Israel/Palestine: In Their Shoes

My friends and family are very much split when it comes to Israel/Palestine.  Nearly a year ago I examined my own feelings and observations on the mess.  Its nearly impossible to really get a handle on a reality most of us don’t have to confront on a daily basis.  I remember my own understanding of the issue took a turn for the deeper after reading what it was like for children to see their parents treated like criminals, never mind treated brutally, at Israeli checkpoints.  So I’d like to invite you to join me in a very short thought experiment.  I’d like to briefly examine an aspect of both sides of this conflict.

First the Israelis.  Let’s imagine that the party to take power in Canada is a mix of social conservatism and fiscal liberalism.  Thet build schools, hospitals, and provide jobs.  The Canadians are wild about them.  They also commit violent acts against US citizens.  They send suicide bombers who travel down into Boston, New York, Chicago, and blow themselves up in buses, night clubs and crowded intersections.  They launch rockets into the US, hitting farms, schools, and random houses.  People you know have been killed in these attacks.  The Canadian government not only supports this party, they have threatened to bury us if we retaliate.  How would you want to react?  How do you think our government should react?

Let’s scale this down for the Palestinians.  Imagine your home state is divided in half.  The bulk of the land is owned by by Mexicans.  To travel from one end to another, we have to submit ourselves to military checkpoints, were we can be beaten or detained at will.  Most of us live in poverty.  The local party to gain power promises not only to fight back, but to ensure our broken infrastructure is repaired.  Members of the party regularly fire rockets into Mexico’s borders.  The Mexican government responds with overwhelming force, killing not only the men firing rockets, but nearby civilians.  Your friends have been killed.  After a failed attempt to negotiate a cease fire, Mexico is going to invade our home.  Given the inability of their military force to spare civilians, it is likely that even if you are not killed or wounded, someone you know will be.  How would you respond?  How would you expect your elected officials to act?

The interesting thing with the Israel/Palestine conflict is that both sides, upon reflection, inspire sympathy.  Something to keep in mind when reading the many one sided notes and articles from friends and media.

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11 Responses

  1. Oh look at you… raising the most taboo of subjects, and on your sister’s birthday too. She would not approve, and on most nights I would stay out of this argument. It’s too sticky, too complicated, the passions run too high on both sides. Any kind of honest conversation about the Israel/ Palestine mess usually results in accusations of religious intolerance and hurt feelings. But the devil comes in my need for distraction tonight, so I’ll give this a shot

    Where to begin?

    State based religion… is kind of a horrible thing. That isn’t me picking on Israel per se… I think most of us recognize that Islamic states can pose a threat. It isn’t that there is a problem with either religion, and I would like to be perfectly clear that nothing I say is intended as a critique on anyone’s faith. I do, however, believe that enshrining religion in the seat of government inspires extremism. Hyper-nationalism is dangerous enough, but when combined with religious fundementalism… you get the picture.

    But on to the question that was actually posed… my instinct is always to root for the oppressed people… and the image of a tank going through a refugee camp is a powerful one. If you look beyond the news clippings to the actual body count… it makes me sick to my stomach as an American to know that we’re providing the means for so much misery.

    On the other hand, the Palestinians aren’t exactly following Gahndi. While I don’t particularly care for the way Israel chooses to defend itself, I can’t deny that they have the right to defend themselves. The Palestinians aren’t engaging in terrorism… they’re engaging in asymetrical warfare. There are no easy answers to this mess. Hamas has to go… that’s clear enough. But that’s only a first step. Until both sides can agree on a path to prosperity and peace that involves major concessions from both sides, there will be no end to the fighting.

  2. Used to buy into the “Lonely Israel standing amidst a sea of enemies” narrative. Then I read up on Yom Kippur and the 1982 invasion on Lebanon (plus the Intefadahs, specially Intefadah I) and that changed my whole perspective. Facts have a way of doing that.

  3. Hey Kate,
    Her take on it is remarkably close to mine. In her words: “They all just need to grow the fuck up and stop killing each other. Full stop.”

    You are preaching to the choir about theocracy. I agree with much of what you say. I do wonder about the point of asymmetric warfare. I’d argue they are engaging in such by stationing themselves within civilian areas, but specifically targeting civilians strikes me as different. Wouldn’t such instances be classic examples of state sponsored terrorism? Perhaps a better term would be legal and illegal warfare?

    I think getting rid of Hamas will be incredibly difficult…

    ralfast,
    How do you see it now? It is amazing how many people are stuck with one version of the facts. Or perhaps more accurately, live so firmly within the reality afforded by one perspective they can look straight at the other point of view and not see it.

  4. Oh, I know that getting rid of Hamas will be difficult, and Israel isn’t doing itself any favors right now.

    Asymetrical warfare. Ok… I was actually reminicing about my year in an Arab country and the threats I encountered there when I was writing my response, so I’m going to use that as an example.

    If you’re the US or if you’re Israel and you choose to attack someone, you use conventional means. You use your high powered weaponry, you use your fancy jets… and your “targets” are only military. Quick question, who do you think has killed more civilians… Israel or Hamas? The US or the resistance in Iraq?

    On the other hand, if you are Hamas or the resistance in Iraq, you don’t have the means to engage in conventional warfare. So you fight by whatever means are available. You use your enemy’s size and strength and training against them. We shouldn’t be so simple minded as to assume that because someone uses terror as a tactic, that they are terrorists. Hamas in this case is not Al Qaeda. This is resistance to occupation… and if they had the conventional means to take back the land they believe has been stolen from them, that’s what they’d do.

  5. How do I see it now? I see two extremist movements (Hamas and Likud) who thrive on conflict. Two national identities driven by a raison d’tre grounded in nexus of existential threat. The extremist on one side need the extremist on the other. Rock for bullet, bomb for rocket. What happens when the “threat” is removed? We see the corruption underneath.

    A corrupt Fatah movement stealing aid money for themselves and selling out the people for foreign powers.

    A corrupt Likud party structure that harbors graft, embezzlement and even rape. Two groups manipulated as proxies by foreign powers and in return ensnaring said powers in their own need for conflict.

    Imagine if peace did break out? Would Likud and its AIPAC allies survive? Would the U.S. funnel billions to underwrite the IDF and create a ready made market to deflate the cost of an increasingly unaffordable Imperial army?

    Would Hamas survive in a functioning and sovereign Palestinian state? Would countries like Jordan or Egypt be able to shift their people’s discontent with their own authoritarian governments to the hated Jew and the long suffering Palestinian once the issue(s) was truly resolved? Or for that matter justify being American proxies and accepting the high price of American military largess?

    In order for peace to be successful, both Israel and Palestine must re-define themselves as States of Peace and not States of Conflict. Freedom from fear for the Israeli, Freedom and Justice for the Palestinian.

  6. Kate,
    I do think using violence to inspire fear, and using that fear as a weapon, is terrorism. And I do believe nation states engage in terrorism as well as smaller organizations.

    Perhaps targeting civilians is asymmetric warfare then. It is clearly illegal and unethical. It is so important to look at how civilians are killed. When the US kills civilians, it is often accidental (and I’d argue, in some cases deliberately callous to the point of forming intent). In the case of Iraq, I think a great deal of civilian casualties come not from the US directly, but as a result of our presence and the civil war we instigated. In the case of Israel/Palestine, the Israelis have without a doubt killed more civilians.

    When it comes down to it, this is why I can never support violence as a means to an end. I find the excuses of the Palestinians for why they deliberately target and kill noncombatants to be pathetic. It is only their reason for fighting I find sympathetic. I just wish they’d fight with the tools of nonviolence.

    ralfast,

    Two national identities driven by a raison d’tre grounded in nexus of existential threat. The extremist on one side need the extremist on the other. Rock for bullet, bomb for rocket. What happens when the “threat” is removed? We see the corruption underneath.

    Well said!

    I agree completely with your conclusion. They need to re-define themselves as states of Peace. Frankly I think Israel/Palestine should become one secular country, dedicated as a nation towards fighting the type of bloodletting that has defined both populations for so long.

  7. One of the most reliable weapons in the American arsenal is the M2 50 cal machine gun. It’s reliable, and deadly, and can be mounted on pretty much anything. If you shoot it at something it will tear a basketball sized hole in it. Legally, you cannot shoot at a person with a 50 cal, you can only shoot at “equipment”. The military will go to great lengths to explain this to you. And then in the next breath they will go on to define “equipment” as anything ranging from the vehicle your enemy may be driving, to the helmet on his head, to the shovel in his hand. Is that deliberately callous enough for you?

    And I’m sorry, I realize that I’ve sidetracked down a path that is largely semantic and not terribly related to the initial question. It just bothers me that there is a separate set of language that is used to deliberately delegitimize the actions of groups that are weaker. Neither side is right in this mess. They all have blood on their hands.

  8. Kate,
    That is disgusting and disturbing. I’d say that is criminal.

    No worries. I think the words ought to describe precisely what the actions are. It often comes down to murder, direct or indirect. Abstractions like war and terrorism can definitely cloud the picture rather than clarify it.

  9. BTW, I re-posted my answer on my blog, with added commentary and links:

    What if peace broke out in the Land of Canaan?

    http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-if-peace-broke-out-in-land-of.html

  10. […] on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been one of distaste for either side.  I find I am sympathetic to motivations and unsympathetic to rationalizations for violence.  I don’t think the Palestinians or the […]

  11. My google alerts linked me up to this site, and I would agree with Kate’s point of view. Both sides are equally guilty in this whole mess. For one thing the Likud party in Israel is akin to the GOP party here in America in that they thrive on war. Take Benyamin Netanyahu who is currently leading in the polls he has promised to expand settlements into the West Bank. Not in so many words but his doublespeak of not restricting growth in the settlement is another way of saying the settlements must go on. If you are Palestinian see this, you will no doubt get very enraged and hopeless at the fact that some Russian, German or American Jew can choose to at anytime move to Israel, and they have more rights to your land than you do. You have no choice but to live with it, because in addition to each settler being provided weapons by the IDF, they are backed by zealots and trigger happy politicians who will bomb you to the next life and not think twice about it. You see that the world is powerless to do anything on your behalf because the world body, the UN can pass resolution after resolution but Washington, through influential groups will have no choice but to veto every single one of them. So on one hand you are powerless in your own home, and even if the world wants to do something, they are powerless to do so because Tel Aviv can drum up support with AIPAC, who then can call in its debts and force the US to veto any resolution that even hints at reproaching Israel. As a Palestininan you shake your head in disbelief when your people are being bombed with modern weaponry almost as if it was a military-to-military confrontation. You are even more aghast at the fact that while this is going on the U.S Congress passed resolutions; not to call for a cease fire, or to urge moderation, but resolution affirming full and unbridled support for Israel’s right to defend itself no matter what that process entails, even more, the Pentagon hires a Greek ship to transport more bombs to Israel. Its really incredulous, and its the type of hopelessness that almost makes one understand the reason why some of them chose to wake up on a god-given day and decide to blow themselves up as far they can take with them as many Israelis as possible. On the other side if you are the Israelis, you are a nation that is constantly on edge. You are almost on the point of nervous breakdown because you are constantly on alert against threats that can come in the form of crude home-made missiles, suicide bombers or the enraged Palestinian that decided to shoot up a school, restaurant, bus, etc. As an Israeli you might even acknowledge that the Palestinians do indeed the bad end of the deal. But shake your head in disbelief that these oil-rich states would rather use the Palestinians as political fodder rather than collectively use some of their oil wealth to build up their Palestinian brothers and sisters. You are further afraid because unlike missiles which are guided and can be controlled, the rockets that the Palestinians launch are indiscriminate and can hit any body provided they are within its limited range. The Palestinians attack your soldiers in their territories, even though as far as you are concerned they are they to help maintain order and provide a semblance of authority. They launch rockets at you and you decide to retaliate, but in you arsenal, you have even more deadly weapons. You cannot lob one missile for their one rocket because war isn’t always proportional. Inevitably every retaliation by you results in countless more civilian deaths on the Palestinian side and the world that seemed to be silent when rockets where lauched at you are now up in arms. You use phosphorus shells to shield your military maneuvering, but some of them inevitably land on Palestinian civilians on account of their being on such a densely populated area. To make matters worse, the Palestinians growing a quicker rate than your own people, and within a matter of 10 years the Arab-Israelis will equal or outnumber the Israeli population within Israel, threatening the very reason for the foundation of the country, to be a haven for Jews.

    Both sides will have to make painful concessions for true peace to be reached in that region. Of the many concessions that’ll have to be made I can thing of one major ones that both sides will have to make. Israel will have to cut its ties with AIPAC, there is a growing backlash against their manipulating American foreign policy against its national and strategic interest, better to cut off ties and be not be seen as unduly interfering in the affairs of your only true ally negatively. Doing so will leave Israel blameless when the backlash reaches a turning point. Refusing to do so will lead to a time when American will be forced, by citizen demand to break off all ties with Politicians and future politicians rather than being asked if they support Israel, will be forced to distance themselves from Israel. The Palestinians will have to realize that they are pawns in the wider game game of chess being played by their Arab brethren. They too should break ties with those countries who only use them for political purposes but engage in no real steps to help them out. The Palestinian diaspora will have to at some point put together their collective intellect, financial clout and slowly but surely build up whatever is left of Palestine from within. Doing so will take decades but it will lead them to a point where they are strong economically and with the help of sympathetic nations, militarily. Once they are on this semi-equal plane, they can then pursue a two state solution. It is a fact that at the negotiating table the weaker nation always loses out, a strong Palestine will ensure that they’ll be given a fairer deal.

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