5 Things We Should All Probably Agree on About the Israel-Palestine Conflict…
This conflict has been incredibly emotional, distressing, and partisan of course. That’s not likely to get better in the immediate future with Israel bombing a UN school sheltering people fleeing a major Israeli advance, with a tank shell responsible for killing at least 15 people, including a baby. It was the third UN school in four days to be attacked by the Israeli Defense Forces, as the death toll reaches beyond 770 since the latest wave of Israeli military action began.
Given the raw emotion involved in seeing images of children maimed by bullets and bombs, things have quickly descended into partisan propaganda, with each side blaming the other and sharing their points about how many rockets, bombs, and bodies have fallen on their side. No matter which way you look at it, this is a humanitarian crisis. And that’s why I wanted to write about it.
Of course the history is so deep volumes have written on it, and this blog (representing only my own opinion) isn’t about showing the entire history or airing either side. I hope that it can inform some of the views and anger on both sides you see online. Both sides have points worthy of hearing, and both sides need to understand problems with their ‘side’. And hopefully we can find a new middle path, looking at the facts and the balance…
Before we delve into some of those specifics, you may want to check out this article as a background for those not so familiar with Hamas, the 1967 borders, and other issues involved: 9 Questions About the Israel-Gaza Conflict You were too Embarrassed to Ask.
1) Hamas is a Bad Organisation with a Bad Strategy
Hamas was formed in 1987, which is much more recent than many people realise. In 2006, it won US-backed elections and so is the government of Palestine.
In its charter Hamas calls for the obliteration or dissolution of the Israeli State so it can establish the Islamic State of Palestine instead. That stance has since softened a lot to demand an independent Palestinian State along 1967 borders. It has been labelled a terrorist group by pretty much every Western country while most of Asia (including the Middle East, Russia, and China) recognise it as a State.
Hamas has been accused of using civilians as human shields and it is pretty clear that it is a violent group. Many will justify the violence in saying it is retaliation, and the Israelis say their violence is retaliation for Hamas’ violence, in a never-ending cycle of blame and terror.
But here’s why anyone critical of Israel’s policies and military actions should be quick to note that they are also against Hamas: Hamas intentionally benefit from Israel killing Palestinians. The more civilians, women, and children Israel kill, the more sympathy their cause gets and the more funding Hamas receives as a result. This would just be a bad coincidence if Hamas didn’t intentionally provoke Israel into such bombing campaigns to raise sympathy in the region.
In other words, Hamas knows their rockets will not damage Israel, and Hamas knows that they will kill very few Israelis, if any at all. But they also know that Israel will respond so violently, arousing international condemnation, and very cynically this is good for business. How Hamas have been using this strategy has been laid out in more depth by Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute here.
So while international criticism of Israel is beginning to grow, we need to be careful not to support Hamas or similar groups using such cynical tactics.
2) Israel has Become the Bully
The most hardened supporter cannot see Israel as the victim any longer. Israel spends roughly $18 billion on their military, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the 14th largest in the world. With submarines, planes, well equipped soldiers, and thousands of tanks, Israel’s army is one of the most modernised in the world. And, in true IDF fashion, this doesn’t mention the nuclear weapons.
Hamas, by contrast, is estimated to have a budget of $70 million. No tanks, no organised army, very little equipment and weaponry. And this is one of the biggest reasons why Hamas never does much damage to Israel, and why it never can. Israel’s military spending is at least 257 times as much as Hamas’. Hamas fires lots of rockets and mortars at Israel, below we’ll look at why. But Israel’s defence system intercepts many of those, and even fewer cause any damage, human or otherwise. Israel then offensively drops 400 tonnes of bombs over two days in response. The conflict has evolved, and it is undeniable that it is extremely disproportionate.
Since January 2005, 96% of the people who died as a result in this conflict have been Palestinian (168 Israelis compared to 3,838 Palestinians). Given that there are twice as many Jews as Palestinians in the controlled settlements, this also compounds how disproportionate it is. With the latest bombings likely to push beyond 1,000 Palestinian casualties soon, the numbers and the disproportionate ratio are only set to increase, in what is supposedly a reaction to the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis.
That’s not to say that Israel should suffer more, of course it shouldn’t. It is to say that neither side should suffer. And that also the conflict has evolved to a point where it is no longer a war between States. Statistically speaking the conflict has always been disproportionate, with four Palestinians killed for every Israeli since the start of the conflict, but any rough parity has long gone.
And this is the reason why there is a legitimate argument not to call this a war any more, and why some are calling it a genocide.
3) This conflict is political, not religious; the Violence is Strategic not Random
The origins of this conflict are in so many ways international. With the understandable and obviously justified sympathy for Jews after WWII, the UN announced that the British territory of Palestine would be split into two different States: Israel and Palestine. Neighbouring Arab States objected to the influx of Jewish immigrants, just as they did in previous decades, and a war began which Israel won with the help of the West. There are other factors involved also, but these too are political. None of it is essentially religious or cultural. Jews and Arabs have historically lived together in great cooperation and the scriptures of both religions predominantly talk of peace and cooperation. It is only in the modern era that the perception has really changed. Crazy fundamentalists make for better TV after all.
The location for the new Israel touched on religious issues, with Jerusalem being a spiritual home. But placing the Israeli State in the Middle East was done not least for geopolitical reasons. We have to see the context of the 20th century, where almost every brutal dictator was put into power by Western powers for the same geopolitical reasons of exploiting a country, its people, and it’s geography. These were the same imperial powers who globalised slavery, colonialism, and concentration camps (the British invented concentration camps during the Boer War). They treated colonies, and the people within them, as their property. Being British myself, there is more than a little to be ashamed of, but that is our history and we must understand it to move on. Likewise it is the context of the creation of the Israeli State in Palestine (which at the time included the land of modern-day Israel, Palestine, and Jordan).
So Israel later captured more land and expanded its territory in 1967, and control the areas of Gaza and the West Bank. Skip forward a bit and now Hamas has emerged as the resistance group. They cynically use the deaths of Palestinians to gain sympathy – and donations to finance themselves. Meanwhile, the Israelis have been intentionally keeping the area weak, and engaging in a strategy some analysts call “mowing the grass“, periodic bombings and ground invasions to weaken Hamas and reduce its capabilities to make sure it doesn’t become a bigger threat. In other words Israel is making sure the weed doesn’t grow too big, rather than pulling it out entirely. This is because if they pulled out the weeds more people would realise how ugly the garden was, and would only have the gardener left to blame.
So Hamas needs Israel and Israel needs Hamas. Hamas needs Israel to overreact and kill civilians to get funding, and so it effectively pokes the monster. And Israel needs a terrorist threat to act as justification for occupying territories and for it’s military programs.
I can’t get into the early issues with Jews immigrating to Palestine after the Balfour Declaration and Arab States rejecting the move. But the point is that whatever the history, this conflict is political now (and likely was mostly political at all times).
4) Criticising Israel Does Not Make You an Anti-Semite
This is important to understand for both sides. Criticising Israel does not equate to supporting Hamas and it does not mean you hate Jews. When people criticise Israel they need to be careful to ensure they’re criticising the State and its actions, and do not transfer that condemnation to the Jewish people in general, as has happened and as others rightly criticise. Likewise, when supporters of Israel hear criticisms, they need to recognise that it is not anti-semitic, it is not ultimately saying Israel has no right to exist, and it is not in support of Hamas. It’s saying Israel should just change its policies.
The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (who happens to be a Jew) made this point very well in his usual funny and satirical way, so check that 2 minute clip here.
Stewart is by far not the only Jew critical of Israel. There are Jews and Arabs who support their States and the killings, there are people who don’t know what to think, and there are a lot of people who want to condemn all killings.
It is also not a fight between Palestinians and Jews, then, it is a fight between the Israeli military and Hamas… with everyone else caught in the middle. There’s a nice Buzzfeed article showing Jews and Arabs posing together to show they’re standing together for peace… though the comment section reads like the conflict looks with both sides blaming the other and throwing around abuse. The basic point to take is that Jews and Arabs have often peacefully coexisted and there is no inherent reason for them not to. This conflict is a political issue, between the two States, not a cultural or religious issue.
Interestingly, one of the things being shared on social media is a picture of Reuven Moskovitz, a Jew who survived the Holocaust, and was attacked by the Israeli forces when he and the group he was with tried to break the blockade in Gaza in 2010. With many other Jews sharing his beliefs, criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Jewish…
5) A Long-Term Solution is Not Simple
Many people say if a Two State solution happens it’ll be OK. Or One-State, or a Multi-State, or wherever you draw the borders. Or they say if Hamas just stops firing rockets then it will end the conflict, or if Israel just stops bombing Hamas they will eventually stop firing rockets.
It’s just not that simple. This blog is still a simplified version of events and the longest book about the conflict could not explain everything going on.
A Two State solution with land swaps based on changes since 1967 has been touted by Obama in a major policy shift for the US. This looks like a potential solution, but anything like this needs to be studied extensively. When India split in two to form India and Pakistan, between 200,000 and 1 million were killed in the border crossings and tens of millions of people were displaced. While of course India has a much larger population, there is a proportionally similar potential here.
The fact is that we don’t know what would happen if Israel stopped retaliating when Hamas provoked them, if Israel took the moral high ground. Or if Hamas stopped firing rockets, whether Israel would seek a peaceful long-term solution and stop “mowing the grass”.
What will help is if we recognise the fault on both sides, informed our opinion with the history, context, and how things have become now, and stated that opinion less like we do know exactly what’s going to happen. International actors had a big role to play in creating and sustaining this conflict. However together we can have a big role in ending it. And that will require people from every side.
(I understand that this blog will also lack vital information and vital context in areas. I just wanted to get across some things I thought important to consider in this conflict, after seeing so many uninformed and borderline racist views over Facebook and Twitter. Comments and suggestions are very much welcome, but one-sided partisan propaganda will be deleted)