I was involved in a rather spirited discussion of media coverage of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. On one side was a Jewish friend who a very vocal supporter of Israel, on the other a Arabic friend who is very active in Muslim civil rights. In the middle was me and everyone else in the room.
What the discussion revolved around was the bias my Arabic friend felt was shown towards Israel by North America media outlets. I can understand where she’s coming from. I can even say I’m sympathetic towards her view. North American news outlets have become so politicized that often the truth lies somewhere between what the Left and the Right report as truth. And there are few countries as politicized as Israel.
Unfortunately, when it comes to media portrayal, Israel finds itself in a no-win situation. Almost surrounded by countries that have often had their political leaders issuing statements calling for the end to “the Zionist state”, it is forced to always be on it’s guard. It’s telling that while Israel consists of an area roughly the same size as New Jersey, with a population similar to Virginia, it has one of the most powerful military forces in the world.
This powerful military force makes Israel an easy target for detractors. It can be argued that a force that large is there not as a deterrent to war, but an aggressor biding it’s time. This is the core of the no-win situation. If Israel is attacked, either by an outside force or by a terrorist act, and doesn’t respond, then it will be seen as weak and ripe for attack. If it does respond, then it is seen as a bully and doing a disproportionate military retaliation.
This constant threat of attack has forced Israel to have mandatory military service at 18. When I was in Israel a few years ago it was disconcerting to see soldiers who looked barely old enough to be out of highschool patrolling the area. To give you an idea of what citizens in Israel have become use to, think about a popular attraction you like to go to: an amusement park, stadium, or even a large urban park. Now add in fully armed soldiers on patrol in those areas and you’ll have an idea of what the residents of Israel have to deal with every day. And that’s not mentioning constant roadblocks and security checkpoints.
Here’s where theory meets reality. As I write this, Israel is on the brink of war with an organization called Hamas. They are the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, a section of land that, while under Israel’s control, is cordoned off. It is home to over a million Palestinians, some still in exile from the 1948 Arab-Israel conflict. While the term “refugee” is often used to describe the Palestinians, many of them prefer the term “returnees”.
Hamas, while considered a terrorist organization by many countries, was freely elected in 2005 over the previous ruling Fatah party. Rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel has slowly been replaced with calls for a formal Palestinian state with it’s capital in East Jerusalem. Last year Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement on a framework for possible elections in 2012, provided Hamas’ resistance is political and not militant.
Hamas now finds itself in a situation it hasn’t faced before. Their chief policy making body has been in Damascus, Syria and has been thrown into chaos by the burgeoning civil war there. In the Gaza Strip itself, Hamas is facing opposition from terror cells not under their control. In some ways, the Gaza Strip is slowly descending into what might be labelled as a gang war, except the target isn’t Hamas, but still Israel. The motivating factor seems to be “if Hamas can attack Israel to achieve political power, so can we”. Hamas finds itself now in the same position Israel finds itself: if you don’t respond to the terror cells’ attacks, you’re seen as weak. If you do respond, you set yourself up for open warfare and condemnation.
Heightening the situation is fallout from the Arab Spring revolutions. The border shared with Egypt, specifically at the Rafah crossing, is undergoing the installation by the Egyptian government of a barrier dug 115ft down to stop tunnel smuggling by militants supplying weaponry to Hamas and other terror cells. The fallout from the revolution in Libya is that stockpiles of higher-end weaponry have been finding their way throughout the Middle East region. There have been reports for the last three months of caches of weapons being found buried in Egypt near the Gaza border waiting to be smuggled into Gaza.
It’s important to note here that it is unfair to label all Palestinians as Hamas-friendly. I would say that Hamas no more represents the opinion of all Palestinians any more than the Taliban represented the opinions of all Afghan people.
As I write this, Israeli troops are massing on the Gaza border. For the first time we’ve seen rockets reaching Tel Aviv and now Jerusalem. Air strikes have already taken out Hamas headquarters in Gaza. Both sides have civilian casualties. And those civilians, sadly, are the ones with the most to lose, on both sides. Whatever happens next, politics and circumstance has taken whatever ability those civilians have to choose their fate from them.
With heavier weaponry seemingly now an option for Hamas I do have to wonder what kind of escalation we’ll be seeing, especially with the situation so close to all out war. What I do know is that no matter the outcome, no matter the lives lost, there won’t be any sense of finality simply because someone will always come up with the idea that force is a better way to achieve one’s goals than honest negotiation.
Because terrorism begins in an idea to ignore the rights and worth of others to achieve an end, it can never be defeated. You can’t defeat an idea any more than you can order the sun to stop shining. We’re left with a very undesirable reality: find a way to survive for now and wait for things to go bad again. The idea of using terror as a means to an end is nothing new. Even if we able to end all terrorist activities, someone will inevitably rise up in the future and have that same idea of “how can I achieve my goals” and turn to intimidation, murder and terror as their answer.
So if you can’t defeat an idea how do you stop terrorism? Apart from force, the only way is education, patience and hope. It can only happen by replacing the idea that promotes terrorism with a more fully formed one in support of finding common ground. But finding that common ground only is possible if those with power chose education over rhetoric and indoctrination. Educating a populace to assess an issue free from bias, by definition, gives them power over their lives. It gives them the power of choice of whether to be intimidated or to stand up. As the Arab Spring showed us, information free from political control can have world-altering affects.
My Arabic friend was right to say there is media bias. Here it slants pro-Israel. Reading over English language versions of Arabic newspapers I see a pro-Palestinian slant. The truth is somewhere in between. While in times of peace, nuance and bi-partisanship may have a chance to ring loudly, in war they are lost in the din of justification and rhetoric.
If you’re wondering where I stand on all this, I’ll start by saying I’m Christian. While that should make me, by default, pro-Israel, I have a hard time taking sides when I see innocent civilians killed.
I will say this though: there are those who support Hamas and place blame on Israel. I can understand bitterness and resentment about having to leave one’s home and not being able to return. In this case, the Palestinians and Israelis could both look back through their histories and see eye to eye, if they wished. Where they both are now has been born out of the loss of one’s homeland.
I, personally, can not support Hamas’ actions. I can not support a party that, while being elected and having all power to negotiate, has repeatedly fired rockets at unarmed Israeli citizens, often without provocation. I can not support a party that has willingly chosen to meet in school and hospital basements to avoid military retaliation. I can not support a party whose own literature in the past has advocated using women and children as human shields.
Human life is still worthy of respect, regardless of race, creed, color, religion or political affiliation. I do see the merits of both the pro-Palestinian side and pro-Israeli side. While it is a natural human need to assign blame, I can’t see this as being simply a choice between Israel and Palestine. And it shouldn’t be. Any possible peace, if it is to actually last, must see the importance and equality in each other.
War is an ugly thing and all too often avoidable if we put our own agendas aside and try to see the merit in our opposition. The Palestinians have had to live in fear of actions outside of their control for too long.
The Palestinians deserve better.