The situation in Gaza is, no doubt, a complex and nasty affair. Given the complexity of the matter and the difficulty of obtaining reliable information, I think it’s reasonable to suppose that there will be a spectrum of opinions on the matter, and that’s perfectly OK.
I am wholeheartedly willing to accept that Israel should have the right to “defend themselves”, as every country ought to be able to do. On the other hand, nearly every war in the history of mankind, including some of the most offensive ones, has been carried out in the name of “self defense”. So, claiming “self-defense” is not always quite the same thing as actually acting in self-defense.
I have seen enough information to satisfy myself on this point: Israel is NOT only acting in self defense. In fact, it is following a specific ideology, and it has some very specific goals, far above and beyond what their self-defense would require. It’s carrying out a “punishment” as much anything else. As a former official said, a common perspective among Israeli officials and their supporters is: “why should Gaza’s residents suffer? Well, they are to blame”.
I would also add that I think it unwise and questionable to automatically assume that Israel, merely because it is “Israel”, is automatically right in what it does. There are some people, often for religious or political reasons, who automatically assume that since Israel is “Israel” and Hamas is, well, Hamas, whatever Israel does to the Palestinians must be right. My Christian faith and my Bible do not require me to blindly support Israel. In fact, I find the interpretation of prophesy that leads one to that conclusion to be quite errant. And I find the political vision that sees Israel as a bastion of freedom and democracy to be increasingly unbelievable.
There are, among some Israeli officials and some “supporters of Israel”, some very frightening overtones which, quite frankly, are spooky to me. A recent article by Andrew Sullivan highlights some of these sentiments. I feel these spooky sentiments are the undercurrent of much of what Israel is doing. The basic idea that is being thrown around amounts to something like this: “you are part of a people who elected a bad government, therefore your life doesn’t matter”.
For example, this was what one man said at a Israeli support rally in New York:
- “When you are part of an election process that asks for a terrorist organization which proclaims in word and in deed that their primary objective is to destroy their neighboring country and not to build schools or commerce or jobs, you are complicit and you are not a civilian casualty.”
I can’t get that phrase out of my mind “you are not a civilian casualty”. It keeps ringing in my mind. So even if you didn’t vote for a bad government, you become a “non person” just because other people voted for it? That’s essentially what it seems to boil down to.
So then, one might assume that this is just the sentiment of some extremist in New York, not actual Israeli officials and movers and shakers within Israel, right?
Wrong. For instance, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset is calling for ethnic cleansing. I think Eric Margolis was essentially right when he said that “To many Israelis, Palestinians are simply wild animals who must be caged up”.
Here are some quotes cited in Andrew Sullivan’s article:
- “In the past month, Rabbi Noam Perel, head of Bnei Akiva, the largest Jewish religious youth group in the world, called for the mass-murder of Palestinians and for their foreskins to be scalped and brought back as trophies”
- A young women being touted as the future Prime Minister of Israel: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
- The former head of the Israeli National Security Council: “The moment it begins, the right thing to do is to shut down the crossings, prevent the entry of any goods, including food, and definitely prevent the supply of gas and electricity … why should Gaza’s residents suffer? Well, they are to blame for this situation just like Germany’s residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so.”
I think Andrew Sullivan helps to underscore part of the reason why I am unwilling to unquestionably support Israel. I am not anti-Israel. I am also not pro-Hamas. I am just unwilling to automatically rubber stamp what Israel does. That’s all.
Israel does not have ethical blank cheque to do whatever they want, just because there is a terrorist threat they are dealing with. In fact, the balance of evidence that I have looked at so far points to the fact that they are doing some very questionable and problematic things (to put it diplomatically).
As I’ve already indicated, there’s also a troubling mindset in the way Israel is carrying out its business. It’s well summed up in this quote from Sullivan’s article:
“The grotesque death toll from Gaza is a distillation of this mindset – revealing at best a chilling contempt for Arab life and at worst, with the shelling of schools and shelters, a policy of indiscriminate hatred and revenge. Yes, killing women and children in shelters is about as low as you can get in wartime.”