoples in Canada pursue justice with enhanced vigour it will be because it is in their interests to do so – not because Palestinians have done so.” 

This either-or, us-or-them framing reflects precisely the kind of limiting mentality it is time for us to move beyond. Justice is not a limited resource. To resist the destruction and dehumanization of our fellow human beings anywhere is to invest in justice everywhere. At every rally I’ve been to, there has been at least one person with a sign expressing Indigenous solidarity. Working together to liberate Palestine does not mean we cannot also focus on our own local issues.  

On the contrary, the global movement to save Gaza has led to more awareness of the humanitarian crises in Sudan and Congo. Citizens from all over the world are directly supporting Gazan’s needs via crowdfunding escape efforts like Operation Olive Branch and calling to end systems of domination and exploitation where cultural hierarchy determines who ‘deserves’ land, freedom, safety, and the world’s empathy.  

When we collectively respond to these global alarm bells and pursue justice with enhanced vigour, it will be because it is in all of our interests to do so, and because Palestinians are showing us what resilience and resistance looks like as they have done for decades. 

Confronting the many crises we face as a global ecosystem, and their interconnectedness, is daunting. It is messy and painful. It means facing the grief and horror and exhaustion of the work we have to do. Life is hard right now for many of us, and there is no shame in feeling the impulse to draw inward and focus on our own personal crises. But who benefits when we do? Or from the narrative that there’s nothing any of us can do? What might we do to increase our capacity to engage?  

While there aren’t enough hands to make light work of the complex and horrific tangle of our human problems, isn’t it a much better prospect with all our relations by our sides?  

In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians. 

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