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Gaza: Who to Believe?

Gaza: Who to Believe?

There is no black and white in this war. Unless, that is, you read the opinion columns of the European media who are often liberal in their comparisons between apartheid South Africa and the Gaza strip. But how can these mighty parallels be drawn when since 2000 Hamas, a terrorist organisation avowed to the annihilation of the state of Israel, has fired over 8,000 rockets into the daily lives and playgrounds of ordinary citizens trying to live normal lives, one may ask? Then again, how can swathes of the Jewish diaspora steadfastly and unfalteringly support the actions of an Israeli army who are killing women and children holed up in schools they thought were sanctuaries? “We regret the loss of innocent life in the pursuit of our security goals” is the mantra cut and paste into the justifications of the supposedly defensive action. My point is this… no scrap that, I don’t have a point. I need to decide who to believe first.

I should give you a context. I am Jewish, occasionally practising, and vaguely Zionist, occasionally visiting, and I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. This hard place I refer to as ‘Not-quite-sure-where-I-stand-on-Gaza-ville’, and although it’s not that catchy it accurately describes the position I find myself in. Envious of others’ strong and seemingly well-founded beliefs I find myself browsing through newspaper blogs, watching foreign news and admiring ‘dedicated’ facebook statuses and I can’t help but cringe. Who are these people who show merely cursory concern for loss of Palestinian lives? Where do they live? Can I go and live there with them and see if I end up thinking the same thing? And, at the same time, who are these people who believe in the Big Jewish Conspiracy? Can they come and visit me so they can see I don’t lust after the destruction of the Palestinian people?

You’re now thinking, right, this guy has just listed a series of commonplace views, he’s not got a clue what to think, and he’s telling us he’s jealous of those people who actually bother to make up their mind about Gaza and Israel. So what? The so what is this: making up your mind shouldn’t be so easy. It seems to me that a few front page articles, a diatribe from George Galloway or a slickly worded press statement from Ehud Barak are all that it takes to set people on the path to blinkered beliefs. Never in my brief period on this earth have a seen such a paucity of middle-grounders on an issue which is so fraught with claims and counter-claims, truths and counter-truths. Each side feels proud of the overwhelming support it receives: the Jews rabbit on about huge demonstrations of solidarity like the pro-Israel rally outside Israel’s UN Consulate in Manhattan, whilst the Stop the War campaign wax liberal about 100,000 taking to the streets of London in protest. But does anyone really stop to think what they are really supporting when they attend these rallies and band about these opinions of solidarity and protest?

First the pro-Israelis. I have many friends who feel the need to constantly remind me that on this or that day Hamas fired this many Qassam rockets into this many Israeli houses and that this Gazan militant government will never compromise or agree to that peace deal however generous it may be. They say this as if I am blind to the constant fear of Israelis in Sderot, as if I have forgotten the history of aborted peace deals, as if I don’t acknowledge the anti-Semitism on the streets of Europe. And then they want me to believe them, to unite with them, support Israel, our homeland and its right to defend itself. And I try to. But I just can’t quite muster up the conviction to go with them. Because if I do I know I’ll be supporting a war that for all its righteous aims and defensive goals is squeezing the life out of an already wretchedly poor and overcrowded area. A form of collective punishment that not only kills through inaccurate bombing but also damages through blocking desperately needed aid in the form of food, water and medical supplies. And I can’t quite shake the feeling that a country with such vastly superior military capabilities should restrain itself even if it is under attack when it knows the misery, death and suffering it is inflicting.

And the pro-Palestinians. I hear that Israel wants no peace, craves war and that its political leaders are aiming to win votes in the upcoming elections through punishing the people of Gaza. My Spanish friends assuredly tell me that Israel is a coloniser trying to push its borders out, no wait, Israel is no different from the Nazis in its persecution of the ethnic minorities. They quote statistics of civilian deaths, cite uninvestigated war crimes and talk of disproportionate response. And I understand them. I see where they are coming from, but I fear where they are going. The logical conclusion of their arguments are in line with the crass statements of journalists like John Pilger who argue that until the state of Israel recognizes the right of return of the Palestinians, allows them to vote and essentially gives up its right to exist there can be no peace. I cannot march with people whose views and support give credence to these abhorrent views.

I offer no sagely advice or encourage no viewpoint against another. I just worry that there are many out there who don’t take a second to doubt their own standpoints or to fully comprehend the consequences of their beliefs. And I remain happily but frustratingly undecided, without support in either direction, simultaneously envious and critical of where other people stand.

I checked out my sister’s facebook page yesterday. She’d joined the group Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-Peace. That’s the first thing I’ve read on this war that has made me smile.

– Sam Raff

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7 Comments on this post.
  • Vanessa Anne Esi Brown
    17 January 2009 at 06:01
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    To the writer:

    I think this is the most accurate and just generally brilliant article I have read so far on this topic. I think it is wonderful that although you are Jewish you can still see both sides of the story. I am not Jewish but I am Christian so can relate to the struggle to keep in Holy Land peaceful whilst not surroundering it completley. I agree with you and your sister. I’m off to join that group on facebook too (although I should be revising! lol).

    Vanessa.

  • Vanessa Anne Esi Brown
    17 January 2009 at 06:03
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    Oh gosh! The errors!

    the Holy Land* (not ‘in’)

    surrendering* (not ‘surroundering’ lol)

  • Vanessa Anne Esi Brown
    18 January 2009 at 06:15
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    Hopefully the ceasefire will last and peace will be restored….x

  • Rob
    19 January 2009 at 21:26
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    Indeed a good point is made by your wavering. Too many people band the Israel-Palestine conflict to their masts as a way of showing their political allegiences, it brings out an expression of peoples ideologies and with it brings out the worst in them. It amazes me how many people cannot comprehend negative capability, which with your article, you show you can as you can sit with an issue unsure and realise that it is not as simple to just take sides. The extreme anti-intellectualism that dominates discussion of this conflict on campus disappoints me, especially as this is supposed to a place for the intellect to flourish. Thankyou for writting this article, it has restored some of my faith in students.

  • Dave
    29 January 2009 at 12:53
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    I think it’s disappointing that the story about the occupation of a lecture theatre in the name of ‘solidarity with gaza’ (the irony seems to be lost on them) has generated more comments in less than a day than this story has received in a week or two.

    It’s never constructive to polarise opinion, even if you are coming down on the liberal sides of ethics, liberality, freedom etc etc. The one thing I have learned from studying politics here is that yes, politics is complicated. Human interaction at any level is complicated. The Middle East situation is even ‘more’ complicated. It’s ever so easy to compromise an intellectual, balanced standpoint to fall down on one side, because then something else is making the decisions for you (be it a person or an arbitrary concept like ‘freedom’).

    Does an occupation of a lecture theatre teach anybody about the conflict so they can make an informed judgement (the judgement usually being that the situation is far to complex for a simple judgement to be made), or does it merely reinforce a ‘them and us’ attitude? I suspect the latter.

    The writer of this article already knows this, but I’d just implore him (and anybody else, for that matter) to remember that being ‘happily but frustratingly undecided’ is not a bad position to take. Just as democracy was famously described as the “worst system of government except all the others” (terribly paraphrased), being undecided may not be a satisfactory solution, but it is infinitely better(and much harder) than coming down on one ‘side’ if only to simplify the issue.

    When there is such hostility (if not physical, then mental) between people of differing opinions who aren’t even involved in the conflict, how could we ever expect reconciliation in the middle east? Sometimes it seems as if some of the most inflamed and vitriolic arguments come from parties not even remotely connected to the region.

    I agree with Rob, it’s articles like this which restore some of my faith in students. If only the majority could see it too.

  • Lulu
    30 January 2009 at 15:17
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    @ Dave: There’s a reason why the ‘majority’ can’t see it too.

  • Vanessa Anne Esi Brown
    2 February 2009 at 14:34
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    Lulu: And what would that be?

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