If we are concerned with Gaza…

Patricio N. Abinales
If we are concerned with Gaza…
It would be wise to look beyond the battles, contextualize democratic Israel and the fundamentalist Hamas that seems to be heading into the abyss of superstition and fundamentalism

It is easy for us living far away from the battlefields to express our opinions easily. Part of this misplaced confidence has to do with how we often see conflicts: we read about them, but we seldom experience them. We pick tidbits about the protagonists from “resource persons,” but rarely from those who are in the midst of war.  After reading or listening to these nattering nabobs, we naturally come up with our prescriptions, believing that these are definitive solutions. We become like the nabobs themselves.

I fell into this trap of Monday quarterbacking a few weeks back about Israel’s incursion into Gaza. There has been, without a doubt, lots of blood spilled in the latest war between Hamas and the Israeli government. Global response, however, has been against Israel, especially after images of children and women – killed or wounded – were being broadcast worldwide. 

As I saw these images and read about the war in favorite magazines, and as I found myself leaning toward condemning Israeli for its atrocities, a former Israeli student, now a rising star in Israeli academia, wrote me a pensive email. He is a progressive in the sense that he recognizes that there has been injustice done to Palestinians by his government. In his view, the two-nation solution will go a long way in bringing down tensions.

The war, however, forced him to reconsider his position. I asked him why, and these are some of the things he wrote in his long email: 

“The feeling in Israel, even among the Israeli left, is that there wasn’t any choice this time other than going against Hamas, who controls Gaza since it massacred its way to power in 2009. Yes, we should settle things down with the Palestinian in the negotiation table. Yes, we should repatriate the Jewish settlements in the West Bank as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. Yes, Palestinian should have an independent (and hopefully also democratic) state. Yes, we must learn how to live side by side and sometimes together. Yes, there is a lot to be done. But this time it is not about this. It is about protecting lives. Ours. Any other country that wishes to exist would have done the same.

“Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2007 and there is no single Jewish person living there. We don’t want even a single inch of their land. Sure, Hamas wants more, such as free passage to the West Bank. But this is achieved through negotiations. Launching rockets at your neighbors and building assault tunnels isn’t the way to get there…. The choice, as it is generally viewed in Israel, was to retaliate or seize to exist…. Doing nothing while being fired at for weeks, and continue to run for shelter few times every day, is an option no one in Israel seriously considered.

“[The Israeli peace advocate] Amos Oz, who initially opposed the attack, posed the two questions:

“Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

“Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family 

“I don’t expect to be morally judged according to the same standards used by Hamas, Syria, and many other countries and organization around that. The majority of Israeli people will not accept it. But asking Israel to behave according to some kind of supernatural hippy-like ideal that no other country behaves according to is asking for too much.  

“For me, trying to advance reconciliation and making peace is a daily routine. My two children go to the bilingual school (Hebrew and Arabic) where the class is made of Jewish and Arabic kids studying together [under] Arabic and Jewish teachers. It is, by the way, a public school supported by the Israeli Ministry of Education. I take part in the various activities for the kids and for the parents in school, talking to people and trying to maintain Israel as a pluralistic and democratic society that is aware of its weaknesses and try to improve. 

“But asking me to close my eye and do nothing while a non-elected and fanatic terror organization is trying to make the life of me and my family miserable, firing rockets without any real reason instead of sitting down and talking, and rejecting four international offers for ceasefire including from the UN is asking for too much.”

Well said. If we are all concerned with Gaza, it would be wise to look beyond the battles, and contextualize democratic Israel and the fundamentalist Hamas in the Middle East that seems to be heading into the abyss of superstition and fundamentalism. – Rappler.com  

Patricio N. Abinales is professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa

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