As a Tigrayan, My Heart Bleeds for Palestine

As a Tigrayan, My Heart Bleeds for Palestine

I was lying in bed recovering from a brief bout of COVID when my phone loudly dinged in the early hours of the morning.

“Check the news,” my mother texted.

Fearing yet another story of unrestrained terror on Tigray, I frantically went to my Twitter page. My feed was filled with sprawling, angry black letters that read, “Israel attacked.” I watched in despair as Hamas swept into Israel on paragliders. Cognizant of the countless Palestinian lives that had been victim to an oppressive apartheid Israeli state, my heart broke for the innocent Israeli civilians whose lives were prematurely snatched away by Hamas. But my heart also broke that day for the Palestinian people because I knew what would ensue: Israel launching a ruthless military campaign in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian’s fate was sealed for the coming months and even years; I had no doubt there would be severe casualties, but never did I anticipate what would transpire in the following months after the attack.

Shortly after the surprise incursion from Hamas, Israel announced their unwavering determination to root out every last member of Hamas from Gaza. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made premonitory statements, declaring that the retaliatory air strikes from the Israeli Defense Forces “was only the beginning.” Undeterred by backlash from neighboring Middle Eastern countries and humanitarian organizations around the world, Netayanyu doubled down on his efforts, declaring that Palestinians had 24 hours to evacuate to the Southern tip of the Gaza Strip. 

These vitriolic calls for vengeance, characterized by hate speech and dehumanization, struck a deeply traumatic chord within me. I have been all too well-acquainted with the faces of evil. They come in all shapes and sizes, yet simultaneously merge into an indistinguishable mob that speaks in one voice, fixed in their resolve to corrode the hearts and minds of people and spread hate speech.

As Tigrayans, we are well-practiced in recognizing dog-whistle rhetoric and fear-mongering tactics of those who have made it their mission to deny the genocide. With the recent onslaught in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government has lauded itself as weeding out terrorists despite their indiscriminate aerial attacks on innocent civilians. Conflating criticism of the Israeli government and Zionist ideals with antisemitism has been used to circumvent the shifting narrative by political pundits like Ben Shapiro. In the past few weeks those who have ardently called for protecting the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people have been assigned unforgiving labels of ‘terrorist’ with troubling speed. This phenomenon bears striking resemblance to the Ethiopian government’s efforts to designate anyone who advocated for Tigray as a ‘TPLF terrorist’ or ‘junta.’

Fast-forward almost seven months into the conflict–which many experts have labeled as genocide–the death toll has reached 35,000. Despite the International Court of Justice trial, spearheaded by the South African government, Israel has ignored calls for a ceasefire, sending an endless barrage of missiles into the 25-mile strip of land, resulting in even more deaths. In their case against Israel, the South African government has cited that “entire generations [of Palestinians] have been wiped out.”

Israel’s Human Rights Record

One only has to look at Israel’s human rights record since its inception to reach the incontestable conclusion that it was only a matter of time before their crimes against Palestinians would be brought to the world stage. The creation of Israel in 1948 was quickly followed by the Nakba, during which 700,000 Palestinians were violently dispossessed of their land—an event still fresh in the collective memory of both young and old. The Nakba marked the beginning of seventy years of state-sanctioned apartheid that has been largely defined by illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians without due process, and scores of bloody massacres carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The gradual encroachment of Palestinian land by Israeli citizens is analogous to the continued occupation of Eritrean and Amhara forces in Western Tigray and Tigrayan lands bordering Eritrea. 

It is no secret that Israel has aroused the hostility of not only Palestine but numerous countries around the world. Just last year Israel was sending armaments to back the Azerbaijani government in recapturing Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in an ethnic cleansing campaign of Armenians in the region–not to mention Israel’s role in supplying drones to the Ethiopian government led by Abiy Ahmed, utterly devastating the Tigray region. The duplicity of the Israeli government does not end there, but extends to the treatment of their citizens–namely Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews who have faced decades-long systematic discrimination. Israel has worked tirelessly to conceal their involvement in cases like the Yemenite Children Affair and the forced sterilization of Ethiopian women. Since October 2023, the Israeli government has killed approximately 35,000 people, 14,000 of them children, and has razed Gaza to the ground, causing mass displacement of Palestinians as they try to salvage what is left of their homes and communities. Israel has employed the same tactics used by the Ethiopian government during the Tigray genocide, such as imposing a telecommunication blackout and a humanitarian blockade, both governments vehemently denying their role in enacting genocide.

The atrocities inflicted on Tigray by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments in the last four years have provided me with unshakeable clarity that there is no middle ground when it comes to genocide. The vapid remarks of senior US officials, such as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, on Gaza carry the same tenor as those made for Tigray. Both Tigray and Palestine are historical underdogs who have always managed to resist occupation and regimes that have threatened their autonomy but always at a great cost.

It Takes a Country to Commit Genocide

Who is responsible for genocide? This question has persisted throughout history and has flummoxed academics, politicians, and average-day citizens alike in search of concrete answers. Nazi Germany is often utilized as a case study in pursuit of this question. Although the Nuremberg Trials did not adequately punish all Nazis involved in the Holocaust, in modern discourse, this event is cited as an exemplary model of what should happen to prominent enactors of genocide. But aside from the powerful leaders, what about the paper pushers who were simply following orders or the patriotic citizens who attended numerous rallies? Where do they fall on the barometer of responsibility?

Historical narratives have a propensity to hyperfocus on leaders who are responsible for mass atrocities. This paints a portrait of infamous despots like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot operating on their own initiatives. However, this could be further from the truth and detracts from broader systemic and structural issues at play. Genocides don’t just happen. Hitler had a visceral hatred towards Jews, but antisemitism had been an undercurrent of European society for centuries. Genocides require cunning, meticulous planning, and above all, an eager populace willing to carry out their leader’s demands.

Videos and images from both Tigray and the Gaza Strip reveal the dark truth of soldierly conduct: it seldom exists in times of war. Some examples include footage of an Ethiopian IDF soldier performing eskista (a traditional Ethiopian dance) in a demolished home, a gleeful smile etched on his face as he overlooks the ruins his government caused. A clip of IDF soldiers rummaging through lingerie accompanied by raucous laughter in an abandoned home was also uploaded to different social media platforms. Another video shows Israelis jumping on trucks carrying humanitarian aid in a frenzied attempt to obstruct food supplies from going into the Gaza Strip. Similarly, numerous videos from Tigray came to light on social media, though some long after the fact due to the telecommunications blackout, of atrocity crimes committed against Tigrayans–including footage of soldiers massacring Tigrayan civilians and throwing them off a cliff. Tigrayans also watched in horror as Ethiopian soldiers released footage of burning a Tigrayan man alive, proclaiming that his flesh should be eaten with injera. For decades, both Israelis and Ethiopians have engaged in various methods of popular justice. The key difference today is the widespread viewership of these often brutal acts through social media, amplifying the sheer depravity that has overtaken both countries.

Abiy Ahmed, Isaias Afwerki, and Benjamin Netanyahu may join the ranks of historical villains; however, let us never forget the people’s complicity.

Hopeful for the Future

The political discourse surrounding Israel has reached a critical juncture. Though it should not have taken this level of death and destruction, the world has finally come to the dawning clarity that Israel wields its position as a superpower to continually violate the basic human rights of the Palestinian people. Albeit pro-Israel interest groups pushing false accounts of what is occurring on the ground, more and more prominent figures in politics have begun to question the legitimacy of the Israeli government’s claims to eradicate Hamas. The argument that criticism directed against the Israeli government is equivalent to antisemitism has driven away even the most ardent supporters of Israel. As the IDF encroaches upon Rafah, global outcry has only increased, a testament to Israel’s rapidly deteriorating reputation. Beneath the thin veneer of supposed moral authority, Israel has exposed itself for what it truly is: a colonial power resolute in disenfranchising Palestinians. The genocides in the Gaza Strip and Tigray have proven that the phrase “Never Again” has become a meaningless platitude, and it does not apply to beleaguered groups still under the foot of settler colonialism and imperialism. Tigrayans and Palestinians are bound by their mutual desire for self-determination and freedom, united in their struggle against oppression. 

Amid Israel’s brutal seizure of Gaza, Palestinians have displayed exceptional fortitude, mirroring the steadfastness shown by Tigrayans during the height of the genocide in 2021. We are intimately acquainted with the keening wails of mothers cradling their lifeless children and the anguish of waking to the news of yet another loved one lost to senseless violence. Above all, we understand that while the oppressor may strip away our families, homes, and even our lives, they can never extinguish the flame of hope within us.

Mahlet A – Omna Tigray External Contributor, June 2024