A Note on Israel and Gaza

Over the last days, and I know I’m not alone here, I’ve seen my Facebook page contaminated with images, links, videos and posts on Israel and Gaza. Slacktivists (myself included) have taken to the issue with a sense of moral superiority, so that every time we share an article and click “Post” on Facebook, we sit upright and picture ourselves in a courtroom, banging on the table with the hammer of justice.

And although I have shared a few articles on the matter, I have been hesitant of engaging in the self-promoting, time-consuming, endeavor of using Facebook as my own ideological battlefield. But I do have strong reactions to some of what I have read on Facebook, and I would like to share them.

Many of my friends who sympathize with Israel have taken on to Israel’s defense using some of the conventional (and, I might add, completely overused) arguments: “Israel has a right to defend itself”, “no country would stand idly by and allow missiles to be dropped into their territory without reacting.”

Ignored by much of this pro-Israel defense is the asymmetric power relationship shaping the conflict; given the current context, it is mistaken and naive to try and sell Israel as the victim. Israel is — there is no sugarcoating it — a colonizer in the West Bank. It controls the resources that go in and out of the West Bank, it governs the border with militant power, and keeps almost two million people in an undocumented, inhuman condition, enclosed within an archaic cement wall. The current status-quo in the West Bank negates any attempt by Israel to call itself a democracy (at least a democracy outside of the green line).

Given the evacuation of all Israeli settlers from the territory in 2005, it is harder to label Gaza a colony of Israel. But this is just a matter of semantics, however you decide to define Israel’s relationship to Gaza, Palestinians in this small strip of land are subject to some of the same (and probably worse) human rights violations facing Palestinians in the West Bank.

So any effort to justify the current (or any) Israeli defense must commence by recognizing that the war against Palestinian terrorist organizations in Gaza is not being fought on a leveled battlefield. It is a war between the government of a robust state with a sophisticated military, and the “militants in control”(calling Hamas the government of Gaza would be overstating the institutional capacity of Palestinian society) of an undefined, feeble, overpopulated piece of land that is being squeezed into desperation.

On the other hand, often ignored ,either purposefully or accidentally, by many of my anti-Israel friends is that Hamas is a terrorist, racist organization that has governed Gaza ruthlessly, has coerced its own population, and, although not entirely threatening in its current form, has the potential to serve a serious threat to the Jews in Israel. Again, this is not to negate that, in the current context, the balance of power strongly tilts in Israel’s favor, and it is also not meant to justify, in any way, the excessive use of force being used by Israel to fight Hamas in Gaza. The rising civilian deaths in Gaza are alarming and heartbreaking, and I condemn Israeli attacks.

But it would be false to label Hamas as a benign organization in any way, and certainly not in its attitude towards Israel and to the Palestinian citizens. And it would also be false to claim that Jews in Israel have nothing or little to fear from some of their neighboring countries, or that they have not, over the years, been themselves victims of violence, hostility and hatred in the region.

Of concern are also the significant contextual nuances that are lost when my fellow activist friends compare what is going on in Israel to the South African Apartheid or to the Holocaust. These are sensationalist comparisons, meant to provoke rather than inform, and that cloud the important circumstantial differences that distinguish this conflict from all others. In my opinion, these comparisons are a disservice to everyone’s understanding of the matter.

Perhaps the most alarming reactions I have seen on Facebook are those that use the current conflict to channel their racist, bigoted feelings, those that use the current situation as an excuse to promote idiotic anti-Semitic rants, or make moronic anti-Arab or Muslim accusations. And so let me remind these people that the actions of the Israeli government do not necessarily echo the feelings or thoughts of all of Israeli citizens, one need only to read the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, or the words of literary Israeli authors Amos Oz and David Grossman to know this is the case.

More importantly, the Israeli government does not speak as the voice of the international Jewry. Likewise, the views of certain extremist sectors of Palestinian society are not representative of the views of all Palestinians, and are not necessarily representative of the views of the international Arab or Muslim population.

This latter point seems obvious, and it should be, but every day I’m angered by some of the hate-infested generalizations I read on Facebook.

So please, fellow Facebook slacktivist friends, let us stop portraying the issue as a fight between monolithic actors, or simplifying it to a battle being fought by a few pieces on a chessboard.

We can use Facebook as our own personal courtroom, to battle the injustices we perceive are being committed around the world.

But let’s be careful about what we say, and how we say it.

Jonathan Grabinsky


Twitter: jgrabinsky