I am not Jewish. I am not Arab. Nor am I Muslim. But I am a US citizen, and as such, my government and tax dollars are directly involved in the Israeli military actions in Gaza. And so, by association, I too am immediately complicit.
Which means I am compelled to speak up.
At first I was reluctant to speak out about the ongoing conflict in Gaza – not because I didn’t know where I stood, but because I knew that it would immediately make me vulnerable to a barrage of criticism – whether outwardly or silently – from certain friends and acquaintances, especially those who are Jewish themselves, who instinctively equate opposition to Israeli policy with opposition to Israel in general. The long explanations, discussions, and debates guaranteed to follow didn’t feel worth it.
But each day that this conflict has gotten worse so too has the feeling in my stomach knowing that my taxpayer dollars are directly involved. And so too has the feeling that now, more than ever, it is worth it to speak up.
Because in Israel’s approach to Gaza the logic is flawed. And the humanity absent.
What’s become clear is that this is not even an Israeli-Palestinian issue. It’s just logic and compassion. Being in favor of human rights and international humanitarian law is not anti-Israel either. It’s just pro-human. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole is very complex, but the logic and morality of this current conflict is not.
First, to the logic: bombs on innocent children and families will not beat extremism. Anyone who is aware of one of the pillars of counter-insurgency strategy knows this. Hamas isn’t technically an insurgency, but parallels exist. Military operations alone will not beat extremism; you must win the population.
Whether Hamas hides weapons in civilian areas is not relevant. Whether they fire rockets from civilian areas is not relevant. Whether or not they actually use human shields is not relevant. If Israel wants to “win” against Hamas it cannot kill this many civilians. Plain and simple.
The natural reaction to do something about rocket attacks into Israel is understandable. But it is incredibly important to understand what will actually beat extremism, in addition to recognizing what contributed to the rise of Hamas in the first place.
Hamas is only a result of a situation. It didn’t exist only a few decades ago, and there is a reason for that. Extremism only gains support among vulnerable aspects of a population when the population is so historically disenfranchised and marginalized that they feel they have no other option to turn to in order to have their voices heard.
This disenfranchisement and marginalization is exactly what has happened and continues to happen in Gaza and the West Bank, territories not internationally recognized as legally being part of the state of Israel but territories that have fallen well within the realm of Israel’s firm control. (It’s not irrelevant to mention, either, that these territories do constitute the “Land of Israel” in Old Testament text and certain Zionist ideals.)
In the West Bank, continued Israeli settlements are relentless, and in the process violate international law. On their own land Palestinians do not have freedom of movement nor enjoy the same rights as Israelis. Many Palestinians have been forcefully evicted from their homes. There are roads that only Jews can use. There is a wall as high as you can see. The economy has crashed. Arbitrary detention and excessive use of force by Israeli forces against peaceful protests are widespread, with near impunity.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, the UN has declared the narrow strip of land unlivable by the year 2020, directly because of the humanitarian catastrophe that has been created from Israel’s blockade begun in 2007 in response to Hamas. Unlivable.
That Hamas was even elected to leadership in Gaza is simply a reflection of a situation. In many ways, an unintended result of relentless encroachment and ironclad control by Israel over the West Bank and Gaza strip that has left Palestinians devoid of many basic rights and any valid sense of true self-determination in the territories that are supposed to be theirs. It does not necessarily justify or excuse Hamas being legitimately voted to power in Gaza, but it gives a much clearer context as to how it could have happened.
And, in the process, how Israel can realistically pursue its desire to get rid of Hamas.
Halting and reversing settlements in the West Bank and releasing the blockade stranglehold on Gaza that has created a humanitarian catastrophe will do more to combat extremism than any bomb will ever do. That does not necessarily mean certain tactical military operations can’t be a part of Israel’s strategy, but military operations alone won’t ever get to the root of the issue.
The problem is, Israel has shown an absolute unwillingness to stop its territorial expansion into the West Bank, instead accelerating settlements and in the process minimizing the chance for any type of substantive diplomatic solution to the decades-long conflict and inflaming Palestinian anger.
The US has also been entirely counter-productive towards this end, as it continues to fund Israel with billions of dollars in military aid each year regardless. This unconditional military aid regardless of human rights and international law gives little incentive for Israel to stop settlements, not to mention severely undermines US attempts to be any type of honest and reliable intermediary in negotiations between the two sides.
Meanwhile, in Gaza, when crowded into 140 square miles and subjected to extreme violence and poverty in what many call the world’s largest open-air prison it’s not surprising that many people could become vulnerable to extremist politics. Poverty and marginalization breeds and re-breeds extremism. Bombings of innocent civilians who already live in squalor only deepens the roots of extremism even further.
Yes, Hamas carries a portion of the blame in the conflict. That cannot be denied. Their 1988 charter openly wants Israel off the map, and its violence and hateful views towards Israel and Jews should be rejected.
But that being so, an overreaction from Israel is exactly what Hamas wants, and exactly what works in their favor, and exactly what keeps them around. Killing over 1,400 innocent civilians(approximately 80% of the total deaths), more than 400 of which have been children, in the span of only a few weeks in the name of self-defense does not and will not ever stop rocket attacks or keep Israel safer. It only creates more rocket attacks.
For every child and family killed by a US-backed Israeli bomb as they swing on swing sets, play on the beach, and sleep next to their loved ones another round of extremism is born – and even more support can be justified within Gaza for armed resistance. It’s like pouring gasoline onto a fire and expecting, hoping, that somehow it will put it out. It’s a totally flawed and dangerous logic. Not to mention horrendously inhumane.
In the long run, short of annihilating every Palestinian in Gaza and the West Bank, as long as that flawed logic continues to pervade Israeli consciousness Israel won’t stop seeing rockets get fired at them from Gaza. In the short-term, this month of bombing may have struck a temporary blow to Hamas’ fighting capabilities but as Hamas slowly re-gathers itself the cycle of violence will almost certainly begin again. It’s a deadly and self-perpetuating cycle.
When the root of a problem doesn’t get addressed history is bound to repeat itself.
If long-term peace is the goal, instead of instinctively reverting to an angry vengeance of aerial bombardments to respond to Hamas’ foolish and indiscriminate rocket attacks – instead of futilely attempting to fight fire with fire – one needs to look at what will actually beat extremism.
Want to know what beats extremism? Rights. Jobs. Food. Education. Rights. Sewage. Water. Healthcare. Rights.
If Palestinians in the occupied territories had these things, it’s not far out to contend that Hamas would not have arisen in Gaza. And if the people there were to get these things, Hamas would be finished. They’d be done. Because groups like Hamas don’t survive in places where people have rights, jobs, and a sense of dignity and self-determination.
But what about self-defense? This argument is heard perhaps the most. Of course Israel has a right to defend itself. But there is a difference between appropriately responding to a situation and completely over-responding in a way that is vengeful, inhumane, and ultimately counter-productive. Israel has a right to defend itself, but what we’ve seen over the past month has gone far beyond self-defense.
We are talking about incredibly disproportionate levels of firepower and collateral. Over 1,400 Palestinian civilian deaths compared to 3 Israeli civilian deaths over the past month tells that story. 1,400 to 3. And this asymmetry isn’t limited just to the past month – this is an overarching and repeating theme of the modern day Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Many of Hamas’ rockets are crude and ineffective. Many get intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. These rockets have created much fear in Israel, yes, and rightfully so, but very little in the way of actual human damage.
In contrast, Israel has state of the art fighter jets dropping laser-guided bombs into civilian populations. It’s not only a moral tragedy, but it doesn’t even actually serve Israel’s national security in the long run (nor the US’ for that matter). It creates further enmity not only within the occupied territories, but further enmity the world over. It strengthens extremism not just in Gaza, but around the globe. Anti-Israeli and Anti-American sentiment among radical groups carry at their core deep opposition and resentment towards this type of Israeli-US behavior. This is how recruiters of jihad “sell” their “product” to disenfranchised and vulnerable people – especially young people who just had their entire families and friends killed by an Israeli-US bomb. What we’ve seen in Gaza makes the product of extremism that much easier to sell.
It is also often stated that Hamas provoked this conflict. That their rocket attacks both caused and justified the Israeli response. This is another assumed talking point that needs a serious reassessment. These rocket attacks from Hamas need some context.
The idea that Hamas is completely responsible for the most recent bombardment of Gaza and therefore justifies the killing of over a thousand innocent civilians, children, and family members in the span of only a few weeks leaves out a key part of the story. These rocket attacks didn’t just happen out of thin air and for no reason.
Many people immediately look at and assume Hamas’ rockets were the instigator to this most recent war because that’s the way Israel, the US, and most mainstream media have carefully framed the narrative. But in reality, there is a lot more to it than that.
The tragic kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys in the West Bank in June prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately blame Hamas, a claim made without producing evidence that Hamas leadership was even responsible. Was the accusation made to stir up nationalist sentiment against Hamas as well as to undermine the recent reconciliation government between Hamas and Fatah? The argument can certainly be made. But regardless, in the search for the boys Israel arrested hundreds of Palestinians without charge or trial, killed nine Palestinians (mostly unarmed civilians), raided hundreds of buildings in the West Bank, and targeted Hamas members released during a prisoner exchange in 2011.
It was these provocations that then led to the rocket attacks from Gaza. This does not make the rocket attacks acceptable or justified, but it gives a much clearer context to the situation.
And through all this, let’s also not forget that Israel’s right-wing Likud party, which currently leads the Israeli government and has largely led the Israeli government since 1977, can owe some of its roots to anti-occupation terrorism as well. The Irgun, a Jewish paramilitary group that operated prior to the official establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, carried out attacks against British occupiers in Palestine that many consider acts of terrorism. The Irgun later morphed into the Herut party, which then led to the modern day Likud party.
So for current Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as neocon pundits in the US such as Sean Hannity, to immediately use Hamas’ designation as a terrorist organization as a justification for killing over a thousand innocent people in Gaza inherently carries with it an uncomfortable tinge of hypocrisy.
At any rate, these are the logical reasons why the Israeli operation in Gaza has been flawed. But then there is the moral reason. And it is this moral reason, perhaps above all others, that not only makes this current Israeli operation flawed, but places it in the realm of abhorrence. Because no matter what one thinks of Hamas, or how one interprets counter-insurgency strategy, or even if for some reason bombing innocent civilians created security, nothing justifies the sheer degree of innocent lives that have been killed in Gaza over the past month. Absolutely nothing. Nothing justifies how many children have been killed and maimed. Anyone who tries to justify this as “self-defense” needs to have a serious look at themselves in the mirror.
I have spoken to Jewish friends of mine, and they have a very understandable natural inclination to immediately come to the defense of Israel. Especially when the opponent is Hamas. But what is incredibly important to keep in mind, for both Jews and non-Jews alike, in addition to what will actually beat extremism, is that to be in opposition to Israeli policy is not to be anti-Israel.
The two are not synonymous. Anyone who tries to frame it that way is deluding the world. It’s similar to how being opposed to the war in Iraq didn’t make a US citizen any less American or patriotic or supportive of the troops.
Likewise, there needs to be a greater difference made between supporting Israel and not supporting Israeli policies that are both logically flawed and morally objectionable. There needs to be a more nuanced understanding of both this conflict and what it actually means to support and defend Israel.
That being said, still too many people in the US remain silent in speaking out against our government and tax dollars’ complicity in the tragedies and injustices in Gaza. Still too many US Americans are afraid to speak up, either because they don’t want to make someone upset, or they think the issue is too complex to have an opinion on, or they just don’t care enough, or because they are politically passive to it like they are to most any other issue out there today. But the headlines today regarding Gaza are not as complex as one would make them out to be. And the issue is too important, the consequences too grave, and our hand in it as US taxpayers too large not to speak up.
So I digress to my first point: this is not an Israeli-Palestinian issue. It’s a human issue. As such, we should not be afraid to stand up for what we feel is right.