Gaza Going Off the Rails: Why Israelis Need to Stop and Think

Entering the third week of war, the problems with the Israeli-Gaza conflict have surpassed questions of justification or objectives. Leaving aside who’s right (nobody), or when and how this war will end, or whether there will be a winner (no), or whether the achievement of Israel’s goals will outweigh the damage done to their international reputation or the shift in regional alliances and moods, the essential problems with this war have begun to scream in my ear.

The problems strike me when I drive in the north and see the Russian language campaign ads for Tzipi Livni. Livni, the centrist, supposedly noble candidate of Kadima, has responded to snide comments and allaying Russian-immigrant fears about her gender by advertising her “manhood to change the country.” In Hebrew, the ad substitutes “manhood” for “guts.” Either way, she has something to prove in this war.

They strike me when I read editorials from international news sources or take comments from friends back home, who think this war was calculated to take advantage of the last space before Barack Obama comes to power, or of the run-up to the February elections, or the Christmas season lull. It has nothing to do with that, I insist: When Israel and Hamas made their truce last summer, Obama’s presence was hardly inevitable, and Hamas was the one firing rockets in the week after the ceasefire ended. At the very least, Israel is fighting for their own security reasons and not out of bald-faced political opportunism, I contest. But the longer the war drags on, the more I doubt.

The problems strike me when I talk to my grandparents in the States. My grandparents have all the free time in the world to follow Russian-language news from Israel; they are the type of elderly Jews who feared Obama for his purported Islamic background and his likely support of the Palestinians.

They ask me on Skype about my safety, but a minute later state their undying support for Israel, their opinion that Hamas should be destroyed, and that all Israelis are heroes. I think about my mechanic screwing me over or how Israelis drive and bite my tongue.

And there’s little reason to fear my safety, nestled in a cosmopolitan suburb of Tel Aviv, a long 80 KMs from Gaza. Working in an American school even farther north (though not far enough north to be in reach of Hezbollah, if they should decide to join in), I operate in a circle that is not only secure but also completely isolated from the war. Sure, in the lunch room the topic comes up, but being as I don’t speak Hebrew well, I could more or less completely shut out the war if I didn’t get the newspaper each morning.

The problem isn’t quite that, of course: I’m grateful I’m safe and not eager for danger. It’s that much of the country supports the war, and the Hebrew-language press drums up patriotism, and yet no one is really affected by it. While the Gazans’ poverty-stricken lives have now received a new dollop of war, pain, and death, the majority of Israel runs as usual. People watch the news a little bit more and worry about their relatives or friends serving in the army, but the level of tragedy is drastically unbalanced.

It goes beyond justification. Hamas provoked us, they fired rockets, they rejected the cease-fire, they still vow to wipe Israel off the planet, and hence Hamas deserves what they get: that may all be true, but isn’t enough to account for civilian suffering. “But Gazans voted for Hamas and so earned punishment!” – Such is the counter-argument. I think that’s like saying that Americans abroad all deserved ass-kickings because of Bush’s policies.

Most essentially, the imbalance reminds me of a talk I had with my college coach. He, a devout but very open-minded and playfully argumentative Christian, asked me why the Darwin fish is so condoned, seeing how offensive it is to Christianity, a mockery of a symbol hearkening back to a time when being Christian was a dangerous thing.

The only response I could come up with was that when you’re the majority, sometimes you have to overlook the slings and arrows fired against you. When a student teases a teacher, a little brother his older sibling, the responsibility of the more powerful figure is to rise above the slight, meting out discipline only when necessary and productive, without stooping to the level of the weaker party.

In all respects, Hamas is this weaker party. They have much blood on their hands, and are arguably as culpable as Israel in this conflict, if not more so, but it doesn’t matter. From our safe homes we can cheer or protest, plan to support right wing Bibi Netanyahu or left wing war leader Ehud Barak, and call for help from abroad or declare our right to defend ourselves. But Israel, the Israel I live in and most of the country lives in, is not suffering, is not under wartime conditions, and the level of sacrifice there is in the country doesn’t match the pain of our enemies.

So we proceed into week 3, with daily reports about ceasefire resolutions or proposals that show promise but don’t do enough, or that don’t concern us, or that give Hamas too much, and a growing consensus from the military that it’s time to either shit (take out Hamas) or get off the pot (impose our own cease-fire). And from my safe, naïve little neck of the country, getting off the pot can’t happen soon enough, before the real shitstorm begins.

The problem is, it’s probably too late.

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  1. Hypatia
    Posted January 13, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you.

    This morning, I heard on the radio that 900 Gazans, about a third of them children, have been slaughtered. Like shooting fish in a barrel. And then the Israeli spokeswoman came on, avowing that the reason for the high degree of civilian casualties was that Hamas used these as human shields.

    I am missing how this is an excuse. All I am hearing is that, by being in the vicinity of Hamas, the Gazans, like an insufficiently covered woman, was “asking for it”.

    Hamas is probably using Gazans as shields. Hamas is probably trying to increase the number of civilian casualties in order to make the Israelis look bad. Hamas is most definitely firing rockets, hoping to goad a disproportionate response.

    My question is, why do the Israelis allow themselves to be goaded? How is their inability to control themselves a fault of the vulnerable Gazans?

  2. Salma Bushnaq
    Posted January 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Great question, Hypatia.

    Israel’s first bombardment killed 200 people in more than 50 sites in Gaza, lasting only 3 minutes. Wasn’t this more than enough to hush Hamas’s amateur rockets, which kill an average of 3 people in 7 years?

    On another note, some people keep mentioning that Zionism is forbidden by the Torah. IF this were true, how do practicing Jews reconcile this fact? I think most Jews believe Muslims hate them for their religion. On the contrary, Muslims believe in Judaism in the same way they believe in Christianity, since the three religions are recognized as the Abrahamic faiths. Peace won’t be attained until we find unity in diversity.

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