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

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10 thoughts on “A Note on Israel and Gaza

  1. Hey, my man. Could you tell me why exactly comparisons to apartheid are misleading. You just say that they are, because this conflict is different (which is not?)…

    Greetings
    Kuba

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    • Hey Kuba-

      I hope all is well. Unfortunately, there is a lot I have to say on the matter, and I wanted to keep this as short as possible, so I couldn’t delve into as many details as I would have liked to. This () article has a paragraph that I think captures some of the important contextual differences between the two:

      “For all this, the word “apartheid” doesn’t quite capture what’s been happening here, even in the territories. Apartheid in South Africa protected a regime of white owners whose original wealth was almost entirely extractive, built on the labor of black Africans in mining and farming. South Africa could not have had a two-state solution: you couldn’t partition the land and separate the owners from their captive labor force. The political economy of Israel, by contrast, grew out of intentional separation. The pioneering Zionism of the nineteen-twenties and thirties was meant to cultivate autonomous “Hebrew labor” and economic self-sufficiency. Its real heir is the globalized Hebrew culture of greater Tel Aviv, which has become a greenhouse for technology start-ups. Most of Tel Aviv’s young people would be thrilled to break Israel apart from the Middle East and float into the sea toward Cyprus.”

      Cheers

      JG

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    • Comparing the relation between Africans and Whites during the Apartheid era in South Africa and the relation between Israelis and Palestinians is just an analogy, like the comparison with relations in similar conflicts, for example: between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the analogy with South Africa is a good one if we apply it to the policies of the Israeli state towards the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but it becomes inaccurate and problematic if applied to all historical Palestine (Israel in its 1967 borders plus occupied territories) and to all aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Analogies are always limited and cannot be taken at face value, or used as instant magic recipes to propose solutions or negotiations among the sides, and even less as a substitute for understanding each case on its own basis.

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      • I understand analogies are limited and should not take be taken as face-value. I think the “apartheid” analogy, though, is a poor analogy in capturing many of the dimensions of the conflict. I think this is a conflict unlike all others, and non of the analogies I’ve read about do it justice.

        This New Yorker article, presents some of the ways in which it is different:

        http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/05/israel-independence-day-and-its-future.html

        For all this, the word “apartheid” doesn’t quite capture what’s been happening here, even in the territories. Apartheid in South Africa protected a regime of white owners whose original wealth was almost entirely extractive, built on the labor of black Africans in mining and farming. South Africa could not have had a two-state solution: you couldn’t partition the land and separate the owners from their captive labor force. The political economy of Israel, by contrast, grew out of intentional separation. The pioneering Zionism of the nineteen-twenties and thirties was meant to cultivate autonomous “Hebrew labor” and economic self-sufficiency. Its real heir is the globalized Hebrew culture of greater Tel Aviv, which has become a greenhouse for technology start-ups. Most of Tel Aviv’s young people would be thrilled to break Israel apart from the Middle East and float into the sea toward Cyprus.

        Like

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I just had the chance to read the blog and I truly appreciate the spirit in which it was written. I enjoyed reading it, so thank you for taking the chance to remind us during this difficult time to rise as humans, above all. I just have one comment with regard to Hamas:

    While I am no where close to supporting Hamas, their ideology, or their harmful actions over the years, the discussion around them almost always tends to be centered on them *inherently* being a threat to the Jews and Israel. Yet, we often forget that it is Israel’s own actions against the Palestinians, in the form of continuous oppression, that have created Hamas and made them unfortunately very popular among some Palestinians. Hamas in the late eighties was founded as a reaction to Israel’s policies during the first Intifada, and what Israel is currently doing in the Gaza is only strengthening them more. For example, a Palestinian children who is 7 years old now must have lived through three Israeli assaults so far (2009, 2012, and 2014). Chances of him witnessing a family family murdered by one of Israel’s strikes are close to 100. What do you think this child will grow up to be when he has no other options? Israel is blocking his movement, controlling the portions of food he is allowed to eat daily, and restricting his freedom to pursue education or employment opportunities outside. As a Palestinian, it truly breaks my heart when this innocent child grows up to be 20 something years old and feels the need to carry a gun because he feels this is the only way he can secure his people’s rights. This anguish and fear that Israel is inflicting on citizens in Gaza is only making Hamas more popular. If Hamas is crippled and this injustice remains, there will be several Hamas-like organizations that will make sure Israelis do not live quietly and so on. It is a vicious circle.

    I do not think you strongly disagree with me on what I just said, but I felt I needed to make that clarification, because almost everyone never questions why so many of young Palestinians feel the need to resort to violence.

    Jumana

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    • Hi, I’m glad we moved the discussion away from Facebook.

      See, I think we agree that many of Israel’s actions have only made Hamas’ popularity in the region grow, and that Palestinians are resorting to violence, in many instances, as a measure of last resort to fight against the messed up situation that Israel is keeping them in. But I do try to avoid resorting to mono-causal statements when talking about the issue. Mainly, while I agree with you that the growth of Hamas in Gaza and it’s popularity among palestinians has grown as a reaction to Israel’s messed up handling of Gaza and the West Bank, I don’t think that they necessarily exist because of it.

      To begin with, although Hamas, as you said, was created in the late eighties as a direct response to Israel’s handling of the first intifada, it can be argued that it was a product of a much longer palestinian frustration, one that has its roots in pre 1967 situation, when Palestinians were treated like shit by Jordanians in the West Bank and like shit by Egyptians in Gaza. So, in my view, Hamas, Al Fatah and the intifadas are in some ways a reaction to a much longer palestinian sense of desperation, one rooted in how they have been treated in the region for many decades now, an oppression that started before Israel was even occupying the territories. This is not to take culpability away from Israel, and not to suggest that Israel might not be the central actor in explaining why they were created when they were created, but it is one reason why, in my opinion, one cannot fully argue that “Israel policies towards palestinians fully explain why Hamas exists”

      Second (and this is my stronger point), the ideology promoted by Hamas is heavily influenced by some of the anti-Israel, anti-western ideologies of the region, were Israel is not an occupying force. In it’s ideology, it is a sister organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Hezbollah in Syria (Where Israel is not an occupying force). So although it’s popularity has grown as a result of a Palestinians’ sense of desperation with Israel’s policies, I think some version of it (perhaps a much less powerful version of it and with a different name) would still exist among Palestinian society even if Israel were to fully leave Gaza and the West Bank, and even if Israel stopped squeezing them of resources.

      Because anti-Western, anti-Israel, radical movements are a powerful force in the region, and have been for decades (even before 1967). So again, Israel’s treatment of Gaza might explain why Hamas has grown in Gaza and why it exists in the shape and form that it does, but I believe that some version of what Hamas stands for would still remain among Palestinian society even if Israel were to open up Gaza and leave the West Bank.

      So, to sum it up, I think we agree that Palestinian children often resort to Hamas as a last resort to fight back against the desperation and injustices of Israel, in many cases because they have few (note how I use the word few instead of no) other options. Where we disagree is that I believe that violent, racist, Hamas-like organizations would still exist in the region even if Israel left the occupied territories (or had not occupied them to begin with), because similar orgnizations exist in places like Egypt and Syria, and because anti-Western, anti-Israel organizations existed before 1967.

      I do agree that it is a vicious cycle, and that bombarding Gaza is not doing anyone any good.

      I feel like I have more to say, and I that I need to say more to further clarify my points (you can probably empathize with this feeling) but I’ll leave it at that for now.

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  3. I agree with your thoughts and hare your opinions in general terms. It is specially important to emphasize that discussing moral and political issues makes no sense unless one considers the power balance between the “sides” and the limitations that the actual “real” regional and global politics place on them.

    Like

    • Hi Roberto-

      Thanks for the note. I agree, the context and the details matter. It is sad that actual debate on the issue is often so emotionally charge that perspective on the issue is lost.

      Like

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