Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza began observing a 72-hour cease-fire on Tuesday after nearly a month of fighting. But the complicated history and context of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict can make it difficult to form a coherent opinion on the current offensive.
One thing is undeniable, regardless of one's political views, nationality or cultural or religious affiliation: The death and destruction is catastrophic and ever-mounting. But in response to the violence that has claimed more than 1,800 Palestinian lives -- the majority of them civilians -- and killed nearly 70 Israeli soldiers and civilians, a common assumption is that one must choose a side, and that blame can be assigned exclusively to one party or the other. Such an approach to the conflict tends to be selective and overly simplistic, so we've compiled a variety of editorials and voices to get a better sense of the situation. Here's what you need to know:
1. The pain of loss cuts incredibly deep on both sides.
The same day that thousands of Israelis gathered to mourn at the funeral of slain Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, of the Israel Defense Forces, Asmaa al-Ghoul wrote a column in Al-Monitor describing the tragedy her family had suffered a few miles across the border.
Tears flowed until my body ran dry of them when I received a telephone call on Aug. 3, informing me that my family had been targeted by two F-16 missiles in the city of Rafah. Such was the fate of our family in a war that still continues, with every family in the Gaza Strip receiving its share of sorrow and pain.
My father’s brother, Ismail al-Ghoul, 60, was not a member of Hamas. His wife, Khadra, 62, was not a militant of Hamas. Their sons, Wael, 35, and Mohammed, 32, were not combatants for Hamas. Their daughters, Hanadi, 28, and Asmaa, 22, were not operatives for Hamas, nor were my cousin Wael’s children, Ismail, 11, Malak, 5, and baby Mustafa, only 24 days old, members of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or Fatah. Yet, they all died in the Israeli shelling that targeted their home at 6:20 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Read the rest of al-Ghoul's piece here.
Israeli soldiers, family and friends mourn over the grave of Sgt. Sagi Erez at his funeral in Haifa, northern Israel, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Erez, 19, was killed in combat after Gaza militants used a tunnel to sneak into Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
2. The objectively terrible conditions in Gaza play a part in the disproportionate casualties.
Mohammed El Halabi, World Vision Program Manager in Gaza, writes of "The day seven of my family died in Gaza," explaining the conditions that have made Israeli shelling so deadly. As a reminder, most Palestinians in Gaza literally can't leave.
Life in the Gaza Strip is like being trapped inside a giant prison. More than 1.8 million people live in an area only 32 kilometres long and a few kilometres wide. In other conflict zones around the world, families are usually able to flee to other parts of the country, or across borders. But here there is no escape, United Nations shelters are already overwhelmed.
3. But while Palestinians in Gaza may not wholeheartedly support Hamas, many prefer it to what they see as an Israeli occupation.
In a column for the independent Israeli +972 Magazine, Noam Sheizaf explains that during the Vietnam War, many civilians in the Asian nation saw their struggle as one for independence, not as one for or against communism or the U.S. or any other particular ideology. Sheizaf argues that many Palestinians in Gaza see their conflict in similar terms, with Hamas -- the ruling political party, which the U.S. and the European Union have designated as a terrorist group -- as a potential means to an end, but not a party with which they closely identify.
I’ve exchanged emails with people in Gaza in the past few days. These are people who don’t care much for Hamas in their everyday lives, whether due to its fundamentalist ideology, political oppression or other aspects of its rule. But they do support Hamas in its war against Israel; for them, fighting the siege is their war of independence. Or at least one part of it. ... Israelis, both left and right, are wrong to assume that Hamas is a dictatorship fighting Israel against its people’s will. Hamas is indeed a dictatorship, and there are many Palestinians who would gladly see it fall, but not at this moment in time.
4. As a consequence, many in Gaza end up siding with a group that uses undeniably heinous tactics in its efforts to maintain power.
Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, a former member of the IDF, writes the world "suffers from a kind of Hamas-specific amnesia" in regard to the group's guerrilla tactics. The group has notoriously used a network of tunnels to kidnap Israelis, fired more than 1,800 rockets indiscriminately over the border, and hidden its weapons caches in buildings designed to safeguard civilians, ostensibly for the purpose of encouraging collateral casualties. Here's an excerpt from his piece, "In This Gaza War, The Truth Is Buried":
But there is no Iron Dome for tunnels. The tunnels give me real pause. It’s hard enough to imagine a situation in which your neighbors are quite intentionally trying to blow up your house and kill your children with rockets. But Hamas’s well-developed kidnapping strategy represents a whole other category of depravity. The handcuffs and tranquilizers are mere baroque, Pulp Fictionish details. The core depravity of Hamas is its longstanding policy of treating every Jew as a target for elimination.
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
5. Yet even in light of the provocations, some question the logic Israel has used to justify the siege.
While Hamas is clear-cut in its intention to kill as many Israelis as it can, Israel has maintained that it is seeking to minimize casualties among Palestinian civilians, even as the death toll rises, most controversially at schools, hospitals and other buildings designated as United Nations shelters. But Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, argues in The National that the Israeli government's rhetoric in support of its military offensive evades responsibility for civilian deaths:
Intentions are important. People instinctively understand this. But they also instinctively understand, unless taught to think otherwise, that inevitable and unavoidable consequences of an action are important as well and have a major impact on the question of culpability. Simply asserting that one had a legitimate overriding intention (killing an “enemy combatant”), and that this renders moot the predictable if not inevitable consequences (the deaths of non-combatants), is repugnant to reason and universal human values.
6. And on the other side, there are highly disturbing and undeniable truths about the threat Israel faces from Hamas.
Israeli writer Amos Oz gave an interview with German network Deutsche Welle, in which he spoke against the severity of Israel's military response in Gaza, while also explaining how many Israelis view Hamas' stated goals of killing Israeli civilians.
Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?
Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?
Read the rest of the interview here.
Palestinian paramedics move a victim of an Israeli air strike on a market place to an ambulance in the Shejaiya neighborhood near Gaza City on July 30, 2014. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
7. While extreme factions within Israel are calling for an even harsher response.
From calls for Palestinian genocide to the murder of all Palestinian mothers in Gaza, Israel's controversial far-right has been outspoken during the latest flareup of violence. While they represent an outlier in the broader political landscape of Israel, their views have been held up by anti-Israel protesters who have decried the nation's offensive into Gaza. HuffPost's Akbar Shahid Ahmed recently broke down a column by Moshe Feiglin, a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, in which Feiglin argued that Israeli forces should conquer the Gaza Strip and drive its Palestinian inhabitants into Egypt.
He came to these conclusions after laying out a six-step plan for a full-scale Israeli takeover of Gaza. "The limit of Israel's humanitarian efforts," he suggested, should be the issuing of an ultimatum to Gaza's residents prior to the Israel Defense Forces attack and some "generous" assistance to help them escape. "Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave."
Once the Gazans have been given a chance to depart, Feiglin wrote, "All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. ... After the IDF completes the 'softening' of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations."
Read the rest of Ahmed's piece here.
8. The extreme polarization of the conflict has made it hard to see what's fundamentally at stake.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes of both the Israeli and Palestinian desire for freedom and independence, a narrative that is lost amidst expressions of "hatred and dehumanization" and complicated by frequent violence. In his piece for Time, "In Ramallah, A Wedding Stands Against The Chaos And Hate," he writes:
Neither side, nor their respective supporters and allies, seems aware of the humanity of the other. After an unbearable seven-year-long siege, Gazans want to live in freedom and independence with open borders so they can visit relatives and friends in Cairo or pray in Jerusalem. And Israelis don’t want to have to run to their shelters every time a siren warns of an incoming rocket.
9. And some American supporters of Israel believe the current military operation is a sign the nation has given up on peace.
New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait finds himself less supportive of Israel's political stance in light of the Gaza operation. Here's an excerpt from his piece, "Why I Have Become Less Pro-Israel":
It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy -- to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” -- yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety. The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life, has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.
10. Other Israelis are quick to describe the operation and its civilian casualties as immoral.
Amira Hass, a Haaretz correspondent and one of the harshest critics of the Israeli government's position on the Palestinian territories, writes that even if the Israeli Army considers itself victorious in a military sense, it will have experienced a "moral defeat" that will damage the country far into the future. Below is an excerpt from her piece, "Israel's Moral Defeat Will Haunt Us For Years":
These victories add up to our moral implosion, the ethical defeat of a society that now engages in no self-inspection, that wallows in self pity over postponed airline flights and burnishes itself with the pride of the enlightened. This is a society that mourns, naturally, its more than 40 soldiers who were killed, but at the same time hardens its heart and mind in the face of all the suffering and moral courage and heroism of the people we are attacking. A society that does not understand the extent to which the balance of forces is against it.
Read the whole (paywalled) piece here.
11. In the end, one's perspective on the violence isn't determined by one's faith.
Activist and writer Sally Kohn explains that her faith compels her to oppose all forms of violence, whether it takes the form of rockets from Hamas or Israeli military operations. The same could surely be said of many Muslims and Palestinians around the world. Here's an excerpt from Kohn's Daily Beast piece, "Why I'm Against Hamas, Against What Israel Is Doing, and For Judaism":
If faith is the belief in a power greater than ourselves as human beings, then my faith derives from a belief that there is a power to be kind and understanding and generous and, yes, to love thy neighbor -- a faith that the Holocaust will never happen again and nor will anything echoing such dehumanization and destruction. Believing that peace is both good and possible, believing that our respect for humanity can triumph over our urge toward violence, does not mean I’m a terrorist sympathizer or naïve or anything in between. As far as I’m concerned, it just means I’m Jewish.
Israeli soldiers take part in a briefing at an army staging area along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014, as they prepare to enter the Gaza Strip. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
12. Even if those on both sides of the conflict have found that speaking out against the war isn't always easy.
Israeli novelist Etgar Keret decries the internal suppression of "legitimate discourse" in relation to the conflict. Over the border in Gaza, Palestinians against Hamas have reportedly been executed for publicly expressing their disapproval, or after being accused of collaborating with Israel. Here's an excerpt from Keret's New Yorker piece, "Israel's Other War":
We are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism, and lack of empathy mean love of the homeland, while any other opinion -- especially one that does not encourage the use of power and the loss of soldiers’ lives -- is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Israel as we know it.
13. And Palestinians who attempt to protest peacefully often face serious repercussions.
Graduate student Sam Sussman takes on The New York Times' Nick Kristof, who asked why there aren't more Palestinians gathering peacefully to revolt against the offensive. Sussman's piece in Dissent magazine, "Dear Nick Kristof: Your Palestinian Gandhis Are Already Here," illustrates how there have been regular peaceful Palestinian protests, though these gatherings are heavily restricted by Israeli ordinances:
While Mr. Kristof is wrong that Palestinians have yet to learn the value of peaceful grassroots campaigns, he is right that the Gandhi-like Palestinian movement is not “huge.” Why haven’t more Palestinians joined the movement? One theory is that Palestinians refuse to reject militancy. Another is that they fear the draconian violence visited upon peaceful protesters by the Israel Defense Force. To understand why more Palestinians haven’t joined weekly peaceful protests, it’s important to consider something that Mr. Kristof likely overlooked in formulating his advice: Israeli Military Executive Order 101 outlaws political gatherings of more than ten Palestinians in the West Bank, meaning that Palestinian peaceful gatherings inherently amount to illegal civil disobedience.
14. When looking for solutions, it's crucial to evaluate the historical context of the conflict.
Israeli political consultant Dahlia Scheindlin spells out her opposition to the war in +972. Her piece is excerpted below:
There is no such thing as today devoid of yesterday and tomorrow; it is a fiction. The measures of the last ten days grow directly out of the measures in recent years. They will have devastating consequences in years to come. My criticism of this war is not “I told you so,” because some of us have warned for years that the status quo is illusory. Opposition to this war means finding a different response to predictable situations, so that there won’t be a next time, and in two years Israelis won’t have to say 'this is no time to analyze the past.’
See the rest of the piece here.
15. Because both sides should be willing to look beyond the status quo.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) advocates for Hamas to give up its rockets and other weapons, but also for an end to the Gaza blockade within the context of a cease-fire. He calls the blockade evidence of "short-term thinking," saying mobility for Gazans and economic development is within Israel's long-term interest. Here's an excerpt from his piece, "End the Gaza Blockade to Achieve Peace":
There is no military solution to this conflict. The status quo brings only continued pain, suffering and war. Promoting economic development and social interaction in Gaza is in the long-term security interest of Israel and the rest of the region. The relative calm that existed during Secretary of State John Kerry’s extended diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinians during 2013-14 shows that engaging in dialogue is the first step toward stopping the violence.
Read the rest in the Washington Post.
Palestinians carry bodies of 10 members of the Al Astal immediate and extended family, killed by an Israeli strike early at their houses, during their funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)
16. Including the U.S., which may need to change its approach to seeking peace in the region.
In a piece for The New Yorker, Rashid Khalidi writes that, given the conditions in Gaza, unrest has always been inevitable and will remain so until their quality of life improves. He argues that the U.S. has successfully taken an active role in the peace process of nations in the past, but is ignoring those lessons in its current approach to Mideast peace:
This is precisely why the United States’ support of current Israeli policy is folly. Peace was achieved in Northern Ireland and in South Africa because the United States and the world realized that they had to put pressure on the stronger party, holding it accountable and ending its impunity. Northern Ireland and South Africa are far from perfect examples, but it is worth remembering that, to achieve a just outcome, it was necessary for the United States to deal with groups like the Irish Republican Army and the African National Congress, which engaged in guerrilla war and even terrorism. That was the only way to embark on a road toward true peace and reconciliation. The case of Palestine is not fundamentally different.
17. Peace is not a likely outcome if one insists on being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestinian."
Pakistani-Canadian writer and physician Ali A. Rizvi argues that choosing a side only furthers polarization. In answering seven questions about the conflict, Rizvi examines historical and religious nuances to explain some key factors driving it, in "7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict":
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.