I have been following with horror the current violence in Gaza and Israel. The last several days have been awful. I feel like one of those people passing a horrible accident by the side of the road, unable to look away. And the constant barrage of gruesome images and endless articles and postings from my friends on Facebook has been as illuminating as it has been wrenching. I occupy a bit of a minority perspective in this matter, I believe, due to my upbringing, my significant travel and time spent living in foreign countries, and my status as part of both gay and Jewish minorities. In no particular order, here are the various and sometimes conflicting feelings I have about this entire tragic mess.
1. Where are they supposed to go?
With the relentless bombing of Gaza, the question that keeps popping up for me, is one that of course gets no answer: Where the hell are these people supposed to go to get out of the nightmare they are living in? Israel has blockaded them on all sides except for where Egypt has blockaded them. They are quite literally prisoners and sitting ducks, which makes these bombings and attacks especially cruel and inhumane. They have nowhere at all open to them. If you were locked up in a prison for life, for the crime of existing, you wouldn’t have much to lose either and would employ all manner of action to try to escape, including attacking the jailor.
2. Antisemitism and its excuses are increasing.
It makes me sick to watch this conflict exacerbate anti jewish feeling all over. There is no excuse for antisemitism, but many people around the world are using their hatred of Israel as an excuse to reveal or incite antisemitic feeling. Even among supposedly intellectual friends of mine, I can see them slip sometimes and use the word Jew when they purportedly mean Israeli. I have even noticed otherwise rational friends of mine refer to the situation in Gaza as “Final Solution”. To my mind that really cheapens what happened in the Holocaust, and invites even more antisemitism into the world. I watch them scream bloody murder about what Israel is doing, but remain completely silent about antisemitic violence. Israel exacerbates this tension by claiming to represent all Jews, when in fact they only represent Israelis. And even so, Israeli society is not monolithic. Guess what? There are thousands upon thousands of Israelis who don’t support what their government is doing, just as there were and are multitudes in this country opposed to many of our military (and other) interventions around the world. Vilifying an entire people for the sins of their government is wrong.
3. What is Israel’s possible endgame? What are they thinking?
I cannot, for the life of me, understand what Israel’s long term strategic plan is here. What do they possibly think the outcome is going to be, and how could they possibly think this can turn out well for them? The only possibilities I can think of are: a. They know this will amount to nothing but they are simply trying to show “strength” by killing a bunch of people in response to feeble rocket attacks. b. They really are under the delusion that they can dislodge Hamas and stop rockets by doing what they are doing, or even more ridiculously that there will be some Palestinian uprising that will remove Hamas. Or c. As I have heard the rather ugly euphemism thrown about recently, they are simply “mowing the grass“.
4. No acknowledgment of the other side’s people as anything more than the inhuman “other”.
This is something I see on all sides and it drives me crazy: The total dehumanization and demonization of the other. The need of people on either side to make total monsters of the other. I have news for you all out there: We are all the innocent victims and we are all the monsters. Yes, there are some particularly hateful actors out there (Netanyahu, Hamas, right wing settlers and brigades), but let’s not condemn entire populations to simple vilification despite our very human craving for a clear battle of good vs evil.
5. Stop questioning my “loyalty”, and stop trying to force me into some formulaic tribalism.
I am sick to death of some of my fellow Jews or Americans questioning my loyalty or accusing me of being self-loathing. I believe ALL human life is of equal worth, and that violence only begets more violence. It blows my mind how so many thoughtful and otherwise highly progressive fellow Jews can have such a total blind spot when the subject at hand is Israel. I have a full right to criticize the horrible, deathly actions of the State of Israel or any state actor without being self-loathing. Being Jewish is not the same thing as being Israeli, and I certainly did not vote for their current government.
6. Hamas is horrible all right. So how does that make bombing innocent people acceptable?
I don’t think the above question needs much further elucidation. You can accept that Hamas is terrible and does terrible things without a corollary that allows indiscriminate bombing of children.
7. I’m sick of the game of comparing wounds and existential threats.
It all sucks, ok? I was in a facebook debate the other day when a woman who lives in Israel told a sad story about her fear of the rockets, and the attacks she had to live under. And it shut down the thread, because no one wants to be the asshole that minimizes anyone’s trauma anywhere. Every rocket attack that scares Israeli children, every horrible antisemitic beating in Europe, every twitter hashtag or internet post comparing Israel or Jews to Hitler, every sneak attack that kills an innocent or non-innocent for that matter, these are all horrible and unacceptable. But these do not excuse what Israel is doing in Gaza, not by a mile. Israel has overwhelming military superiority here, and has a responsibility (at least) to be proportional and measured in its response. Instead, Israel is conducting genocide, intentionally or not.
8. Try peace.
In more than one of the multitude of discussions I have had on this subject, I have heard from defenders of Israel patting themselves on the back for how humane they are in setting up field hospitals to treat victims of their bombing or attacks with Israeli doctors and medicine, rather than just letting them die. Pardon me, how about not setting up the conditions where you need to treat them in hospitals in the first place?
Israel, for various historical reasons, sees itself as both strong and weak at the same time. And I honestly don’t know what they think is realistically going to happen in the occupied territories or Israel proper, if they are in total denial or unable to see any way out. Vox.com put it rather perfectly in their discussion of the situation Israel finds itself in: “Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews in Israel-Palestine, if they don’t already. For Israel, which sees itself as both Jewish and democratic, this poses an existential crisis. If Arabs outnumber Jews and are allowed to vote, then it’s the end of a Jewish state. But if Arabs outnumber Jews and aren’t allowed to vote, then Israel is no longer a democracy.”
So poisoned are relations on all sides, so heavy is the mistrust, that there is no risk-free way forward. And a common retort in many of these discussions is “what would you do?”. Since I have no control at all, but we are playing this fantasy, here is what I would like to see: Given the facts on the ground as I understand them, it seems to me the only reasonable way forward with a chance of long term success is for there to be one state, in the combined occupied territories and Israel proper, with every person living there given equal citizenship and voting rights. This will mean that Israel will lose its status as a Jewish state, but will not lose its status as a democratic one. It will take years of work on all sides to undo the damage and mistrust, but if countries like South Africa can make this transition, why not Israel?