Opinion: On parking chairs and Palestine

click to enlarge A parking chair on a brick road that has nothing to do with Palestine but does capture the forlorn vibe of trying to write about parking chairs while thinking about a horrific, intractable war.
CP Photo: Ali Trachta
This is a photo of parking chairs.

This was originally supposed to be a seasonal article in defense of parking chairs.

Writing up a relatively trivial phenomenon — one rooted in people being territorial — proved challenging. I'd simultaneously been working to find a local angle to write about the war in Gaza. While I drafted quips about shoveling snow, the Israel Defense Forces were busy raiding Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and deploying white phosphorus in southern Lebanon. Parking chairs would have to wait.

Three weeks prior, while the Israeli government began their ground invasion, Pittsburgh was observing the fifth anniversary of the worst anti-Semitic attack in United States history. Three weeks before that, on Oct. 7, Hamas murdered some 1,200 Israeli and international civilians and took 200 more hostage. It's that country's worst violence in decades, and it has implications for many Pittsburghers.

Two weeks ago was also the anniversary of the Nazis' November 1938 pogrom, which they called Kristallnacht. A local seemingly took the opportunity to vandalize a Squirrel Hill business. Elon Musk and others have been busy amplifying antisemitism even as Jewish people the world over report fearing for their safety. Meanwhile, cynical evangelicals and Pa. Sen. John Fetterman, wrapped in an Israeli flag, joined nearly 300,000 Israel supporters at a rally where masses chanted "no ceasefire!" This seeming call to arms is hard to square with rising Islamophobia, settler colonialist rhetoric, and the deaths of 4,000 children.

That last detail has been particularly hard to stomach. As Israel threatens to invade the south of Gaza, which they previously told civilians was safe, and sends premature babies to Egypt, outlets such as the L.A. Times have reached their breaking point.

Mine — the reason I'm done waiting for a local angle to write about this war — is the assault on Al-Shifa. The severing of utilities to Gaza's largest neonatal unit over what so far appears to be an open box of dates and fewer guns than you'd find in many Pittsburgh households is, quite simply, wrong. That's true in both a legal (per Article 18 of the Geneva Convention, which Israel has ratified) and moral sense.

President Biden has warned Israel against making similar mistakes to those the U.S. made after 9/11. If he's serious about that — and about earning many younger people's votes — he should call for an immediate ceasefire and a clear plan for longterm stability, one that goes beyond "a five-day pause" in hostilities. There are risks to doing so, as Hillary Clinton has pointed out. But there's no excuse for launching chemical weapons at cities and assailing hospitals, journalists, and humanitarian organizations.

Palestinians desperately need international humanitarian relief. Some estimates put the death toll in Gaza at 12,000 and rising, and even conservative tallies of civilian losses are far too high. Further, if Israel is serious about rooting out and preventing the resurgence of Hamas, destroying trust in the region for a generation hardly seems like the way to do it. The wanton killing must stop. Many domestic Jewish groups agree, and as Israeli trust in Binyamin Netanyahu craters, calls for an end to the bloodshed seem likely to grow louder.

Outside of some excellent student journalism, it's been hard to find local coverage of how area Palestinian Americans, activists, Arab and Muslim Pittsburghers, and others opposed to this war are doing ([email protected] if you want to talk). A few local politicians including Rep. Summer Lee are speaking out, but it's perhaps especially challenging to broach these topics in an age of particular pain for Pittsburgh's Jewish community, as backlash from local leaders has demonstrated.

Still, more slaughter isn't going to free hostages faster or ease the region's tensions. It's time for a path to peace before this war spirals further out of control and reopens deep divisions in places of fragile healing. At some point, aggression about what you believe to be rightfully yours runs into other people — and crosses a legal line.

Insert poorly handled parking chair metaphor here.