For my first post, I want to ease myself in. Start light, and get a good stretch for the long haul.
Let’s talk about Israel and Gaza.
“Really? This is like pulling a hamstring on your first day of water aerobics.”
Yes, I didn’t think I would start here either, but the current conflict, crisis, confrontation – call it whatever – has been weighing heavy on my mind the last few weeks. Indeed this Middle East sibling feud has given me confusion and heartaches throughout my life. This particular round of the bout, however, has caused me to take a step back from where I used to stand to reflect and readjust my feelings, only to find myself back to where I started. In a way, my mind has circled the wagons of public discourse on this issue only to cautiously come back to my original stance. Let me give some background before I spill my thoughts on the Israel-Gaza conflict:
I grew up in a Christian home and attended Christian private schools up until college. I am forever grateful for this. Once I left the immediate shelter and environment of a Christian culture and entered the scary secular world of Idaho State and beyond, my faith and relationship with Jesus Christ has grown tremendously because of the foundations and anchors in Christ I was lovingly – and not forcibly – raised in. However, I do feel that as a side-effect of a Christian education can be coming to the belief that Israel can do no wrong. They are, of course, the protagonists of the Old Testament. All of the Bible stories you are told throughout Sunday school and my school detailed the great triumphs of the Israelites, God’s chosen people. They were the Good Guys in the Good Book. Sure, they screwed up, but that was the lesson for the day: Israel messed up real bad. But we do too. God forgave them because they believed. God will forgive us too if we believe.
The struggle of the Israelites and the Jewish people does not stop the Bible. History following the time of Jesus shows us the struggle of the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism was every in Europe. The entire world, really. The word Holocaust is enough to remind people of the atrocities done to the Jews (and many other people groups deemed “lesser” by the perpetrators). So in the wake of the World War II, when the Jews are given a share of the small desert place they once called home and can once again call it their home, people like me celebrate and rejoice.
The Good Guys have been given back their homeland! They have returned to their ancestral home, their Promised Land. [I understand there is a deeper debate about who really has the rights to the land of Israel. This is for another post a different time.]
Now they must defend it at all costs. This is where my inner-conflict has begun, and this where I will begin to discuss the point of this post. I have always defended Israel on any measure they have taken to defend their people and land. I believe, also, that it is their legitimate right to have that land [this should indicate where I stand in the deeper debate I had just mention – again, for a different time]. Israel has the right to defend itself, especially when their neighbour’s government is legislated to build their version of an Islamic kingdom on the bones of the Jews.
But is seems Israel’s reactions and plan to counter the rocket attacks and tunnel infiltrations by Hamas, the radical governing body of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, is becoming a bit heavy-handed. It reminds me of any recent Marvel™ or other superhero films where the good guy defeats the bad guy after an epic fight, yet the entire metropolis has been levelled. You can’t assume everyone in those skyscrapers had left for safety by then. The recent news of schools and shelters marked by the United Nations as safe haven being obliterated by Israeli Defence Force missiles has made me pause for a second. If the shelling of these school, without a “knock on the roof,” is evidence that the IDF has become a little trigger-happy, then it must be time for an Israeli-supporter like myself to say, “Hey now, slow down a bit, guys.”
As of 3 Aug, Israel has begun to pull back some of its forces from the Gaza border, which is a bit of a good sign. But on the same day, another strike hits near a UN school, killing 10 and adding to the death toll which has reached nearly 2,000 people. Understand that I deplore the way Hamas conduct themselves not just in combat but in everyday operations that they call ‘governance.’ Hamas using their civilians as “human shields” is a cowardly and selfish way to conduct war (they even appear to fire nearby the press). Yet, at some point, you have to say that Israel needs to stop firing at these human shields, right? Of course, it is not that simple.
I worry for Israel like I worry for a friend who is making some bad choices. Probably a more apt description of how I feel about Israel now would be to find out one of your all-time heroes – be it an athlete, your dad, another relative, a teacher, whoever – had done something quite egregious that it leaves of a major scratch on the way you now look at him/her. I myself have never been to Israel, but from an outside perspective, I see it as the lone democratic hub of the Middle East. Take a look at the political complexion of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament. It is as diverse as any democratic legislature out there. Though without an official constitution, Israel provides human rights to all through its Human Dignity and Liberty declaration. Tel Aviv looks to be as hip, progressive, and liberal as San Francisco. These are the things I want Israel to defend. This is the Israel that God promised Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you… and all people will be blessed through you.”
But as of now, it seems the IDF and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have pressed on the accelerator too hard. It has been difficult having to step back and (re)assess this conflict. Stepping out into the big and scary world to Idaho State was one small step. Studying abroad in the United Kingdom has been a whole new step. I don’t have enough eyes to be opened to new ideas and perspectives. I am not so sure I would have seen a Free Palestine student rally take place in Jerome, ID as I have at Durham University. There, a young Palestinian woman stood up a recounted the injustices done to her and her family while living in the West Bank. I am not so sure I would have had a Palestinian cab driver give me an emotional appeal for his people after taking me home after a night out had I stayed in Idaho. There was conviction in what he said, even though wanted to fight back with “stones against Israel’s sticks.”
Hamas is evil for using people such as them as human shields. Israel needs to stop shooting at these shields. But of course it is not that simple. I think Israel has shown levels of restraint as they have taken seats at the negotiating table only to have Hamas come by and dump their drink on them. This conflict has become an endless cycle of wait and aim, shoot and blame.
The outrage shown by the world of seeing dead children and innocent civilians in rubble is rightly appalling. As one writer from the Huffington Post notes, both sides are to blame for their deaths and are guilty of human rights violations, but pointing the finger at the other is not getting anywhere. Like everyone else, though, his only solution is to have both sides figure out a deal to end the shooting. So far no good. What we are seeing here is a massive-scaled war conducted in (or towards) such a small and densely populated space. There are strong accusations of pro-Israel bias in the media. Al Jazeera has covered plenty on the issue of “who is winning the media battle.” This source here makes the case of rampant Western media support for Israel. The writer mainly points out that the BBC only bring on guests with pro-Israel stances into their news broadcast discussions and she cites plenty of cases to make her point. I think my response to her is that the BBC’s images of the carnage speaks for the plight of the Palestinian people. Also, who would be willing to step up to defend Hamas in the Western media?
It seems to be a pipe-dream that Israel would gain the rights to all the lands and absorb everyone in their state. Sure, Israel wants to be a Jewish state, but I feel that is only by name, as much we call the United States or the United Kingdom a Christian nation. The rights of the Palestinians of what would-be former Gaza and the West Bank will be free-living and free-thinking people like all Israelis in this state of Israel. Perhaps some sort of devolved regional system could be put in place. Who knows? The only way that can happen is if the likes of Hamas is taken down and its ideologies booted far from the region.
Until then, I can’t help up but think Israel need to ease up a bit. Dead Palestinian children is a public-relations ploy that is working against Israel’s favour. I surely understand, however, that Israel cannot sit back outright. They know all too well what happens when those who wish to curse Israel get the chance to do so. Israel is in the power seat in this region. Being the “better man” and finding a way to minimize innocent casualties surely is going to take a lot of determination and patience on their part. That’s what they are going to have to do.