Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Uncertainty About the Middle East Conflict

There are lots of issues that I have no problem speaking out about, like the ones I’ve covered so far in my posts. Then there are others, like abortion or illegal immigration, about which I don’t feel confident enough in my opinions to assert them publicly. One of these issues is the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, which has escalated to warfare in the past week.

This Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been a sticky one for me, especially being a Jew and being conditioned in Hebrew school from a young age to believe in everything Israel without a second thought. It seems like the more “liberal” take on the conflict is a more peace-oriented one, calling for a two-state solution, for Israel to withdraw from settlements in the Gaza strip and the West Bank, and for Israel to maintain peace with the Palestinians, including Hamas-controlled Gaza, no matter what the circumstances.

Then there are the more traditionally “conservative” arguments, which seem to devote unconditional support to Israel, being the sole free-trading, America-loving democracy in the Middle East (and it’s not an Arab or Muslim country, to boot). And now, with Bush’s presidency drawing to a close, Israel may in fact be undertaking this military offensive while they know they still have a staunch ally at the helm in the US, with Obama claiming to be a strong supporter, but his true convictions on the matter being yet untested.

Hearing about all the Palestinian civilians who have been killed and injured is heartbreaking. And with so few Israelis having died on the other end, it’s not surprising that there have been protests worldwide (including in New York on Saturday) against Israel’s aggression, as well as some pretty damning press. While Israeli spokespeople claim that Israel is doing everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties and only hit Gaza in militarily strategic areas, there have been hospitals, schools, and mosques hit by airstrikes, and dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians killed.

The Israeli argument centers around Hamas’s rockets that have been launched into Israel fairly incessantly over the past several weeks and months, even during the cease fire. Children living in Israeli towns near the Gaza strip, as my friend Leo has recently seen firsthand, are experiencing a constant fear and panic as to where and when the rockets will hit next. If the United States were at the receiving end of rocket fire from Mexico, you can bet your life that our army would be in there in no time to carry out whatever operation was necessary to cease any further attacks. Is that a bad thing, as many liberals might contend? In that instance, should we be strictly seeking diplomatic negotiations, and not getting our military involved? Is it a flaw of Israel’s and the United States’ that our solution to violence is a robust militaristic response?

This is where I’m not sure how I feel. American Jews tend to be more in tune with Israel’s response because they feel connected to the land and can empathize more easily with the Israeli people, just as any American, even most liberals, I would guess, would support military action in response to the Mexico scenario. But war is never a positive thing, and so I cringe when I find myself tacitly approving of it.

Still, for many in the Arab world (and elsewhere), the conflict has less to do with the current hostilities and more to do with Israel’s fundamental right to exist. That is a completely different discussion, and one that I don’t think is relevant to finding a solution to what is happening right now. But no matter who is right and who is wrong, I hope the fighting ends as soon as possible. No one deserves the fate, or even the fearful lives, that countless Palestinians and Israelis are experiencing.

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please comment.

Photos: Israeli soldier (Associated Press), Palestinians carrying injured man (BBC), Israel Map (State Department)


  1. First of all, I applaud you for tackling this topic, as it is also something I feel iffy about discussing, if not for my confessed lack of overwhelming knowledge on the subject then for the passions it arouses in many people.

    To begin with, I believe that Israel had few options in terms of diplomacy vs. military action. Hamas put them in a tight situation and military action - to an extent - seems to have been called for in this instance.

    One thing seems to be clear: the only viable solution at this stage in the game (i.e. the 21st century) is a two-state solution. Let's not forget that Hamas does not represent Palestine - it may claim to, but in reality that is not the case. That would be like saying Al Qaeda speaks for the Muslim world. This is not an Israeli-Palestine problem (strictly the military action - the humanitarian aspect of it can certainly be framed in this way), but an Israeli-terrorist group problem.

    It bears repeating: the military response should not be framed in a Israeli-Palestinian conflict framework. The civilian deaths on Gaza's side bring to light the occupation of Gaza by Israel, but right now the goal is to bring down Hamas, not Gaza as a whole.

    I hope that once the Hamas rockets issue is resolved (and I hope that day comes soon, and it looks like it might with international pressure for a truce mounting), then we need to look at the relationship between those in Gaza and Israel to prevent something like this from happening again. Hopefully putting that relationship under the microscope will lead to a viable two-state solution.

  2. The thing is, though, it wouldn't be like Al Qaeda representing the Muslim world, because a majority of Hamas leaders were democratically elected in Gaza, whereas Al Qaeda doesn't have that level of legitimate political power anywhere. That's part of what makes the situation in Gaza so scary--the people of Gaza, for the most part, sympathize with Hamas's message. The Palestinians of Gaza exhibited their support for a radical response to Israel by putting Hamas in power three years ago.

    In other words, at this point, it could be that Hamas and Gaza are inextricably linked, and trying to isolate and "bring down" Hamas could prove impossible without bringing down Gaza with it. And that is already starting to happen, as schools are being destroyed under the pretense, as Israel contends, that Qassam rockets were fired from them.

    Hamas laid a politically savvy groundwork in Gaza for several years, provided desperately needed social services, built trust in the Palestinian people, and won over their votes.

    And I commend your optimism, but I fear that the international pressure for a truce is something we've seen innumerable times already. Even cease fires between these two peoples are hardly observed. A truce seems more and more unlikely, especially now that Israel has killed hundreds of people in Gaza, many of them civilians. I don't see how a people that already hates Israel in the first place--and one that is lead by what we deem terrorists--would be willing to suddenly abide by a truce. Israel already withdrew from Gaza completely in 2005, but that wasn't good enough. Will creating an internationally recognized Palestinian state really solve these problems?

    As you can tell, my mind hasn't become any clearer about any of these issues. But thanks for helping me think about them.