The attack, the response
I don’t really have a political take on the ongoing Middle East war. I have grown up reading about these conflicts only through what the media channels chose to feed me in India. And if I choose to, I can still continue to consume narratives pushed by today’s mainstream western media and form my worldview of the region based on that. If I did that, my worldview, you know, would be a rather simple one.
“Israel has every right to protect its borders. And all democratic countries should lend their support to Israel and should let Israelis do whatever they choose to do to protect their borders. Hamas is an evil islamic militant organization with an aim to destroy the state of Israel. Palestinians, especially those who live in Gaza, support terrorism and therefore it is obvious that they all want Hamas to destroy Israel. Anyone who wishes harm on Israel is an anti-semite.”
If you ask me if I am “pro-Israel” because I am American, then my answer is that being “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine” does not really capture the nuance of thought that most people have or should have about this issue. It has probably taken me years to get here.
And there is no real need for me to express my thoughts on the Israel — Palestine conflict through this medium post. But what I have realized over the past decade or so since I started blogging and writing regularly on all topics that bother me is that writing helps me understand issues. Writing helps me understand the world. Writing helps me understand people. I am not writing on these topics to necessarily change or challenge your opinion on a particular topic. But if my writing offers you a space to contemplate and reassess your own understanding, then I am getting better at expressing myself.
Let’s start exactly where this latest round of violence started.
Hamas’s attack on Israelis.
Witnessing the violence in Israel through videos and photos has been a haunting experience during the past week or so. The images of concert attendees fleeing, hostages paraded in the streets, and people being shot are deeply disturbing.
I don’t believe Hamas is killing Israelis to achieve liberation or peace. Rather, I believe they represent the evil influence on every oppressed Palestinian who has suffered a loss due to this conflict. Their actions are driven by a desire for vengeance, seeking to even the score by succumbing to our darkest human impulses. While it may be difficult to comprehend their logic, it is even harder to accept that humans are capable of such acts.
Not endorsing Hamas should be the minimum standard we should set for ourselves already. Let us clear this bar.
Neither the complex history of the land in this region, spanning over 5,000 years, can be summarized in this post nor do I have such clear understanding of this complex history. Maybe one of these days, I will delve deeper into the history just for my own knowledge. While it is true that we have to endure so many people speaking on this issue with a significant lack of knowledge (including me), coupled with arrogance and a narrow focus on recent history, it is important for those of us who want to broaden our understanding to take a step back.
In my view, the Jewish people have a reasonably legitimate historical claim to the land of Israel. Jews have endured expulsion, return, and further expulsion numerous times even before Muslim and Arab rule under the Ottoman Empire emerged. Admittedly, the history is messy, as Jews, Arabs, and Muslims are all descendants of the Canaanites. The Arabs won the land centuries ago, just as Israel and the Jews won it in the 20th century through conflict and war. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the British, the Balfour Declaration (1917) granted the land to the Jewish people, a promise that would later be challenged. It was a pledge by the British. Just to put it in context of the timeline we are talking about, this was all prior to the wars that have come to define the region since 1948.
The late 1940s marked a unique moment in history. After the horrors of World War II and with Arab and Muslim states already in existence, the global community recognized the importance of granting the Jewish people a homeland (the Western guilt, if you will). In a more logical and just world, this homeland could have been in Europe as reparation for the atrocities committed against Jews, or perhaps in a new state in the Americas, like let’s say in Alaska. However, the Jews desired Israel, the British supported the Zionist movement, they had control over the land following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and America and Europe were unwilling to accept Jewish refugees. Thus, Israel was established.
It is understandable that the Arab states repeatedly rejected the notion of a partitioned Israel prior to World War II, as well as after the Holocaust and the end of the war. Giving up land to a wave of secularized Europeans who suddenly claimed ownership was a difficult proposition. With centuries having passed since Jews had lived in that land in significant numbers, their return in large numbers to that land likely seemed unwelcome. Again, that unwelcome reaction or fear whatever you want to term it is quite rational in my opinion. So it is only natural that they fought against the new Jewish state, just as humans have done throughout history. The existing Arab states turned against the emergence of Israel, resulting in a victory for one side and defeat for the other.
This is the harsh reality of our broken world, but it has ultimately shaped the global order we live in.
So are Israelis and British people “colonizers” in this context ? I will leave that to you to decipher. The question obviously is where do we draw the line in our historic timeline to decide if they are colonizers or not. Based solely on this 20th century history, yes, I would argue they are colonizers. But that could be oversimplifying the complexities and conflicts that have occurred over thousands of years, given the religious importance of the land.
So, the starting point for this discussions that perhaps we all should agree upon is this: “Jews, who established the state of Israel, happened to emerge victorious in the most recent major conflict for control.”
So from that starting point, the complex history underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be overlooked. Just six decades ago, Israel faced an imminent threat from neighboring Arab states seeking its destruction. These same Jews had previously fled persecution in Europe. The struggle unfortunately continues to this day — even if Palestinians are enduring great suffering while Israel maintains its power over their land.
Sadly, many Americans have a narrow perspective on this issue, viewing Israel as the stronger force without considering the historical context. In reality, Israel’s government possesses substantial resources and military might, thanks to its alliances with the United States and Europe. Meanwhile, Palestinians lack unified leadership and face division within the Arab world.
Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank leaves little room for freedom. This includes two million people in Gaza (with 50% of the population being children, under age 19) living in dire conditions, in an open air prison, naturally prompting violent uprisings. The recent attack that claimed innocent lives, including tourists, serves as a stark reminder of the consequences. Hamas, responsible for the attack, demonstrates its brutality and reinforces the urgent need to dismantle the organization for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis.
However, we cannot ignore the root cause of this ongoing conflict. Keeping millions of people in deplorable conditions in Gaza is an affront to humanity.
The cycle of violence will persist as both parties seek revenge. Israel’s retaliation, which includes unjustifiable actions such as destroying apartment buildings and killing civilians, garners support from most of the western countries but why should it be accepted? Why can’t the same people who outrage over the killings of innocent Israeli citizens show some outrage over the killings of innocent Palestinians?
The suffering endured by Palestinians must be acknowledged if any of us really care about establishing peace in the region.
It is disheartening that the Western world often pays attention to this conflict only when acts of violence are committed by Hamas or Palestinians. The regular loss of Palestinian lives at the hands of the Israeli military goes unnoticed until they respond in kind. This year alone, 250 Palestinians, including 47 children, have been killed in the West Bank. For some more understanding of the number of casualties on both sides, these charts may help.
As part of their response strategy after the latest Hamas attack, Israelis have already stopped the flow of water, electricity, and food to two million people, and killed dozens of civilians in their retaliatory bombings. We should never accept this, never lose sight that this horror is being inflicted on human beings. As the group B’Tselem said, “There is no justification for such crimes, whether they are committed as part of a struggle for freedom from oppression or cited as part of a war against terror.”
I mourn for the innocents of Palestine just as I do for the innocents in Israel. We all should. As of late, many, many more have died on the Palestinian side than Israel’s. And many more Palestinians are likely to die in the upcoming spate of violence, too.
The consequences of Israel’s actions in the name of self-defense are leading to the creation of more radicalized extremists. These extremists justify their desire to retaliate against Israelis in the future. The situation in Gaza, where half of the population is under the age of 19, is dire and filled with hardships caused by Hamas rule, the Israeli occupation, blockades, and constant rocket attacks. The suffering of these innocent children who were born into these circumstances is unimaginable. Unfortunately, the cycle of violence will continue unless one side exercises restraint or both sides come together to find a new solution.
Israel argues that if Palestinians were to lay down their weapons, the war would end. However, if Israel were to do the same, they fear annihilation. The reality is that every time Israel kills innocent people, they ignite more anger and hatred among Palestinians and Arabs, ultimately recruiting more individuals against them. This fact cannot be disputed.
So, why did this recent incident occur? You don’t have to be an expert in the region to say that it was bound to happen eventually. It was the result of a significant failure in policy and intelligence, and Prime Minister Netanyahu should face the political consequences for being a failed leader. Who knows? Maybe Iran likely played a role in organizing the attack. Additionally, the actions of Israel’s increasingly far-right extremist government and settlers, including provocative apartheid acts against Palestinians and the desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque, have only escalated tensions in recent times. The blockades, bombings, and oppressive treatment of the Palestinian people, as well as the refusal to engage with non-terrorist leaders, further contributed to the recent violence. Illegal expansion and land theft by some Jews and Israelis also play a part, despite global pleas for them to stop. Predictably, a violent response was the outcome, as many had foreseen.
Israel continues to confine the Palestinian people into smaller spaces and tinier boxes with limited resources. While blame falls upon Israeli leaders for their expansionist and settlement activities, it is also important to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for rejecting partitioned Israel proposals throughout the 20th century, which could have led to peace (maybe at the cost of some compromised Palestinian interests).
None of the above takes away the fact that Hamas is an extremist group and does not represent the true interests of the Palestinian people. Therefore, blaming all Palestinians for their actions would be unfair. Some Palestinians may celebrate the deaths or disrespect the deceased, just as some Americans do in every war and some Israelis who set up lawn chairs and cheer while their government bombs Palestine.
However, many Palestinians mourn because they despise Hamas and understand that this violence will only make things worse. This does not mean that Palestinians, Israelis, or Americans are inherently evil, but rather that some individuals succumb to their violent impulses and feelings of righteous vengeance.
A three-state solution maybe the only optimal solution but the parties who need to come together to agree for this solution may never see this as an option.
This has all been very disturbing. The past few days have been.
As I finish typing this long post, the 24 hour ultimatum that Israel gave the people of Northern Gaza are almost up. I shudder to think what news I would wake up to.
So am I pro-Israel or pro-Palestine? I wish I knew.
I guess I am pro-not-killing-civilians.
You could say I am pro-not-entrapping-millions-of-people-in-open-air-prisons.
I am also clearly pro-not-cutting-of-essential-supplies-to-those-entrapped-prisoners.
I am definitely pro-not-shooting-grandmas-in-the-back-of-the-head.
I am pro-not-killing-babies-and-children.
I am also pro-not-flattening-apartment-complexes.
I am pro-not-raping-women-and-taking-them-hostages.
I am pro-not-unjustly-imprisoning-people-without-due-process.
I am pro-freedom.
I am pro-peace.
I am pro-all-the-things that do not define this conflict anymore.