It’s been interesting for me to compare American attitudes toward the latest conflict between Israel and Palestine with American attitudes toward our own politics. Domestically, we have a largely black and white political spectrum: either you’re conservative Republican or liberal Democrat. With respect to the Middle East either you’re pro-Israel and its right to assert its regional dominance or you’re pro-Palestine and anti-Israeli aggression.
In reality, just as with our own political parties, the situation is much more subtly nuanced. I hope that the position I’m about to advocate seems as obvious to you as it does to me.
Let’s start with Israel. At least four of its closest neighbors explicitly and repeatedly denounce its very right to exist, and advocate killing Israelis by virtue of their…existence. In 2006 the people of Gaza (not the West Bank) democratically elected a militant government whose stated aim is to annihilate Israel. Hamas makes good on its claim every day, launching dozens or hundreds of homemade rockets from residential neighborhoods into Israel. Though they rarely kill anyone, Israelis nonetheless have constantly to live with the sight and sound of rockets plummeting down on their homes.
Makes a good case for Israeli aggression, right? Not so fast. Hamas is acting from a very desperate position. Ever since its democratic (ie, free) election of Hamas, Gaza been subject to a US-led embargo that is literally starving the majority of its population. Gazans have been isolated from the world because they decided to vote out Fatah, a US-backed government. To add injury to injury, Israel responded to (largely) non-lethal rocket attacks (as well as a series of back-and-forth kidnappings) with an all-out military invasion, killing thousands of non-combatant children and civilians.
So my response to all those whose Facebook statuses express unbridled sympathy for Gaza is exactly the same as my response to those who stand on the corner of Snelling and Summit with pro-Israel signs: picking one side or the other, with no nuance, is only going to escalate the conflict.
I also see a strong connection between Americans’ Israel or Gaza allegiance and their domestic political affiliation. As long as we approach any conflict situation – be it war, religion or an election – through the absolute lens party politics, we’re just going to talk past each other.
I wish I had a more concrete suggestion for moving toward peace between Israel and Palestine. The hard truth is that both sides are going to have to abandon their rigid, violent ideologies and recognize the gains from political trade. The US – and I believe President Obama knows this – would also do well to scale back its exportation of a black and white political ideology.