On the Conflict in Gaza
The Nature of the Conflict:
Without doubt, Israel’s current measures are extreme. A quick glance at the number of casualties suffered on both sides settles the question. According to the most recent article I could find, after almost 12 days of fighting, over 434 Palestinians are dead, compared to 20 Israelis. Granted, quantifying human life with statistics can be dangerous; however, the sheer scope of the disparity in casualties (22:1 for those who aren’t so great at math), is simply too massive to ignore. I hate the oft-repeated and oversimplified question, “Why is an Israeli life worth more than a Palestinian?”, but seriously, why is one Israeli life worth 22 Gazan lives? And because I also hate abstract numbers, here’s a visualization: If every life lost during this conflict turned the clock back by one year in its respective territory, the people of Israel would be at the Forrest Gump premier. In Gaza, the year would be 1580.
Many right-wingers reject the facts in favor of the message. Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorists groups are in fact evil, seeking to wipe Israel (and all Jews, for that matter) off the face of the map, while Israel wants only peace and to protect its people from terrorism. Disregarding for a moment the blind acceptance of the currently-drawn borders implicit in this argument, the conservative contention rejects the valued human trait of pragmatism. Fanatics exist everywhere, from the Westboro Baptist Church to football stadiums. But in the United States and most societies, unless someone succeeds in fulfilling their mission, they’re just another failure in the history books. Like the four known assassination attempts on President Obama’s life that most Americans have probably never heard of. Israel is the unequivocally dominant force in the conflict. Thanks to advanced missile defense technology, many Israelis barely register the blaring bomb sirens as a substantial threat anymore. Yet the country’s retaliatory actions reflect a nation in existential crisis. It’s not.
No doubt, Israel is the natural ally for the U.S. Tel Aviv is a booming cosmopolitan city bursting with art, energy, and an unabashed free spirit. Hamas, meanwhile, triggers that gut-wrenching, intangible fear that has driven U.S. foreign policy since the World Trade Centers smoldered on that Tuesday morning almost thirteen years ago. Hamas’ stated goals, too, are undoubtedly wicked and wrong. At the same time, Israel’s ostensibly limited aim to stabilize and protect its citizens is agreeable.
I do not sympathize with Hamas. I do empathize with the Palestinian people. Political objectives, like basically every other objective, are products of power. It is much easier for Israel to want only stability and security of sovereign territory, when that sovereign territory is everything it ever wanted in the first place. With their backs to the wall (or rather the Sea) and crammed into a territory not much bigger than Philadelphia, Palestinians are a bit angrier with how things are going. Seemingly random airstrikes, stifling blockades, and constant political and social upheaval might unfortunately lead the average Gazan, who hasn’t had contact with Israelis outside of witnessing screaming F-16s fly overhead, to dramatic conclusions. In history, conditions far less dire have produced far worse.
The Likely Outcome and a Way Forward:
By the end of the summer, at the latest, everything will be back to the Israel-Palestine version of normal. IDF troops will be back standing guard at borders and checkpoints, and the rockets will stop, and then continue with consistent randomness. The brutal Israeli onslaught will eventually pressure Hamas to cease, at least for now, their rocket activities. At a certain point, the present losses will be too much, even for an organization that prides itself on the long game.
But in no way is the current flare-up a step towards lasting peace. In order for peaceful negotiations to ever be successful, both Israeli and Palestinian authorities need to first accept the necessity and importance of diplomacy. The claims are simply too large on both sides to resolve through formal dialogues unless no other viable option remains.
Present circumstances, however, are only solidifying existing narratives. Israel’s lethal efficiency of force and minimal casualties have bolstered nationalistic spirit and reassured Israelis of their superiority. Meanwhile, the same decimating capacity continues to harden Gazan hearts. The reign of fire over Gaza City reminds Palestinians who, in their minds, the true terrorists are, and necessitates any means to achieve liberation. After all, what more do they have to lose?
Only a change in the international mood could shake up this deep freeze. Considering the recent collapse of U.S.-hosted bilateral negotiations and the notable absence of any declarations of praise or condemnation from major world powers, significant international interference seems unlikely. Plus, violence throughout the region in Iraq and Syria appear much more pressing and vital to global security. For the West, another skirmish in the country not much bigger than New Jersey is about the only reliable constant in the ever-changing region.
Somebody famous once said something to the effect of, “the past determines the future”. Platitudes usually bore me, but in this case history really is alive. The Israeli-Palestinian debacle is postcolonial at its core, in which the indigenous groups are fighting to reclaim their land. Uniquely, both the Israelis and Palestinians are the indigenous groups, and the colonizer unceremoniously exited 66 years ago. Jews inhabited Israel first, but as is common with their history, got the boot almost two millennia ago. After the diaspora, Muslim Arabs slowly filled in the vacuum through various empires, until Britain took control following the fall of the Ottomans. After both Jewish and Arab perpetrated terrorist acts made clear Her Majesty was not wanted, the United Nations voted in 1948 to partition the territory into Jewish and Arab states. Arabs rejected the internationally-mandated land grab, Jews seized the opportunity to finally have a safe haven, and regrettably time has not healed any wounds.
The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was unjust. Jews had only begun to immigrate in force to Palestine over the preceding half century. After developing in the region for over 1,000 years, Arabs rightfully called the land their home. The sudden Western appropriation and division, fueled largely by Western guilt for having allowed the Holocaust to occur in the first place, dispossessed well-established families and communities. Of course the Jewish people needed a homeland, but that does not invalidate true injustices committed against the Palestinian population. Jews may have inhabited the land of Canaan first, but the reality is that they left.
The other reality is that Israel isn’t going anywhere. Conquest and injustice have shaped the global order since the beginning of human civilization. Recognizing the concepts’ presence is important, but does not always preclude action. The U.S. is not prepared to give all the Native Americans their land back, just like Israel is now a major geopolitical actor that is simply too important to disappear. Understanding the problematic foundations of Israeli Independence and advocating for a continuing State of Israel are not mutually exclusive.
So now, the future. For a long time, Israel was actually on the verge of annihilation, and discussions of two-state solutions impossible. Today, Israel is the powerhouse. Hamas’ intransigent resistance, on the other hand, demonstrates the Arab argument persists. In a bizarre way, the situation today is at equilibrium. Hamas continues to terrorize, and Israel continues to pulverize, but neither side sustains substantial gains. If nothing else, the current escalation proves, without a doubt, that there are no winners.
Another famous person once said, “The key to success is failure.” Politics tends to favor ideological consistency and fortitude. Maybe that’s why meaningful discussion about the underlying injustices at the foundation of this mess never took place. Israeli politicians can’t admit past wrongdoing for fear of sounding weak, and Hamas can’t accept the existence of a State of Israel because then it cedes all claim. Embracing the contradictions and hypocrisy, however, is not only intellectually honest, but also politically necessary if the parties are to move forward together. Instead, violence has offered an easier solution. As evident in Gaza, Jerusalem, and on television screens around the world, violence has failed. Yet simultaneously, a precarious balance between powers exists today that ensures neither Israel nor Palestine is in danger of total destruction.
This is where the Christians come into play. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in purgatory. Things could be way worse, but nobody is happy and they certainly can’t see it lasting forever. But purgatory does facilitate reflection and repentance. Far above the hellfire, the individual can safely think about their sin and undergo purification before reaching heaven. It’s time for Jews and Muslims to take a page out of the Holy book and honestly reflect on both the past and present. Because the thing with Iron Domes is that you can’t leave them.