Monday, August 18, 2014

The Israel-Palestine conflict will go on forever - until it doesn't

I was shocked to read an article published three days ago in the Globe & Mail by Gerald Caplan claiming the Israel-Palestine conflict will never end (find it here). This is the same man who wrote in the same newspaper a mere seven days earlier about the need for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP to "show more courage" when it comes to criticizing Israel's actions (here). One might wonder what the purpose of the first article was given the second article’s conclusion. Apparently over the span of that week, he has now determined that nothing can be done to stop what is going on in Israel-Palestine.

His self-contradictions aside, Caplan does a poor job of defending his claim, sticking to his own subjective interpretations of the situation. What is most surprising, in my view, is that usually those arguing that the Israel-Palestine conflict will go on forever argue that it has been happening from the beginning of time. You know – the Jews and Arabs have always been fighting and will continue fighting until the world ends. But Caplan doesn't make that argument. He, like most informed observers, pegs the beginning as 1947 when Israel was founded (some informed observers will go back as far as the beginnings of the Zionist movement in the 1860s), which makes it even more surprising to me that he can write that the conflict will never end. He then has the gall to conclude that, "This is the future and it cannot be otherwise." Surely Caplan is intelligent enough to know that such grand predictions about the future of the world are always doomed to fail. The first lesson anyone should learn in the history of the world is that the current state of affairs at any given time usually feels like it will go on forever - until it doesn’t. The possible examples to show that are endless and literally fill our history books.

Further, it's incredible that Caplan does not mention once the American support for the Israeli occupation, both political and financial. Nor does he mention that public opinion has significantly shifted in the United States, and indeed around the world, against Israel's occupation. But apparently that has nothing to do with resolving the conflict. That view flies in the face of the opinions of many, many people far more credible than Caplan when it comes to Israel-Palestine. That also doesn’t seem to matter to Caplan. It’s not even worth addressing.

If Caplan is so convinced nothing can be done, it's a wonder he takes the time to write about it at all. The truth is that resolving any conflict is possible. Indeed, the only rule of global history that stands the test of time is that nothing lasts forever. What is significant about articles like Caplan’s is that it becomes more difficult to solve the big global issues like Israel-Palestine when people write drivel like this about how nothing can be done.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Are Hamas and Israel's ruling Likud party that different?

As a follow-up to my blog yesterday regarding Hamas's role in the current violence in Gaza, I wanted to share some additional thoughts. The text below was again written as a response to another person's comment, this time a comment on my recent blog post (made on Facebook, not on this blog site). The criticism in a nutshell was that Hamas has a genocidal policy towards Jews in its charter, or at least Jews living in historic Palestine (present day Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories), but that Israel's governing party Likud's charter refusing a Palestinian state is simply calling for a one-state solution to the conflict where everyone lives together, evidence of which can be seen by the Palestinians living in Israel proper today. The author of this comment's main stated goal was rejecting the equivalence I made between Hamas and Likud based on their party charters. The following was my response:

Hamas is not an admirable organization. Far from it. But looking at language in documents, even when they say reprehensible things, can only get you so far. I reached the conclusions I did in the blog post because I am much more concerned by actions, which are much less ambiguous than debating the language in a party's charter, the relevance of that document, the comparisons of the language in the document to public statements made by leadership, etc. It is an extremely important fact that Israel has the 4th-most powerful military in the world, because they have used it very effectively. It is worth noting that Israel's founding in 1948 was accompanied by an ethnic cleansing campaign. No, they did not drive out all of the Palestinians from what is now Israel, but they did drive out 750,000 of them and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages. There are many more examples of Israel going on the offensive to kill Palestinians over the years, but fast-forward to the present one. Israel has killed more than 1600 in about 3 weeks, the large majority of which were civilians (and I believe it's about 1/3 that were children). That includes the bombing of 4 kids playing soccer on a wide-open beach (the video of it is hard to watch but shows how easy to see that no credible excuse could be made for it), the destruction of Gaza's only power plant, the deliberate bombardment of hospitals (we know it was deliberate because Israel announced it was going to attack; it gave no justification, however), and as of today, the bombing of civilians shelters in two UN schools. I hope that you can unequivocally condemn all of those things. They are clearly all actions of the Israeli military/government not wanting the Palestinians to survive (not just Hamas, but also civilians). Likewise, I unequivocally condemn Hamas's killing of civilians by firing rockets into Israel. The number of Israeli civilians killed so far in the recent violence is three. Hamas is clearly responsible for those deaths, and they are not excusable. But likewise, Israel is responsible for hundreds of civilians deaths. So in what way are Hamas and the Israeli government different? The main difference is that one has bigger guns. I have trouble seeing any difference beyond that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What about Hamas?

A friend of mine recently sent me a message on Facebook asking me to cut through the PR efforts of Israel and Hamas, as well as the wide swatch of approaches and blame-games happening in the media from various angles. I wrote him quite a long response starting from square one and thought I would share it with everyone. I hope this helps some people understand, at least from my angle, why Hamas is doing what it's doing in the current conflict.

I also want to preface it by addressing the common catch-all, debate-ending argument that Hamas simply wants to "wipe Israel off the map" or pursue global domination. It is true that the Hamas's charter opposes the existence of an Israeli state. What people who tell you this almost always leave out is that Likud's charter (Likud is the Israeli political party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) opposes the existence of a Palestinian state. It states, "The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." I've had debates at length on this issue, but the fact that both parties essentially say the same thing about each other largely neutralizes the criticism, in my view (other than to say that both are equally bad).

Lastly, I would ask that anyone responding to these thoughts not take any small part of this post and run with it. I know that can be easy to do on matters like this. If something I'm saying seems unjust to you, please ask me to clarify the point. I assure you that what I would like to see in Israel-Palestine (and indeed for all humanity) is for everyone involved to be able to leave in peace and with dignity.

Without further adieu, here's my take on Hamas in the context of the current violence in Gaza (remember, this was written as a personal message to a friend, so I'm just going to paste the relevant section of the message):
Yes, Hamas does lots of stupid and terrible things. In the immediate term, they should stop firing rockets. However, they're in a predicament where it's not clear what they should really do. If they stop firing rockets, Israeli may stop bombing them. That would be good for all of the people living in Gaza. The tough part is that the Israeli and Egyptian governments have a blockade on all of Gaza's borders, meaning few things (including people) are allowed to go in or out. That includes the sea border, where even fishermen get fired upon if they go too far offshore. Gazan students who receive academic scholarships to come to North America are not even permitted to leave. As a result of the blockade, the unemployment rate is obscenely high. Most of the people who live in Gaza are there as refugees (now with new generations born) who lost everything when they were displaced in the wars of 1948 and 1967. By all international laws, they have a right to return to their homes but have been denied that for years. In most cases, the Israeli government either demolished their homes long ago or allowed Jewish settlers from other countries to move into them to becomes Israelis. On top of these circumstances, Israel has the 4th most powerful military in the world. It is in a position with a ton of leverage. If they wanted to make peace and follow international laws, they could do that and eliminate any justifications Hamas is using to continue launching rockets.
The broader issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict is land inside Palestine that the Israeli government has claimed as its own and has encouraged Jewish settlers from other countries to move into. It recognizes the Jews in those settlements as Israeli, even though they don't live in Israel. "Settlement" is actually a bit of a misleading word to refer to these areas because some of them are actually getting to be quite large cities. When Breanna and I visited there on our honeymoon a few years ago, we saw many of them all over the Palestinian territory of the West Bank as we drove from city to city. Those areas of Palestine are considered Jewish-only and are guarded by the Israeli military (again, this is inside Palestinian territory). These settlements are connected to each other and to Israel itself by Jewish-only roads. Israel has also built walls around many of these settlements, and the walls are often built to confiscate more land in Palestinian territory. A huge swath of the land Israel has taken inside the West Bank is very fertile farm land along the west bank (that's where the name comes from) of the Jordan River. We drove through that area, and it's full of crops of all kinds - a stark contrast to the dry desert in many other parts of the country.
Anyway, I could go on, but my point is that there are huge outstanding issues that the Israeli government doesn't even want to debate. And even putting aside how unjust all of these things are, they give groups like Hamas a reason to keep firing rockets. Maybe they would keep firing anyway if Israel moved its settlers off Palestinian land, ended the blockade on Gaza, and allowed refugees to return to their homes (or at least compensated them). It's difficult to say. But if Israel followed these basic international laws, they would be speaking from much firmer ground when they condemn Hamas for firing rockets.
My final point would be that there are many Israelis, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who regularly speak out against what their government does to Palestinians. If you Google groups like Peace Now, B'tselem, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, or Breaking the Silence, you will find that they are saying many of the same things I've said above.