Promised Land

I recently have been posting on Facebook some anti-Israel / Hamas violence stuff without really explaining my point of view on the matter. I hadn’t fully thought it out beyond thinking it was wrong. An old friend of mine wrote me and asked what these posts were all about; it gave me an opportunity to articulate my feelings. The following isn’t meant to be an out-and-out knockdown debate but more of an airing of our very different points of view. I thought I’d share it with you all because it is such a complex and emotional issue and I think the best thing is to do in situations like this is listen:

FROM OLD FRIEND:

Michael,

Hope you’re well — since my facebook friends tends to skew heavily to the pro-Israel side of things, I was wondering, given your latest posting, just what animates your take on the Gaza issue (I am guessing that you are very hostile to Israel’s offensive)? I am so deeply entrenched that I can’t see how to justify what Hamas has done not only to Israel but to the Palestinian cause. But I am so over the other side that perhaps I am missing something.

I am a big believer in at least trying to understand the points of view of others, and have come, begrudgingly, to understand that the Palestinian desire for self-determination is something well worth satisfying, not only for moral reasons, but for practical ones as well. But the Palestinian (both Hamas and Fatah) penchant for attacks on civilians also seems to me both immoral and counterproductive.

If you’d rather not engage, no worries… just wondering.

MY RESPONSE:

I don’t want to get into a huge debate about this, but I definitely will give you my two cents on the subject. I know you can probably talk circles around me on the issue and I won’t pretend to know enough about the details of the history involved. For me it comes down to one thing: I don’t see violence and killing as a solution for any of the world’s problems.

I understand the argument that Israel needs to protect itself, but the way this has gone down feels like overkill (no pun intended). If anything, the way Israel is responding may quell the violence on the surface and in the immediate future, but I think it is just adding fuel to anger and future hostility in the area. Israel is playing right into the hand that Hamas is dealing. Hamas wants a war. They want Israel to attack so then other Arab nations will step in and decimate Israel. We are headed into a really dark time if the violence continues.

On top of that, I don’t think it can be argued that a lot of innocent people are dying in the crossfire. I don’t know alot about Palestine and Israel, but I think it is pretty apparent that Israel is hundreds of times stronger economically, militarily and in terms of world support. I think of Israel as the older step-brother to Palestine (or maybe younger step-brother). In either case, there are ways that siblings (even step-siblings) should take care of one another.

The thing that set me off the most was a quote from Mayor Bloomberg in New York who made this analogy: (I’m paraphrasing) “If someone was in your hallway banging on your door and threatening to kill you, would you want to call in one police officer to deal with him or use all means at your disposal?” It really skews the reality of the situation. Israel hasn’t called two cops, four cops or even the whole precinct to deal with the one nut job in the hallway. Israel has called in the National Guard, a swat team and the riot police to come in and destroy him and every other tenant in the building.

Call me a hippie, but I believe there are other ways to deal with this situation that don’t involve bombing civilian areas. I understand that Hamas has utilized those areas strategically. But if Israel approached the situation from a non-violent approach, would that be an issue?

The whole thing feels very reminiscent of the situation we had going into Iraq and we know how that has turned out.

I get upset that the analogy made recently by people is if Vancouver started bombing the US. That isn’t the proper analogy at all. The relationship between Canada and US is not mired in decades of animosity and distrust. We openly make fun of Canadians but we don’t hate them.

Maybe Cuba is more accurate. And if that is the case, we need to turn to history. Did the Cuban missile crisis turn into a bloody decimation of Cuban citizens? An all out nuclear war? No, it was solved through diplomacy. And now we get to bring detainees there and ignore the Geneva convention (BTW I hate smileys, but I wanted to make sure you knew that was a joke.)

I tried to think about whether I would feel different if this was a situation between North and South Korea. I honestly don’t think I would support South Korea if they decided to respond in a similar way. As much as I have grown up hearing so much anti-North Korean propaganda, I still couldn’t see myself supporting any situation where South Korea goes in and blows up an already impoverished country.

I think the reason I would not be able to support a similar response from South Korea if it came down to it, would be that I can see that North Koreans (as estranged as they are from South Korea) are on some level still my family. I am going to hit you with some more hippie shit — but the world would be better if we could see that ultimately we are ALL family.

Anyway, I guess I did end up spewing out a lot on the subject.

The bottom line for me is that being a product of liberal hippie brainwashing leftover from the 60’s, I just can’t justify the violence in my mind. I think it only leads to more violence. I would have hoped that we learned from our mistakes with Iraq, but Israel is such a touchy subject for people, especially my Jewish friends, it’s hard to rationally debate emotion.

I know you might be pshawing all of what I have said, but I hope at least a kernel of it has rang true to you on some level.

-Mike

FROM  MY OLD FRIEND:

Hey Michael — helpful, and interesting. I will definitely respond, but not with the usual bromides. Let me craft a thoughtful response (at least try to be as thoughtful as you here). My goal is not to go tit-for-tat but simply air out the issues as each side sees them, and try to see them from another point of view. I doubt we’ll convince each other completely, but I’ll bet as well that we’ll find greater room for agreement than some might give us credit for.

A DAY LATER FROM MY OLD FRIEND:

Ok, I’ve thought through this and I have a few basic thoughts in response — I’ve also decided that I’d rather you not post my response for others to read. I’ve seen enough comments on this issue to know that the only meaningful conversation is between people who already know each other and respect one another — otherwise, you just get a bunch of heckling. If you feel you really still want to, go ahead, but not with my name or email attached. I dont want the aggravation:

1. If your main concern is war of any kind, you have my sympathy — war is awful. But the choice here isn’t between violent, bloody war and quiet diplomacy, but between violent, bloody war and sporadic and constant low-level conflict, launched almost entirely by one side against another.

You’re right, the analogy isnt between Canada and the US or even Cuba and the US or even S Korea and N Korea — there is no perfect analogy. Israel is unlike any other nation on the planet. It has existed for 60 years, and for 60 years it has endured this kind of violence almost constantly — no other country has had to deal with this kind of constant threat. Israel has learned to deal with these attacks in multiple ways — sometimes, as during the 1990s when it was engaged in an effort to forge a peace agreement with the PLO, it has chosen the path of forbearance and deterrence through heightened internal security measures. But not this time. Why?

2. Hamas is not a neighbor interested in co-existence. If so, Hamas would be happy with building up Gaza as a functioning Palestinian run state, with an economy, a functioning government, and so on (Israel gave up trying to occupy Gaza in 2005). But Hamas has a very defined goal of destroying the Jewish state and removing the Jews from it by force. It’s in their charter, and their leaders are quite open about it. Hamas does not discriminate in its targets — in fact, it favors rocket attacks on civilian areas. This is a tactical decision by Hamas, but it is also completely consistent with its political philosophy. Those rocket attacks continue unabated.

3. Moreover, Hamas has extended the battlefield to its own non-military citizens. It is a well-established fact that Hamas uses mosques, hospitals, schools and other non-military institutions for a variety of military purposes — hiding arms and rockets, staging attacks, etc. That has inevitably put Israel in a difficult position. It has tried to avoid attacks on civilians, but obviously, it hasn’t succeeded in every case. The question is — whose fault is that? In my view, if Hamas hides behind women and children, Israel has a duty to avoid attacking if possible, but if not possible, it has to attack.

4. You raise a question about the “overkill” involved here. I’m not sure that’s a serious issue, frankly. If you are going to grant Israel the right to defend itself, you also have to grant it the right to do so successfully — which means, by definition, with maximum deadly force on Hamas. Assuming Israel pursues its military campaign responsibly — and by comparison to every military offensive in dense urban combat we’ve seen in history, it is — it shouldn’t be restrained. No other nation is expected to be “nice” when waging war. Israel is doing its best to satisfy humanitarian concerns, but Hamas does not make that very easy (pls read the multiple news stories out there about Hamas hijacking aid shipments).

5. You raise the issue of “doesn’t this just breed more hatred and violence?” Well, yes, it does. But it’s not like the residents of Gaza were that enamored of Israel in the first place. Hamas was elected by Gazans to lead them — they agree with Hamas’ mission. Gazans send their children to schools which teach total hatred of Israel and Jews. It would be nice to look forward to a better future. But that future was already doubtful, and it’s not Israel’s fault for that. Moreover, one could argue — and history provides multiple examples — of countries and cultures that only learned to give up militaristic and hateful ideologies after getting pounded into submission by war — the Germans and Japanese in particular. I don’t think that’s a particularly good analogy for what’s likely to happen here, but it does suggest that war, in and of itself, is not the total enemy of peaceful harmony. Israel has fought wars with Egypt and Jordan and made peace with both. Israel would probably make a peace deal with Lebanon tomorrow if not for Hizbollah. Israel would probably make a peace agreement with Syria if not for Iran. Peace is possible with Israel — but Hamas represents a totally rejectionist philosophy.

6. And finally, I would urge you strongly to consider issues beyond violence and war. I would urge you to think of the values of the parties at war. You have Hamas, which has articulated a culture of death and intolerance, a culture where the highest value is the one placed on murdering and defeating Zionism. And then on the other side you have Israel, a democracy, a nation of thriving art and culture, a nation where the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are respected, where sexual preferences are respected (Arab homosexuals frequently move to Israel is they can so they avoid execution in their home nations), and the nation is, as you say, economically advanced beyond its neighbors. I am Jewish and will always support Israel’s right to defend itself. But as a Westener, I am even more convinced that Israel best represents my values — and therefore deserves my support (although never unconditionally…).

I think that covers it — sorry for the longish response, but I did want you to see that I’m trying to cover some big points here.

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2 thoughts on “

  1. This is such a tough issue.  On the one hand, yes, of course I support Israel’s right and obligation to protect her people, however, I don’t know that I believe bombing Hamas from wherever they are launching rockets even though those sites might be smack dab in the middle of a school zone or some other terrible such thing, is going to convince the Palestinian people to rise up against Hamas.  Imagine if Canada had decided that we needed to be rid of W and his Administration and started bombing the crap out of us?  Even if we’d been lobbing rockets over the border at them, I don’t know that we’d overthrow the government.  Maybe that would come later, but I imagine first we’d unite.  That’s what attack from foreign bodies do, right?  Unite the attacked?  So I understand, but I don’t think this is working. 

  2. what your friend forgot is that Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and Palestine was founded (if you want to go that far back in history) was founded on the ethnic cleansing of the Israelites.  Do two wrongs make a right?  In the old testament it does thus justifying all of the current actions of the Israeli government.  I see it as three children who want to play with the same toy (Jerusalem) and none of them really wants to share.  When my three kids fight over the same toy, as a parent I can force them to share.  Unfortunately in the world of realpolitik, there is no parent power who is truly concerned about teaching childish nation-states to share and behave…  thus our world is as it is…

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