Gaza and Israel: Reflections and resources
Let me set out a couple of things from the get-go: I'm not going to glorify Israel and I'm not going to vilify Hamas. I'm also not going to vilify Israel and I'm not going to glorify Hamas.
I could and would do that, if I really thought it would make a
difference. But if people haven't learned by now just how little it
matters to speak extremely about one party or the other, then they must be prepared to be considered part of the problem. The conflict in the Middle East right now is the textbook definition of complex, and anyone who continues to be one-sided isn't showing an
interest in wanting to be part of the solution.
Expression on behalf of one side? Reasonable, understandable. But one-sided blaring? Not so much, because it doesn't lead to resolution - unless you want more death. I don't know about you, but that's not something I want more of. And if you are of the opinion that more death is either what we need or what must happen - on either side - then you are not going to want to keep reading this post because I will never agree with that and I won't promote it.
[Speaking of which, has anyone else thought about how, in American culture, when you call someone a martyr, it's a putdown or an insult? It signifies something beyond, extreme, and past the point of just doing something good or kind or helpful for someone. How does that compare to the concept of martyr that we hear being expressed by some, not all, and most likely only Muslim Palestinans? This point isn't relevant because you think it's sane or insane. It's relevant because of what it implies and what we may infer about a person's perspective as they make choices about their behavior and goals and means to an end. Really. Think about that. Again - not because it's something to embrace or reject - but because of how it impacts what a person will do to accomplish what they've come to value as a goal. So when you read op-eds that talk about how maybe Israel "finally" gets it, they're talking about how this concept of martyr, different from culture to culture, impacts the fighting tactics and rhetoric of Hamas.]
Let's also get some other semantics out of the way:
I could have titled this post, "Palestine and Israel," or
"Arabs and Israelis" or "Muslims and Jews." Some people think the land is all Palestine, some think it's the state of Israel and Occupied Territories, some interchange Arab and Palestinian, some people realize that people born in Israel are Semitic, the same as anyone else born in that region and therefore are Arab Jews (I personally never use this phrase). There are 1.7 million Arab Israelis - some people call them Palestinians too.
And yet, there's probably a statistically significant portion of the global
population that would object to any one of those monikers as referring to the human beings who live in what Professor Kim very wisely
referred to as The Holy Land in her post less than a week ago about
Israel's response to rocket launches into the Negev Desert,
post-ceasefire with Hamas. So, I'm sticking with G before I, Gaza and Israel.
Finally, I want to state upfront that I suffer from multiple personality disorder:
In writing about the conflict, I could be a good lefty and give you my bleeding heart
liberal chat about absolute disgust for the death tolls and
devastation, for the cultural hardening on both sides that these
conflicts incur and how that is the real damage, and why, regardless of
the long-term uselessnss of an immediate ceasefire with little else
achieved, we nonetheless must demand a ceasefire.
Or, I could
be a good Jew and write about how Hamas, as an Islamist group does not
represent the Christian Arabs or the Druze Arabs or perhaps even many
of the Muslim Arabs and that those groups must choose for themselves
and write about how weak the Arab League is because they can't agree
among themselves and how, in fact, some of those members claim to hate
Hamas as much as Israel is assumed to hate Hamas.
Or, I could
be a good former resident of Israel (1984-85) and recent visitor to
Israel (August 2008) and tell you that Hamas needs to reccognize the
right of Israel to exist or this battle will never end and tell you
about the desires of Israeli Arabs to achieve full parity with Jews in
the state of Israel, which they do recognize because they do not want
to live under Palestinian rule.
Or, I could be a good graduate of
a Jesuit university who spent spring breaks on Methodist church
missions and never understood how classmates could assume that I was a
Zionist just because I was a Jew and tell you about how separate
nationality, identity and religion really are, to me, even though, for
the sake of coming up with easy to pigeonhole, polarized sound bites,
we conflate all three and come up with enemies who are just as much
flesh and blood as each other and, biblically, brothers (see the peace
effort Isaac and Ishmael, which I'm pleased to say was founded by a
There are probably at least three or four
more identities within me, maybe more, based on my life experiences.
And you know what?
far as what will happen and what should happen in Gaza and Israel? None
of those identities matters. Because whatever I have to say will all be just my opinion - with all that stuff as part of my filter. That might interest you - in fact, I hope it does keep you curious about what I think regarding the conflict. But it's critical to remember that these are multiple identities I possess - and that you and everyone around you probably possess a few too, no matter how many or how few you emphasize at anyone time.
So, before I tell you what I really think is going on, let me reiterate:
1. I won't vilify or glorify in a one-sided fashion - there are, at a minimum, two primary populations there and they aren't going away and I won't advocate to relocate one full population and I won't advocate death to one either.
2. I won't get bogged down in semantics - we know who we are talking about and arguing over labels is yet another distraction.
3. Cultural values, including concepts that are foreign to us - like a different sense of martydom - impact how the main actors behave in peace and in war. We should not ignore that, but there is no need to name-call it either - the mocking it doesn't help in figuring out what to do to end the violence.
4. We, as onlookers, have multiple identities from which we can draw to figure out how to negotiate. Please remember that as you think to yourself, how does the Middle East violence stop? Some of the best examples of collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and Jews has been through identifying common interests: parents who have lost children, computer technology gurus, living in the same region inside and outside of Gaza, being a writer. These are the ways to build a foundation for peace, and co-existence - and they are happening now.
What, literally in the name of God, is going on over there?
The two most important things that are going on can be boiled down as follows:
1. The conflict is no different than any bully-teasing situation in terms of relationship dynamics. We are all distracted by the death toll - who wouldn't be? No one, least of all Hamas, should be actually, truly or sincerely surprised that Israel took military action. That's not a statement of right or wrong, it's an observation related to what happens when provoked. The justification for the provocation, even we accept that justification 100%, is also irrelevant because whether it's always been there (Israel as oppressor) or is new (the blockade), it doesn't matter: there was provocation (rocket launches), there was a reaction (Israel goes in).
And now we're all distracted and focusing on the death toll and destruction. Look at the attention and sympathy garnered, the two things terrorism, as shock and awe, always accomplishes, and which also always obscures what no one has articulated: What, beyond the end of the blockade, does Hamas want?
Why has no one articulated this? Because what Hamas wants is a one-state solution, and not even the Arab League can agree to that, let alone acknowledge the goal.
2. The second most important thing I see happening, which is connected to the first, is that I sense a distinct increase in the one-sidedness of the voices I've come to trust as spokespersons for different outlets - pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-stop the madness. And what I believe will have to happen is that we will start asking each other: Do you support a one-state or a two-state solution?
I predict this evolution because, after nearly seven days since we started to discuss the conflict, the dominant lines are the following (which, by the way, are no different than ever before):
1. Israel has always been the occupier and the Palestinians have always been displaced and oppressed: this is the foundation for the rejection of Israel as a legitimate state and the preference for a one-state solution.
2. Israel fought a war (and subsequent wars), it won, an armistice was signed, Gaza was given to Egypt, Israel occupied but has been gone since 2005 when Fatah was in charge, and is disengaging from the West Bank: this is the foundation for dealing with Fatah only, and the preference for a two-state solution.
But no one is talking this talk - because we are so distracted by the fighting. Now - if this doesn't sound like what happens between siblings or youngish kids from time to time, when the adults aren't in the room and you come in and have to figure out what is going on and all you hear is the blaming?
You have to keep asking questions - you cannot be satisfied with just what you see or are told.
So - in an effort to help you dig deeper, here is a varied assortment of links and resources for keeping up on not just what's going on, but how what is going on is affecting people around the world (in no particular order):
Rasmussen Report: Americans Closely Divided on Israel's Attack of Gaza A lot of partisan interpretation of the data from this report. I'd urge you to read it for yourself.
Random Thoughts Gaza Update 6.5 Includes links primarily to bloggers in Israel and Jewsih bloggers all over the world but the views are from the far left all the way to the far right and include several women and mothers.
Poynter Institute’s coverage, “Gaza Battles on Twitter, Blogs.”
Feministing has a good round-up of feminist voices on the violence and the hoped for peace
A column by Alan Dershowitz that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor today called “Israel, Hamas and moral idiocy.”
Twitter hashtags to follow (go here to insert as a search term) include #gaza and #askisrael but also #gazawarofwords for media bias. These tags and the following Twitterers have been one of my main sources for Gaza-based or pro-Palestinian sentiments/news:
AJGaza which is Al Jazeera’s special Twitter feed for this conflict
I would also encourage you to use the BlogHer search at the top right of the page. There are many posts in the network about Gaza and Israel.