As I sat down and perused the blogs this morning, I was disappointed to see a blog comparing the Israeli incursion in Gaza to the American invasion of Iraq. As I was preparing to comment on the post, I noticed a few other blog posts critical of Israel. Rather than try to respond to each of them individually, I thought I would just quickly scribble down a few points…
First of all, let’s please ignore anyone and everyone who suggests that either Israel is wholly right and Gazans are all terrorists who wish to see the Jews driven into the see and are undeserving of our sympathies; or that Israel is such an overwhelming military force in the region that they could not possibly face a threat from a small group of malnourished and mistreated Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
The majority of Palestinians – living inside of Israel, in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or anywhere else for that matter – have been caught in the middle for a very long time now. Militant Muslim groups will often raise the plight of the Palestinians, but the reality is that the Palestinians have suffered as a result of their actions.
In November of 1947, the United Nations agreed to partition Palestine into two states – one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews would get a small majority of the land (however the majority of that land was the Negev desert, which few believed could be cultivated) with Jerusalem to become a Corpus Separatum administered by the UN.
With the British withdrawing from the region as fast as possible after the Second World War, the Arab countries surrounding Palestine saw an opportunity to quickly attack the new Jewish state. With Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria committed, the Palestinians were convinced to join the campaign that would ultimately see Israel not only defend its territory, but gained ground in the war. With many Palestinians left homeless, the Arab states surrounding them who led them into this failed war provided little refuge.
Today, little has changed. Arab extremist groups use the Palestinian territories to launch attacks on Israel. It is important to note that these groups deliberately use urban areas and humanitarian fronts in an effort to elevate the number of civilian casualties. For them, there is no option but the complete destruction of Israel and the extinction of the Jewish people.
I am not someone who believes that it is anti-Semitic to disagree with any decision that Israel makes – militarily or otherwise. There is no question that there have been more casualties on the Palestinian side so far than there have on the Israeli. But that does not make the Israelis monsters. To suggest that any Israeli soldier enjoys this is both offensive and entirely ignorant.
Israeli citizens live in a state of constant fear. That the majority of the bombs and rockets fired on Israeli communities fail in their attempt to kill civilians (and that in itself is an important distinction – Palestinian civilians killed are accidental, where Israeli civilians are directly targeted). As a Canadian, it is a culture shock to witness it to be sure.
A few years ago I visited Israel for the first time. As you walk out of Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, there was a unique feeling. We drove down the palm tree lined road and I was overcome by the realization that for the first time in my life, I was not a minority. I grew up in Canada where I never really felt like a minority most of the time, but I was always aware of it on some level – walking out of the synagogue on holidays, I’d have kids at the high school across the street look at me with curiosity, wearing a prayer shawl and head covering; every now and then you’d show up to school or synagogue and find swastikas painted on the buildings; or just the fact that you didn’t participate in such a seemingly normal element of the culture like buying a Christmas tree – there were a thousand subtle yet constant reminders that you were different.
This feeling of excitement turns to fear and confusion when you drive past the site of a recently bombed building, or a café where a suicide bomber blew themselves up. We went to the shuk (an open air market) and as we met back at the bus, we were directed away. Only after the fact did we find out that there was a suspicious bag left near the bus so as a precaution the area was cleared.
On Friday night, the beginning of Sabbath, we were in Jerusalem and made our way to the Kotel (the Western or Wailing Wall). We made our way through metal detectors and security. I am not a religious person, myself, but a friend and I got swept up in the singing and dancing that began. It was all a rather moving experience until I felt something jab me in the side. I looked down to see what it was and it was the butt end of an M-16 from a soldier. Suddenly I was shaken. I have never held a gun that did not fire paint or water or caps. And I suddenly became aware of how many guns were around me – everywhere. And that’s when you realize that the disturbing thing is not being bumped by a gun, but to be so accustomed to a life where rifles are everywhere that it does not jar you at all.
While I was there, I had the privilege of getting to spend time with some Israeli soldiers. They were about my age, serving in the military. One of the soldiers who I will call Yoav was preparing to finish his military service in only a couple of months. We sat and relaxes with a couple of Heinekens and I asked him what his plans were after he was released from the army. He hadn’t thought about it. He explained that in Israel, you don’t plan that far ahead because you can’t. That is the nature of life in Israel. The youth have mandatory military service – an imperative for the security of their country – to look forward to. They know that in moments of peace, they become targets when they go out to a club or to a café.
Try living your life that way and tell me if it is any less rich. Try living in a bomb shelter for weeks or longer because of the threat of rockets and tell me that you would expect anything less than your government taking any action possible to permit you the freedom to live without that sort of fear.
I have nothing but remorse for every innocent life lost. Every life that is lost is a tragedy – Jewish or Palestinian. I make no distinction between the religion or ethnicity of those who have died because we cannot view one as more valuable than the other. Anyone who thinks that Israeli soldiers enjoy taking the lives of Palestinians has clearly never met an Israeli soldier. I do not agree with every action that Israel takes. After all, they are a government and every government makes mistakes. But thousands of people – Arabs and Israelis – have lost their lives in the fighting that has gone on over the last half century and I will not pretend that I know how those numbers break down by nationality. Too many people have died. But Israel cannot be expected to sit idly by as they are fired upon, nor should the Palestinians be forced to live their lives in the same state of fear.
What Israelis and Palestinians need most is not our cries that Israel is a bully or that it is all terrorists’ fault. What they need now is for the world to commit to finding a solution. A ceasefire is not enough. Israel has proven throughout the years a willingness to make peace with its enemies at nearly any cost. I am convinced that Palestinians want peace as badly. But a small minority of people is determined to prevent that from happening by provoking Israel. We owe it to all involved to find a way to overcome them.
Filed under: Across the Pond, gaza, israel, palestinians