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Navigating the Gaza crisis from afar

China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-15 06:28
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A projection of US President Joe Biden is seen on the wall of George Washington University during the students encampment protest on May 7. [Photo/CFP]

In April, student protests swept across campuses in the United States in reaction to the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip. Clashes occurred as some protests encountered opposition from university administrations and even the police, igniting debates on freedom of expression and the right to protest.

These protests underscore deep-rooted issues and contradictions within American society, reflecting a growing political awareness and dissatisfaction among American youth. This movement has the potential to significantly impact American politics and attract widespread attention from the international community, especially among young people globally.

Even as a young Chinese person working and living far away from the Middle East and the US, I find it hard not to be concerned when hundreds of thousands suffer from a dire lack of food, water, medical resources, and safe shelter from bombs and bullets in Gaza.

However, I understand that the conflicts among Israel, Palestine, and Arab countries are complex, as many Jewish people started moving to the Jerusalem area in the 19th century. Many matters cannot be simplified as black-and-white narratives. Therefore, from a third-person perspective, I have been trying to learn about what is going on with a combination of curiosity, empathy, and an analytical attitude.

In addition to watching videos on social media and reading news from mainstream global media, I've gone the extra mile to seek analyses from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides by talking with well-informed friends: those I acquainted with while studying in the UK, doing business in the US, and working in Shanghai.

"In these US young students, we still see hope in education," a friend who graduated from a US Ivy League university texted me, echoing the sentiments of many netizens in other countries.

Furious at the heavy police force and even snipers deployed to enter campuses to evacuate and arrest protesters, a British friend, now studying Arabic and French at a UK university, calls the media that legitimize the unprecedented police violence against students and faculty "hypocrites who used to advocate for the freedom of speech and human rights".

Why does a ceasefire deal seem so difficult? Firstly, certain third-party countries, driven by their narrow interests, may not want the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza to end. Secondly, negotiations face resistance from the Israel and Palestine parties, too.

An Israeli friend who has been working and living in China for over 10 years shared with me his reasoning after experiencing the sudden attack from the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) on Oct 7, 2023. "More than 1,200 people were killed in the attack, and over 200 were taken hostage. A major bombing occurred just a kilometer from where I lived," he recalled, his words still displaying post-traumatic emotions.

His terror is real, and so is the suffering of around 2 million people in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

My Israeli friend finds no excuse for the current Israeli leaders who have made the living conditions of Palestinian people even more miserable. He also believes the two-state solution should be the way out of the mess.

Nonetheless, his eyes dimmed when I continued to ask him if any progress toward humanity can be achieved if we only focus on who fired the first, second, and third shots, and on what if the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine had been well executed.

"The conflicts have been going on for more than seven decades. Why haven't we taken concrete action earlier?" he sighed.

Written by Zhong Yutong, a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University.

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