Gaza-Israel follow-up

Avra Bossov ('11)/Eastside Global Commentary Editor

INTRO:

In light of renewed violence in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians, now is the time to examine the situation from a versatile, objective standpoint. This standpoint must be diplomatic, neither through rose-tinted glasses nor with absolute cynicism due to a lack of appreciation for both sides. The facts are hazy, as various renditions of what has happened have been circulated through various media coverage, chain e-mails, Facebook groups and word of mouth. The history of disagreement between Israelis, Palestinians and supporters of each side has led to grudges being held that are beyond an outsider’s, as well as a member of whichever opposing side’s, ability to fully understand a) what’s going on and b) what can be done to change circumstances. Essentially, each and every one of us undeniably has a stance on the subject, based on upbringing, demographics, morality and surroundings. It’s virtually impossible to not be subjective toward this issue. The key is-in order to appreciate how complicated things are-to be open-minded. Of course people are not going to agree on this issue: they haven’t for most of the past, and there’s no sign of agreeing on it in the near future. Personally, as a 15-year-old, the daughter of both a Reform rabbi and a Jewish educator and as an American citizen, living in an area highly populated by Jews, I find it difficult to come to a decision on what to believe and how to feel about recent events. But what I do know is this: if my generation is the one that will help make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, we must start by being objective to the best of our ability and by examining the situation from as many perspectives as possible.

A BRIEF HISTORY:

First and foremost, Israel is a country, not a state; it has maintained its own sovereign government separate from any other entity for the past 60 years. Secondly, please keep in mind that it is a challenge to summarize an entire nation’s history in a few paragraphs, especially so steeped in history such as Israel.

Israel became a nation on May 14, 1948. Support for re-establishing a Jewish homeland was relatively high at this point in world history, after Jews had been persecuted throughout Eastern Europe by Hitler and the Nazis. Even so, the fledgling country fully acknowledged its resident non-Jewish citizens and extended full privileges to them and friendship to its primarily Arab-Muslim neighboring countries. Prior to 1948, the land area that we refer to as Israel has been disputed over for more than 4,000 years, before Judaism, Christianity or later Islam even came into being! According to the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament), G-d granted Abraham the Land of Canaan for his family and the following generations to populate it. But Abraham was father to both Ishmael and Isaac, therefore to both Islam and Judaism, so for whom did G-d intend the land? The story goes that Abraham banished his firstborn son Ishmael and his mother, the concubine Hagar, thereby confirming the inheritance of Isaac, the son of Abraham’s acknowledged wife. Therefore, conflict concerning the land itself has been fueling since this “first family” of the monotheistic religions.

In its 60-year history, Israel as a nation has undergone more tough situations in the middle of the murkiest of waters than America could ever conceive. In a key word review: the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Six-Day War in 1967, Operation Wrath of G-d in response to the attacks during the 1972 Summer Olympics, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the first Lebanon War, the First Intifada, the Gulf War, the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace in 1994, the July 2000 Camp David Summit, the second Intifada, Ariel Sharon in a coma, Hezbollah attacks in 2006, the Second Lebanon War. This incomplete list of snapshots brings us to December 2008.

THE 22-DAY DEFENSE AGAINST HAMAS…OR THE 22-DAY PERIOD OF WAR CRIMES?

Now we get back to the crux of the matter, where having a balanced perspective is absolutely essential.

The ceasefire that lasted from 2006 to December 2008, which is when the treaty was up, collapsed when the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip immediately resumed firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel. In response, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. Israel’s main goal by launching a ground attack into Gaza was to eliminate Hamas, an organization chartered to fight toward Israel’s destruction-not to purposefully harm noncombatant Gaza citizens who are perpetually used as human shields.

The Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operational planning and orders starts that “In cases where there is doubt as to whether a civilian object has turned into a military objective…one is to assume that it is not a military objective until proven otherwise. Even when it is not possible to isolate the civilians from an assault and there is no other recourse than to attack, the commander is required to refrain from an attack that is expected to inflict harm on the civilian population that is disproportionate to the expected military gain.”

Other international practices support Israel’s justification. The Australian Defence Force Manual states: “The presence of non-combatants in or around a military objective does not change its nature as a military objective. Non-combatants in the vicinity of a military objective must share the danger to which the military objective is exposed.”The Belgian Teaching Manual for Soldiers states: “Objects occupied or used by enemy military forces are military objectives even if these objects were civilians at the outset ([e.g.] houses, schools or churches occupied by the enemy).”

IDF intelligence painstakingly gathered information of where Hamas members and officials were located, thereby avoiding random airstrikes into Gaza. A term the media has not used to describe Hamas actions is “human shields.” Hamas, hiding in mosques, schools and other public facilities, forced Israel to attack these places, in hopes that Israel would be portrayed as the bad guy. That worked. Hamas has successfully used the innocent citizens of Gaza to their advantage in making Israel out to be disproportionately aggressive.

According to an AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) memo sent out on January 6, 2009: “Hamas openly admits it uses women and children as human shields. Hamas MP Fathi Hammad told Al-Alqsa TV on February 29, 2008, ‘For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry. …This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahedeen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine.”

But Israel is not a willing aggressor! There are always two sides to an argument-and even more sides in a situation like this-that must be recognized and then validated. And each and every person must do so, since the media plays an oftentimes too robust role in informing the rest of the world of issues happening in the Middle East. Did people really think the IDF thought it would just waltz into Gaza and destroy Hamas without harming any innocent people and without losses on either side? Did any such retaliation occur when Hamas broke an existing ceasefire agreement early and began shelling the innocent citizens of Southern Israel? Israel knew what it was getting into, since their country as a whole is fed up with all the Hamas mishegas (Yiddish for craziness). Enough is enough.

According to that same AIPAC memo: “During the…calm, Israel facilitated the transfer into Gaza of more than 14,000 trucks, 185,000 tons of foods, more than 7,000 tons of heating gas, more than 10 million gallons of fuel, and other supplies [to benefit the citizens of Gaza].”

However, I am not denying that Israel made some crucial errors. Indeed, many innocent Gaza citizens were killed. But in the long run, over the course of all the violence between Israel and its enemies, many innocent Israeli citizens have also been killed. Israel has had its taste of sacrifice: it has tasted it every day since May 14, 1948. Their sacrifice is not something an average American can fathom, myself included. All Israeli citizens (male and female) go into the army at 18 before going to college; most go without internal protest out of patriotism for their country. Israelis lose friends, family members and acquaintances regularly.

While I am inclined to fully side with Israel, I recognize the terrors Israel has inflicted upon the innocent citizens of Gaza. An article from the February 9, 2009 issue of TIME magazine entitled “Voice From The Rubble” by Tim McGirk/Jebel Al-Kashif depicts the account of an IDF murder of a Gaza resident’s family. Khaled Abed Rabu’s account is compelling: “‘I looked down and saw my 2-year-old daughter lying there with her insides spilling out. And then the soldier shot my two other girls. I’m not Hamas. My girls weren’t Hamas. Why did they do this to us?”

The above example truly does break my heart.

But what doesn’t is when I see Facebook groups formed by people my age that insult Israel’s mere existence. What doesn’t is when people post links in their profiles to extremely biased, twisted statistics concerning the conflict, like this one: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/cfv.html. What doesn’t is when Israel supporters and those who do not both donate either Qassam Count or reports of Palestinian deaths as their statuses (on Facebook). That all angers me immensely because it is evidence that people-especially of my generation-are viewing the situation from one side alone; they don’t even bother to learn some of the basic documented facts of the situation’s history, nor acknowledge how much Israel has opened to negotiate peaceful resolutions so that armed conflict could be avoided.

NOW WHAT?

There are cultural barriers between America and the Middle East, but there are not communication barriers. Operation Cast Lead is an ordeal that has shaken up world politics for awhile, yet neither is it the beginning nor the end to disputes between Israelis and Palestinians. Matters are complicated since Palestinians do not have a unified national government of their own, but they need to express more interest diplomatically in doing so, rather than to continue attacking Israel. While Operation Cast Lead was necessary defense for Israel, innocent Gaza residents were killed.

There are no good guys, and no bad guys: there are only two different mindsets that both want victory in this struggle for existence. Each side has justification to be angry, each side has justification to attack, each side has considerable grievances.

In a world torn in fragments of what to believe and who to believe, economic strife and cultural misgivings about our own neighbors, will our generation be that ray of light of understanding, which is the first step to peace? Will President Obama and Secretary Clinton heed the call of American excellence in foreign policy and help facilitate a legislative agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

Or will the violence continue?