The battle in Gaza is being fought not only on the ground, but also in our psyches. It’s hard to even distinguish whether our opinions are based on facts or propaganda. Does Israel have a right to protect its citizens from thousands of rocket attacks, or is Israel’s response “disproportionate” in killing so many Gazan civilians.
This battle is being waged among the citizens of the world, in your circles as well as mine. It spills over into fundamental and angry disagreements among Jews themselves. To the point that each side utterly dismisses the other, declaring that “they simply don’t get it.”
How the logic of intelligent people can be so contradictory requires a study of its own. Some relate it to propaganda. Others to assimilation and ignorance. And yet others associate it to a deterioration of foundational values and spiritual vision, which feeds confusion and allows people to “substitute darkness for light” (in the words of the prophet).
Which is what makes writing about the topic so difficult. There is no way to discuss this issue without infuriating someone. What makes it even more delicate is that we are presently in midst of a war, where lives are being lost and blood being shed. To write about this from a distance, pontificating one way or another, can appear – or actually be – callous and insensitive.
At the same time, not to write about these events that are dominating headlines and affecting us all, seems equally detached.
Therefore, with trepidation but strong resolve, and with apologies all around, I feel that the only way to even attempt tackling the issues in some objective fashion (if that is at all possible) is by moving away from an ideological voice and putting on a “journalistic” hat. Due to the complexity of the issues at hand and the strong positions that people have from one extreme to the other, utilizing a journalistic approach can perhaps help navigate the minefield of this conflict. I don’t know if that will help, but I will try, and I apologize ahead of time if it offends anyone. What will probably happen as a result of this "absurd" idea is to alienate everyone. Oh well, if that’s the case, I guess we’ll have to chalk it up to yet another casualty of war…
Please know that despite appearances, I am not insensitive nor neutral; it is just an experiment at a method that will hopefully allow more people to be included in the conversation, instead of just preaching to the converted. More importantly, by listening to the different arguments, even ones that initially may make your blood boil, we can all become wiser in addressing the issues not just out of gut instinct (which has its virtues), but in a more intelligent and comprehensive – and sophisticated – fashion.
So here is a conversation between two of my friends, from opposite sides of the aisle. In a surprisingly cordial tone these two individuals were at least able to have a dialogue. Full disclosure: I brought them together. They are both friends of mine and trust me, despite some of our fundamental disagreements. And I asked them to speak freely and helped moderate the conversation, preventing it from escalating into a full-blown argument, in which both sides silence and dismiss the other. I clearly have my own position. But as I mentioned I have donned my journalistic hat for the moment, in the hope that we all can become wiser for it.
At their request, we shall call my two friends Jeff and Evelyn.
Jeff presents the pro-Israel voice, which persuasively argues that the issue is very clear-cut and straightforward. Hamas is a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. For eight years Hamas has been launching rockets and terrorizing over a million innocent civilian lives in southern Israel. Israel, as any sovereign country, is simply acting in self-defense, doing what every country’s primary responsibility is: to protect its citizens. In the words of President-Elect Barack Obama: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing.”
Evelyn takes the opposite position, proclaiming herself pro-Palestinian, while maintaining her Jewish identity and general support of Israel. In other words she distinguishes herself from those Palestinians that call for the destruction of Israel. Her counter argument is that Israel is the aggressor and is attacking innocent civilians in Gaza. She adds that even if some response is necessary, it cannot be a “disproportionate response.” Israel is a powerful military force, and must control its firepower when attacking a far weaker entity. Evelyn also essentially blames Israel for the crisis, by keeping the Gazans trapped in a small territory, cutting off their vital resources and creating miserable conditions that produce deep anger and frustration amongst Gaza citizens, forcing many of them to embrace desperate and radical measures.
Here is part one of their conversation.
Jeff: If the terrible Hitler, after he had exterminated millions of innocent lives, surrounded himself with 1.5 million civilians, and the only way to get to him was to kill many of the civilians, would we be justified in doing so?
Evelyn: Well, what if by killing the civilians you in turn created another few thousand Hitlers?
Jeff: If they could turn into Hitlers then maybe the best thing to do is to kill them all now.
Evelyn: May I submit a second, less bloody option. Make peace with the civilians and have them turn in the Hitler in their midst.
Jeff: But what if the civilians were part of creating Hitler in the first place? What if their sentiments against the Jews allowed for a Hitler to rise and come to power and lead his county in a war against the Jews?
Evelyn: Then you have to wonder why these civilians feel that way. Why are they so angry against the Jews?
Jeff: Are you telling me that it’s the fault of the Jews that the Germans and now the Arabs hate them? The Germans did indeed have many “excuses” and “explanation” how the Jews were contaminating their pure Aryan blood, corrupting their financial systems, the cause for all their ruin and humiliation. But we know today that its all boils down to plain anti-Semitism, masked in one form or another. Even if one could find some faults among the Jews – which in itself would be a vulgar indulgence considering the context – does this in any way justify the methodical gassing of men, women and over 1.5 million innocent children?!
Evelyn: With all due sensitivity to the Holocaust, I don’t think you can compare that to the current situation in the war between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians have lived in this region for hundreds of years. The reason so many of the 1.5 million of them are crammed into the roughly 140 square miles of the Gaza Strip is not due to their choice. They belong to families that came from towns and villages outside Gaza like Ashkelon and Beersheba, that were driven to Gaza by the Israeli Army in 1948. So you can imagine that they harbor much anger and resentment. Many of them may not be ready to aggressively attack Israel and Jews, and many may not even support such attacks, but they sure are profoundly bitter, living in squalid quarters, in ghettos, with all the flow of their resources (water, energy, electricity) being controlled by Israel.
So though, Hamas is definitely making life more miserable for the citizens of Gaza with their blatant attacks against Israel, they are being doubly punished by Israel’s retaliation, even if it may be justified.
Jeff: So what exactly are you suggesting Israel do? Ignore the attacks of Hitler against its citizens, because Hitler is hiding among civilians? Even if they are not to blame, can Israel afford to allow their sworn enemy to impudently continue attacking its people? Especially considering Jewish history, including the silence of the world during the tragic Holocaust, can Israel rely on other nations to fight and protect it from its enemies?
And, for the record, did the Israeli Army drive them into Gaza in 1948? Or did five Arab armies attack the fledgling Israel back then and as a result of their loss in a war they initiated, many were forced to flee their homes, as is the case in any war.
Additionally, let’s explore the innocence of the Gazan civilians. If a majority of a people elect and then choose to accept the rule of a tyrant, do they carry responsibility? Were 100 million Germans culpable in the genocide of the Jews by allowing the climate for its perpetration, or is only Hitler and his immediate subordinates guilty? After all, Hitler, Goebbels, Eichman and so many others may have never shot a Jew. But the entire nation – and many others – were a breeding aground for the Holocaust. And in that sense, they are all guilty.
Evelyn: I am sensitive to the Holocaust. One of my parents was a survivor. But I think that it is being exploited to engender sympathy for Israel, at the expense of the Palestinians who were not to blame for the Holocaust.
Jeff: You are not hearing what I am saying, Evelyn. I am not pulling the Holocaust “card” nor am I blaming the Palestinians for it (though the Mufti of Jerusalem had a far too cozy relationship with Hitler). I am drawing a parallel of culpability: Even if you were to argue that the majority of the Muslim/Arab world were not anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, the fact remains that from their midst have risen forces that call for the destruction of Israel. And we cannot simply allow them to point fingers at other they have allowed into power, and allow to attack Israel.
Evelyn: So, are you suggesting that despite their legitimate grievances, Palestinian civilians have to continue suffering and be killed because they are part of the Hamas problem?
Jeff: I too am sensitive to the plight of the Palestinians, and do not justify actions that have made their life so difficult. But two things must be now considered. Even if things in 1948 were done wrong, does that mean that today Israel should not protect innocent lives? The first and primary responsibility of any state is to protect its citizens. We must deal with the current sate of affairs and facts of the ground, and cannot turn the clock back to 1948. Secondly, if you want to go back to the root of things, we need to further explore the roots of Arab rage against Israel and the Jews.
Can we say that the majority of the Arab/Muslim world are not anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, but simply have legitimate grievances, and were they remedied they would live in total peace with Israel and the Jewish people? Hatred for Jews and attacks against them precede the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The Germans had their “excuses” to despise the Jews and the Muslims have their “excuses.” How are you so sure that the root of the hatred is so different?
Evelyn: Ok, so let us go back to those roots. But we also have to address the roots of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.
Part two – continued next week.