Today, I’d like to weigh in on a matter that isn’t much discussed lately: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(“Oh, really? How original!” All three of you might be saying.)
It took me an entire month to figure out how to approach this subject. It would be utterly redundant to belabor the complexity of the issues involved, especially when the emotions invested in this particular conflict are so intense. I acknowledge these feelings, and the degree to which they are often felt ensures that I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind on this issue.
So, then, Hamas vs. the IDF. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong? I see this most frequently posed question as fundamentally flawed.
I look at Hamas and I see a terrorist organization that literally wants to wipe out the Jews. I look at the IDF and I see one of (if not the most) advanced militaries in the world which relentlessly pounds a tiny speck of land full of civilians, willing to justify the killing of hundreds of children in one month over strategic goals that are themselves self-defeating.
The analogy of David and Goliath invoked not infrequently (with the central irony of a Palestinian David and Israeli Goliath) has some basis in reality. However, it would be much more accurate to have Li’l Hitler playing the part of David, hopping from beside one Palestinian bassinet to another throwing rocks at an Israeli Jaeger which then tries to smack Li’l Hitler with its fist, as if playing a perverse game of whack-a-mole. The more innocents get smacked, the more willing grieving Palestinian parents are to provide Li’l hitler with rocks, even if they don’t particularly like him.
It is said that in war no one wins, and everyone loses. Often that’s true; at the very least, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an exception. One can argue that the IDF can win militarily by destroying secret tunnels or killing what they deem to be a “sufficient” number of rocket launch sites. However, the conduct of their operations in Gaza are inseparable from the killing of innocent civilians. One can then argue Hamas needs only to survive in order to win, for Israeli operations, while destructive, only increase support for Hamas and other militant groups. This is, most likely, one of the major reasons Hamas has for firing rockets from civilian centers, drawing fire from the IDF to rally more anti-Israeli sentiment. Ultimately Israel will declare an end to the conflict on some sort of arbitrary basis, as they always do, and withdraw. Yet, the rockets will keep coming, if not now, then later; Hamas will certainly fight on.
However, every rocket fired into Israel risks prompting a response from the IDF. This leads to blockades and sanctions (necessitating secret tunnels in order to sustain survivability for those in the affected area), and what seems to be an almost seasonal offensive from Israel. Hamas’s stated intent to, among other things, gain Palestinian independence is seriously undermined by the measures taken by its far more powerful neighbors. A successful fighting force needs a powerful logistical supply chain and an infrastructure effective enough to supply healthy recruits and auxiliary aid. With each war in the Gaza strip, provoked or not, Gaza’s capability to provide for those basic necessities collapses even further.
So, to recap: provoked by rocket fire against Israel, the IDF attacks Palestine, causing civilian casualties that incite more people to join militant groups, which fire rockets at Israel.
There’s something missing from this recursive loop of an equation, however, and it is the side I ultimately choose to sympathize with. The Palestinian civilians in Gaza suffer disproportionately by a far more powerful aggressor for the actions of a few, with whom they have little to no affiliation or allegiance. I think it’s entirely fair to call the Palestinians victims in all of this.
But that’s only half of the remainder. The IDF, drawn from citizen soldiers, requires public support in order to commit to risky campaigns. Somehow, a war which has killed hundreds of civilians, including many children, and for the mere sake of vague objectives, has a 95% approval rating among Israeli Jews. To put that in perspective, American support for the Iraq war, a similarly muddy Faustian bargain, peaked at 72% in its first months and soon dropped very sharply. Polls show that a significant percentage of Israeli non-Arabs hold racial contempt against Arabs, even those who are citizens of Israel. Although government and media propaganda play a heavy hand in this, the daily threat of Palestinian rockets hitting Israelis, though substantially mitigated by Iron Dome, is very real. There’s also the matter of antisemitism, which is on the rise.
Modern Israel’s history is deeply rooted in the Holocaust. It is a fact that there was a point in history where one zealous group of people with national power determined unilaterally that Jews should all be destroyed. Modern Israel was founded by many survivors of that genocide. It is understandable that, in the interest of preventing another Holocaust, Jews in Israel would react quickly, and violently, to any antisemitism from its neighbors. By all means, a second Holocaust should be averted, if it is a threat.
However, if it is a threat today, it is remote. As stated earlier, Israel, though tiny, is an incredibly powerful country. It also continues to enjoy what has amounted to billions of dollars in aid from its allies. Sorry, ally. Israel is not a Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, it is a modern democracy, and very much representative of the Western world’s monopoly on what is currently defined as “first world” civilization. This forms a significant portion of Israel’s self-identified moral superiority over its neighbors. Most Israelis have access to books, to libraries, to the internet. They are every bit as capable of assimilating the concepts of basic human rights and opposing government policy as any other citizen of the West, and many do.
The fact that Israel, a country that drinks so liberally from the cup of Western ideals, clings to such an archaic form of militant nationalism, speaks to a deeper problem. Hamas commits Palestinians to a war with Israel without their consent; it victimizes its own people. So too does Israel’s government turn its own citizens into pawns, provoking attacks by Hamas to fuel anti-Palestinian sentiment that then charges national politics and ensures continued military aid. I would not go so far as to invoke the idea of a devious, long-term conspiracy on the part of Israeli politicians, but they certainly seem to know how to push the right buttons.
And so, finally, my conclusion: the populations of both Israel and Palestine are being held hostage by their own governments. One is subject to military reprisals due to provocations made by its own leaders precisely to cause civilian casualties, while the other is subject to radicalizing nationalistic pressure from a government that refuses to deviate from policies that provoke threatening attacks and prolong political and military tensions.
What can be done?
I don’t know. Smarter and more talented people than myself have tried and failed to come up with a solution to this tragic and constant problem.
However, the US sends aid to both sides of this conflict. We cannot justifiably tell other nations how to conduct their affairs, especially as a nation with such a dirty track record of its own. The provision of foreign aid, especially military aid, is undeniably a tacit attempt to influence, if not destabilize, another nation’s political climate with volatile capital.
Is it really the place of the United states to decide that either government in this case, when both are ultimately responsible for human rights abuses, deserve approval in the form of our money?