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A Response to Gaza Revelations

It is with a heavy heart and reluctant keyboard that I type this note. Nevertheless, I have purported myself to be an objective and rational person and as such feel the need to comment on the distasteful and disturbing revelations of the conduct of some Israeli soldiers in their recent action in Gaza. I believe that it is imperative that the Israeli government investigate these claims, discipline any and all of those involved, make whatever restitution is possible with the families affected (though I don’t know that this is realistic) and make it clear to their soldiers and the world that this sort of behaviour will never be tolerated.

I wrote previously of my support for Israeli soldiers, their temperament and their honour. Let me be clear about this point: I still believe that my words ring true for the vast majority of Israeli soldiers. I am proud to have friends who serve the Israeli army today and who have in the past and I can say with absolute certainty that – even in the clouds of war that can make ordinary men do terrible things – they would never, ever engage in this sort of behaviour.

Members of the most moral armies have gone astray before and it will happen again. It is a unique brand of introspection that is called for when a proud country sees the men and women who protect it choose the decidedly wrong path and in so doing embarrass the people they defend. Canadians endured the same sort of international humiliation in Somalia not so long ago. Those offenses were not seen by Canadians as reflective of the content of the nation’s soul and in the same way I believe that this does not reflect what’s in the hearts and souls of most Israelis. I continue to contend that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace and believe that these actions (which cannot be limited to a single side in this conflict) are the product of fear and not hatred. 

Justice must be done. One of Israel’s greatest moral strengths in this region of the world is that it is a democracy. As such, they have democratic institutions in place established for the purpose of investigating these matters and that those involved are brought to justice.

As I said at the beginning, I am writing this post with a heavy heart. I am deeply saddened and embarrassed by this news. Most disappointing of all is the alleged involvement of rabbis encouraging this sort of behaviour. Too often, it seems, we see these negative demonstrations of religion and faith. The fundamental basis of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are kindness and generosity. Those who seek to use religion as an instrument of hatred are guilty not only of whatever crimes are perpetrated at their urging, but of the perversion of God’s will.

Note: I don’t want this post to inspire comments that either insist that the Palestinians brought this on themselves or that Israelis are monsters. I am always wary of a post on Israel because of the small thinkers that seem to come out of the woodwork on both sides of the debate. Likewise, I don’t want to see those posters that seek only to argue that religion is the root of all hatred. Only constructive comments will be allowed. I have super-human moderating powers and will not be reluctant to use them on this post.

Filed under: Across the Pond

On Israel

I just felt the need to clear something up here… I support Israel’s right of self defense and believe that they are wholly within their legal rights in their current foray into Gaza. Moreover, I believe that the Israeli government has a responsibility – as all government do – to protect their citizens and with a clear threat (regular rocket and missile attacks) in Gaza, they have a moral imperative to act to defend their citizens.

 

With that said, I take no offense at someone arguing against their military incursion on the basis that they believe the response to be disproportionate to the threat, based on the fact that they feel the benefit of Israeli citizens is outweighed by the costs to Palestinian civilians, or just based on military strategy. Those are entirely legitimate criticisms of Israel. These positions are not anti-Semitic in any way shape or form. Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not an act is responsible, reasonable or righteous. These very arguments happen within the Israeli government and the general populace because it is a democracy and as such its people are free to do so.

 

When someone suggests – as many ignorant folks have in recent days – that Israeli soldiers and the Israeli government are intent on killing Palestinian civilians; that we should refuse Israeli citizens to teach in Canadian schools because of the actions of their government; or makes any of the many other ludicrous and ignorant comments about Israel that have circulated on the internet, the airwaves and just at the dinner table, they cross an important line. There are any number of people who are jubilant at the opportunity to use this event as a rationale and a cover for their anti-Semitism and hatred.

 

UPDATE: I believe that I have struck a very balanced position here, indicating sympathy for both sides involved in this conflict. We can debate who has suffered more severely, but I believe that to a pointless argument. Anyone who wants to argue that one side has not suffered over the years is unwelcome here. Plain and simple. I make no apologies for the admittedly harsh response that I have provided to CWTF and anyone else who chooses to make similar claims should be fully aware of the reception that they will receive here. First time offenders will be ridiculed. Repeat offenders will be banned.

Filed under: Across the Pond, , , ,

Israel and the Palestinians

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, , ,

A Sad Day

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. Only weeks before the fighting began, I stood at the top of a mountain in the Golan Heights, overlooking the Israeli-Lebanese border. Just over a month after I left Israel and returned home, the fighting began. Despite having studied Israeli politics sine grade school and having family and friends in the country, it provides a new perspective to see the border up close; to live in the communities under siege by Hamas attacks (if only for a few days). 

Nearly 200 Palestinians have already been declared dead an more than 300 injured after Israel launched its most significant military attack on Gaza since capturing the narrow strip of land in 1967’s Six Day War. Rather than launch a smaller, surgical strike, approximately 60 planes were involved as more than 100 targets were hit. According to a Palestinian source quoted in Haaretz, 40 targets were destroyed within a span of three to five minutes.

To put this in context, it is not a one-sided escalation. The Israeli action comes in response to Hamas’ decision to end a ceasefire last week. In a single day last week, Hamas fired approximately 80 missiles and mortars at Israel. On Friday, about a dozen were fired, including one that accidentally struck a Palestinian home in northern Gaza, killing two Palestinian children aged five and thirteen. 

Both Israeli and Palestinian civilians live in fear. Too often, the media’s simplistic depictions of a horribly complex situation leave people with the impression that either the Palestinian people are helpless victims or that Israeli military intervention is necessary. The reality is that both are true. The majority of Palestinians are stuck in the middle between an Israeli government attempting to defend itself and terrorist organizations from within the Palestinian territories whose interests lie in ensuring that no peace is ever reached between the two sides.

With Hamas promising escalation, there is no certainty as to how many more people will lose their lives on both sides of this dispute. Each lost life further cements the resolve of another family. The blood that has already been shed in this battle could fill an ocean, and the last thing that it needs is more. 

I believe that Israel was warranted in defending itself and I will not be so presumptuous as to question their military tactics – they are made by experts with a better understanding of the nature of warfare than I will ever have. But warranted or not, too much blood has been shed.

Filed under: Across the Pond