I stand with Israel

I’ve never wanted to write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s easy to come off sounding like a brainless partisan or a Friedmanesque utopian. And no matter what you write, someone is going to hate you. But the current conflict is making me crawl out of my little comfy North American hole.

The conflict itself is a painful, violent remnant of European colonialism, fed by hatred of Jews, apathy about Arabs, ignorance of complexity, and continued geopolitical gaming. It’s senseless to argue about which land “originally” belonged to whom—the entire region has been a battle ground since Biblical times. What matters most is the current reality on the ground.

The current reality: The region that makes up Israel and the┬áputative Palestinian state will eventually become two independent states, one majority Arab, one majority Jewish. Utopian visions of a single state are also a colonial pipe dream as can be seen with nearly every other state in the Mideast. When this will happen though is anyone’s guess, as the parties continue to play out their zero-sum game of futile militarism.

To “take sides” in this conflict as is shown in the media is also a fool’s errand. The people of both states have an absolute right to live safely and govern themselves. But they are in each others’ way and the world has made a decision: Israel, the stronger state-entity is the bad guy.

This is true. And it’s not. Israel has done some horrible things. That’s not surprising given that it is in a perpetual state of war, surrounded by countries that wish it dead and by non-state actors doing the actual killing. No one “wins” wars. It’s always the so-called non-combatants who suffer the most. But to paint this as a simple “Big Bad Israel” against the poor Palestinian refugees is incorrect at best, anti-Semitic at worst.

The classic “tu quoque” fallacy—“I know I did, but you did it too!”—is easy to fall into here, but there is truth to the complaint that while Israel has killed civilians in defending its citizens, its neighbors are slaughtering their each other in numbers unimaginable in Israel and Palestine. It is good and proper to hold nations accountable for their actions, but why this special focus on Israel’s misdeeds?

The origins of the State of Israel lie in Europe. While there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel, the greatest number of Jews until the mid-20th century lived in Europe. Mostly-secular Jewish intellectuals saw that Europe, with its endless pogroms and laws limiting Jews’ freedoms would not be a permanent home for the Jewish people, no matter how much they might wish it. They came up with a plan to form a state where all Jews would be welcome, and would survive by their own hands, live by their strengths, and fail by their own faults. The dissolution of colonialism along with the Holocaust gave birth to the Jewish state, and several kinds of hatred and prejudice gave rise to what will become a Palestinian state. Many Arabs were forced out of Israel during the War of Independence, many more fled, and those that did flee did not find welcoming homes in other Arab countries. Jews however continued to find relative safety in Israel, a safety they fought for daily.

In many ways the greatest tragedy of the conflict is the de facto partition that tore Jewish and Arab neighbors apart, and that exiled Jews from Arab lands, forcing them into the new Jewish state and creating more hostility between Jew and Arab.

But that’s history. The now is not so different for the people of the region. Violence flares often. The killing in Israel and the Territories, the limits on freedom, the daily humiliations are not nearly of the scale in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. But the killing is real. And so is the hate that drives the world to focus on Israel’s culpability. Israel and the Territories fill a small bit of geography, and it’s a bad neighborhood. Distances are small. Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to preventing a two-state solution can easily attack Israeli civilians, keeping Israelis scared and alert. And wakening their military might. Hamas is also embedded in a very crowded strip of land, one that makes any fighting deadly to non-combatants. The problem here isn’t that Israel is killing civilians in its fight for survival but that there is fighting at all.

The only way to stop the violence in Israel/Palestine is to continue good-faith negotiations, but this is difficult when Israelis build settlements in traditionally-Palestinian lands and when those who claim to represent the Palestinians dedicate themselves to murder. And it’s not just terrorism used as a negotiating tool. Hamas’ goal is the complete annihilation of Israel and its Jews. This is why there is an “asymmetric” war, why Israel must maintain a powerful military, why Israel’s right manages to garner so many votes. Jews don’t want to lose their country, and they don’t want to be murdered.

And the pro-Palestinian demonstrations cropping up around Europe and the US, and the BDS movement, reveal the real feelings of the rest of the world. The greater world isn’t out to “save” the Palestinians but to destroy the Jews. To non-Jews this inevitably sounds paranoid, but we have a little bit of experience here. And look at the demonstrations around the world–they are not pro-Palestinian, not anti-Israeli, but anti-Jewish.

If the world is serious about helping bring peace they will give up their hypocrisy and recognize that as horrible as the situation is, the violence is minimal compared to the rest of the region. The violence in the Mideast is not a “Jew thing”. It is regional. It is horrible. It may be unforgivable. But it is not Jewish. There is a war, a war in which one side is divided as to how to live in peace with its impoverished neighbors living in unjust conditions. The other side simply wants to kill all the Jews. And it has found easy allies throughout Europe and the Mideast.

Israel has no real friends. The Jews never have. America is the closest thing, but politics are fickle. Europe made its feelings clear for centuries. Terrorists with a stated purpose to kill ALL the Jews are lobbing rockets at Israeli civilians. Any Israeli government that did not respond militarily would rightly fall. What else is Israel to do? If they were to suddenly lay down arms and recognize the pre-67 borders, recognize a Palestinian state, and pull out of the West Bank, what would happen? Would they suddenly have a valuable trading partner across the border? Would the two states suddenly become the economic powerhouse they could be together?

Clearly not. Palestinian politicians aren’t ready to keep peace with Israel, no matter the conditions. They probably couldn’t if they wanted to as one radical army or another would move in and set up bases to attack Israel. And as long as Israelis feel this threat, and see that they have no one in the world who will say, “Israel has the right to live in peace,” it will be politically impossible, and perhaps literal suicide to treat with the other side.

Those who are not intimately tied to this conflict, who are not Palestinian, Jewish, or Israeli, can have opinions but they cannot understand what we feel. Palestinians and Jews legitimately feel we are fighting for our survival, our very right to live. To judge us harshly is to participate in the colonialism that got us into this mess in the first place.

Want to help? Then help support Palestinians who aren’t anti-Israel. Support Israeli organizations that are pro-Peace. But don’t tell us to lay down our arms just because of ridiculous concepts of “asymmetry” or what have you. In war, people die, usually innocents. The way to prevent it is to support peace, not to demonize one side or the other.

 

10 Comments

  1. Philip Atkinson

     /  July 25, 2014

    Except the people you are killing are not at war with you. They are civilians members of a state that is not at war. You are killing them to teach a lesson to terrorists hiding behind them. That’s just plain old murder and you should be ashamed, but your last paragraph tells us you are not; and that you really don’t care who gets killed. Why did you even write this?

    • Daniel Dales

       /  July 30, 2014

      I can’t speak for Peter, but to answer your question, I’d assume he wrote this because as ethical Jews we struggle with serious introspection about how to deal with an enemy that has sworn to kill you and every other person like you.

      The citizens you write about tragically voted for a Hamas government who states in its Charter that it seeks to slaughter every Jew in Israel, not for being in Gaza, but for being in Israel. Is that the type of government you’d sign up for?

      You read this thoughtful post of someone trying to make sense of a horrific and complicated situation, showing obvious compassion for the loss on both sides and accused him of not caring who gets killed.

      You are the one who should be ashamed.

  2. Actually no one’s at war with ‘me’. Hamas and israel are at war with each other, and both are killing and terrorizing civilians in the process.

  3. colnago80

     /  July 30, 2014

    Re Phillip Atkinson

    One could say the same thing about German and Japanese civilians in WW2. This didn’t stop the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo. Maybe the IDF should take a page out of the Assad pere/fils playbook and apply Hama Rules to the Gaza Strip. That would really give Phil something to whine about.

  4. Eric Riley

     /  July 31, 2014

    False equivalence – yes, both sides are killing civilians – since July 8, Hamas has killed 3 (out of 56 total) and Israeli soldiers have killed 826 (out of 1100). And if your statement, “Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to preventing a two-state solution can easily attack Israeli civilians, keeping Israelis scared and alert.” is true, then why haven’t they? Why aren’t Israeli civilians the majority of the dead?

    As for the ‘two state solution’, please stop pretending that is Israel’s goal and that all of the opposition to is from the Palestinians.

    Nice framing here too, “The only way to stop the violence in Israel/Palestine is to continue good-faith negotiations, but this is difficult when Israelis build settlements in traditionally-Palestinian lands and when those who claim to represent the Palestinians dedicate themselves to murder.” Israeli’s are only building settlements – you cleanly ignore how they get that land (by using the force of the state to kill Palestinians who might object), whereas the Palestinians are only out for blood.

    You want to ‘stand with Israel’ – fine, but don’t pretend that Israel is not guilty of war crimes and the slow genocide of the Palestinians.

  5. TomAmitai

     /  July 31, 2014

    You say that Jews created Israel because they want “…a state where all Jews would be welcome, and would survive by their own hands, live by their strengths, and fail by their own faults”. Call me a foolish old bleeding-heart, but that sounds like the United States Of America to me.

    But, with this sentence, “Israel has no real friends. The Jews never have. America is the closest thing, but politics are fickle” you make clear that you don’t share this belief, that you don’t think Jews are truly safe here, and that you think non-Jewish Americans could turn on America’s Jews at a whim, that Jews can only be safe and secure in a state where they are the majority.

    This is not only insulting to non-Jewish Americans, it raises the question, why do you remain here? Why stay in a land where you are surrounded by “fickle” people who you fear may attack you at any moment? Why don’t you move to Israel, and stand in her as well as with her?

    I don’t say this because I want you to leave, because I don’t. I feel that Jewish Americans have contributed enormously to the cultural, ethical, and physical progress of American society, as well as that of the whole world, and look forward to them continuing to do so. I say it to force you to think about the full implications of believing, as you apparently do, that people can only be safe when they are surrounded by “their own kind”.

  6. TomAmitai: “why do you remain here?” Where are they supposed to go? Shanghai? They’ve tried Europe. They’ve tried Stalin’s plan of backwater Siberia. They’ve tried the Mediterranean nations. They’ve tried South America. Basically, you are arguing that they have no right to exist, an argument that led to the state of Israel in the first place. Maybe Gandhi was right. The Jews should all commit suicide to deny their enemies their victory, but most of them figure it doesn’t pay to go out without a fight.

    Eric Riley: You can’t argue whether a war is just or not based on who seems to be winning. Sure, firing missiles at random with no concern as to whether the targets are civilian or military is oh, such much more just and moral than returning fire. Take a look at the long history of failed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Every time a half decent solution seemed to be approaching, the Palestinians put the kibosh on it with a new violent assault. Weirdly, the Israelis seem to have gotten the message. Meanwhile, no one talks about Jordan’s repeated violent oppression and expulsion of Palestinians.

    • TomAmitai

       /  July 31, 2014

      You are a scurrilous liar for taking my words completely out of context and ascribing to them a meaning that no honest reasonable person could. People like you are why there’s so much strife in the world.

  7. I’m thrilled that you feel that jewish Americans have made such valuable contributions. What about when in ur judgement we don’t?

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