"Are you "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestine"? It isn't even noon yet as I write this, and I've already been accused of being both.
These terms intrigue me because they directly speak to the doggedly tribal nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You don't hear of too many other countries being universally spoken of this way... To come down completely on the side of one or the other doesn't seem rational to me.
It is telling that most Muslims around the world support Palestinians, and most Jews support Israel. This, of course, is natural -- but it's also problematic. It means that this is not about who's right or wrong as much as which tribe or nation you are loyal to... the principles that guide most people's view of this conflict are largely accidents of birth -- that however we intellectualize and analyze the components of the Middle East mess, it remains, at its core, a tribal conflict...
1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?
Over 700 people have died in Gaza as of this writing. Muslims have woken up around the world. But is it really because of the numbers?
Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years -- more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. The list goes on...
Amazingly, many of the graphic images of dead children attributed to Israeli bombardment that are circulating online are from Syria, based on a BBC report. Many of the pictures you're seeing are of children killed by Assad, who is supported by Iran, which also funds Hezbollah and Hamas. What could be more exploitative of dead children than attributing the pictures of innocents killed by your own supporters to your enemy simply because you weren't paying enough attention when your own were killing your own?
This doesn't, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimes outright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world's opposition to Israel isn't just about the number of dead.
Here is a question for those who grew up in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority countries like I did: if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories tomorrow, all in one go -- and went back to the 1967 borders -- and gave the Palestinians East Jerusalem -- do you honestly think Hamas wouldn't find something else to pick a fight about? Do you honestly think that this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they are Jews? Do you recall what you watched and heard on public TV growing up in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt?
Yes, there's an unfair and illegal occupation there, and yes, it's a human rights disaster. But it is also true that much of the other side is deeply driven by anti-Semitism. Anyone who has lived in the Arab/Muslim world for more than a few years knows that. It isn't always a clean, one-or-the-other blame split in these situations like your Chomskys and Greenwalds would have you believe. It's both.
2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?
There are three pervasive myths that are widely circulated about the "roots" of the Middle East conflict:
Myth 1: Judaism has nothing to do with Zionism.
Myth 2: Islam has nothing to do with Jihadism or anti-Semitism.
Myth 3: This conflict has nothing to do with religion.
To the "I oppose Zionism, not Judaism!" crowd, is it mere coincidence that this passage from the Old Testament (emphasis added) describes so accurately what's happening today?
"I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods." - Exodus 23:31-32...
And to the "This is not about Islam, it's about politics!" crowd, is this verse from the Quran (emphasis added) meaningless?
"O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you--then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people." - Quran, 5:51
What about the numerous verses and hadith quoted in Hamas' charter? And the famous hadith of the Gharqad tree explicitly commanding Muslims to kill Jews?
Please tell me -- in light of these passages written centuries and millennia before the creation of Israel or the occupation -- how can anyone conclude that religion isn't at the root of this, or at least a key driving factor? You may roll your eyes at these verses, but they are taken very seriously by many of the players in this conflict, on both sides. Shouldn't they be acknowledged and addressed? When is the last time you heard a good rational, secular argument supporting settlement expansion in the West Bank?
Denying religion's role seems to be a way to be able to criticize the politics while remaining apologetically "respectful" of people's beliefs for fear of "offending" them. But is this apologism and "respect" for inhuman ideas worth the deaths of human beings?...
3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?
This is the single most important issue that gets everyone riled up, and rightfully so.
Again, there is no justification for innocent Gazans dying. And there's no excuse for Israel's negligence in incidents like the killing of four children on a Gazan beach. But let's back up and think about this for a minute.
Why on Earth would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?
When civilians die, Israel looks like a monster. It draws the ire of even its closest allies. Horrific images of injured and dead innocents flood the media. Ever-growing anti-Israel protests are held everywhere from Norway to New York. And the relatively low number of Israeli casualties (we'll get to that in a bit) repeatedly draws allegations of a "disproportionate" response. Most importantly, civilian deaths help Hamas immensely.
How can any of this possibly ever be in Israel's interest?
If Israel wanted to kill civilians, it is terrible at it. ISIS killed more civilians in two days (700 plus) than Israel has in two weeks. Imagine if ISIS or Hamas had Israel's weapons, army, air force, US support, and nuclear arsenal. Their enemies would've been annihilated long ago. If Israel truly wanted to destroy Gaza, it could do so within a day, right from the air. Why carry out a more painful, expensive ground incursion that risks the lives of its soldiers?
4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields?
Ask Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas how he feels about Hamas' tactics.
"What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?" he asks. "I don't like trading in Palestinian blood."
It isn't just speculation anymore that Hamas puts its civilians in the line of fire.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri plainly admitted on Gazan national TV that the human shield strategy has proven "very effective"...
Why launch rockets without causing any real damage to the other side, inviting great damage to your own people, then putting your own civilians in the line of fire when the response comes? Even when the IDF warns civilians to evacuate their homes before a strike, why does Hamas tell them to stay put?
Because Hamas knows its cause is helped when Gazans die. If there is one thing that helps Hamas most -- one thing that gives it any legitimacy -- it is dead civilians. Rockets in schools. Hamas exploits the deaths of its children to gain the world's sympathy. It uses them as a weapon.
You don't have to like what Israel is doing to abhor Hamas. Arguably, Israel and Fatah are morally equivalent. Both have a lot of right on their side. Hamas, on the other hand, doesn't have a shred of it.
5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the "occupation" in Gaza?
Because they have short memories.
In 2005, Israel ended the occupation in Gaza. It pulled out every last Israeli soldier. It dismantled every last settlement. Many Israeli settlers who refused to leave were forcefully evicted from their homes, kicking and screaming.
This was a unilateral move by Israel, part of a disengagement plan intended to reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians. It wasn't perfect -- Israel was still to control Gaza's borders, coastline, and airspace -- but considering the history of the region, it was a pretty significant first step.
After the evacuation, Israel opened up border crossings to facilitate commerce. The Palestinians were also given 3,000 greenhouses which had already been producing fruit and flowers for export for many years.
But Hamas chose not to invest in schools, trade, or infrastructure. Instead, it built an extensive network of tunnels to house thousands upon thousands of rockets and weapons, including newer, sophisticated ones from Iran and Syria. All the greenhouses were destroyed.
Hamas did not build any bomb shelters for its people. It did, however, build a few for its leaders to hide out in during airstrikes. Civilians are not given access to these shelters for precisely the same reason Hamas tells them to stay home when the bombs come.
Gaza was given a great opportunity in 2005 that Hamas squandered by transforming it into an anti-Israel weapons store instead of a thriving Palestinian state that, with time, may have served as a model for the future of the West Bank as well. If Fatah needed yet another reason to abhor Hamas, here it was.
6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel?
The popular explanation for this is that Hamas is poor and lacks the resources to protect its people like Israel does. The real reason, however, seems to have more to do with disordered priorities than deficient resources (see #5). This is about will, not ability. All those rockets, missiles, and tunnels aren't cheap to build or acquire. But they are priorities. And it's not like Palestinians don't have a handful of oil-rich neighbors to help them the way Israel has the US.
The problem is, if civilian casualties in Gaza drop, Hamas loses the only weapon it has in its incredibly effective PR war. It is in Israel's national interest to protect its civilians and minimize the deaths of those in Gaza. It is in Hamas' interest to do exactly the opposite on both fronts.
7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn't everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?
Because Israel's flaws, while smaller in number, are massive in impact.
Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are often reckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.
To be fair, these kinds of things do happen on both sides. They are an inevitable consequence of multiple generations raised to hate the other over the course of 65 plus years. To hold Israel up to a higher standard would mean approaching the Palestinians with the racism of lowered expectations.
However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims -- it needs to do much more to show it isn't the same as the worst of its neighbors.
Israel is leading itself towards increasing international isolation and national suicide because of two things: 1. The occupation; and 2. Settlement expansion...
Let's face it, the land belongs to both of them now. Israel was carved out of Palestine for Jews with help from the British in the late 1940s just like my own birthplace of Pakistan was carved out of India for Muslims around the same time. The process was painful, and displaced millions in both instances. But it's been almost 70 years. There are now at least two or three generations of Israelis who were born and raised in this land, to whom it really is a home, and who are often held accountable and made to pay for for historical atrocities that are no fault of their own. They are programmed to oppose "the other" just as Palestinian children are. At its very core, this is a tribal religious conflict that will never be resolved unless people stop choosing sides.
So you really don't have to choose between being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestine." If you support secularism, democracy, and a two-state solution -- and you oppose Hamas, settlement expansion, and the occupation -- you can be both.
If they keep asking you to pick a side after all of that, tell them you're going with hummus."