Who Are The Two Sides?
There have been protests and counter-protests across the U.S. about the Israeli attack on Palestine, and the two sides of the conflict don't agree about much, including how to identify themselves. I call my side "anti-war / anti-occupation," but to the other side, we are "Hamas supporters," or even anti-Semitic! To me, this other side is "pro-war," or "pro-Israeli" but they self-identify as "Jews," or "pro-democracy" or even "pro-diversity."
Antisemitism, Anti-terrorism and "We Have The Right to Defend Ourselves"
Obama and everyone else can repeat over and over that Israel has the right to defend itself, but no one ever asks them if Palestine has the same right. Acting in one's self-defense can't explain many things Israel does. Using white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas is unjustified no matter what. Even if military responses were justified, they still solve nothing, only fueling resentment and conflict.
"We have to kill them because they want to kill us," "they are protesting Israel because they are Antisemitic," and "we hate them only because they hate us" are indeed not very sophisticated arguments, yet I imagine they aren't going away any time soon.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said recently in a press conference "What Israel is doing is pure self-defense, and this is not about the Israel / Palestine conflict but our need to fight terrorism."
Can someone please ask why her Palestinian attacks are terrorism and Israel attacks are anti-terror? As far as I am concerned, Israel and Hamas commit terrorism constantly. Using any objective criteria -- which side is using more explosive yield, which side is killing more civilians, which side is killing a higher proportion of civilians -- Palestinians are the more terrorized of the two sides. But, in the code-language of post-911 U.S. rhetoric, the Israeli politicians and U.S. corporate newscasters reflect the idea that Americans should support Israel's occupation and attacks. Like here, acts of terror are committed in the name of anti-terrorism. With both sides acting as terrorists, it is sensible to ask the question: which side is doing more. It seems to be a question that Israel doesn't want asked.
The pro-war folks make the argument that proportionality is meaningless when it comes to fighting Hamas, for various reasons. Comparing the degrees of brutality is a normal human reaction to any aggression, but the spin has been that we shouldn't do that in this case for various reasons, including: "they don't value life as we do," "they need to learn their lesson," "they're more cold-hearted than we are," "no one talked about disproportionality in the fire-bombing of Dresden," and "they're on the wrong side of history." Any justification that leads us to conclude that "our side" deserves special rights to be more brutal, is racist. Again, if we apply any objective criteria to the conflict, then we conclude that Israel is the greater aggressor, the dominant partner in any decision-making, and the more out of line with international law. These considerations are crucial when deciding how to use whatever influence we have for peace. When we try to examine the proportions of the brutality, it is common to find Israel is brutal on a scale 20 to 200 times that of Palestine.
Why Are You Challenging Israel More Than Hamas?
There are two good reasons to protest Israel's crimes more than those of Hamas. Israel is the greater aggressor, and Israel is more responsive than Hamas to U.S. pressure. We have incredible levels of influence over Israel, we supply money and weapons to Israel, and we are connected in that both of our consumer cultures were based on an initial land grab. Protesting Israel can be a way of using the influence we have to bring peace. This has nothing to do with "supporting Hamas." We can remain critical of Hamas yet point out that Israel is much more brutal and much more within our power to stop.
If there was a fight between my brother (who I can influence) and a homeless guy down the street (who I cannot), in which over the last few years my brother broke 200 bones in the guy's body, and in return had one of his bones broken, damn right I would try to stop my brother from going out there and fighting again. Does that mean I necessarily support crimes committed by the homeless guy? Of course not. I may well understand he is homeless and doesn't have a lot of options, without saying "I support this guy to snatch purses." Another aspect of why peace activists focus more on Israel than Hamas is that we see Israel as having more options at its disposal.
Per capita GDP in Israel is $20,000, and Palestine it's around $800. Israel's military spending alone, about $13 billion per year, is over 4 times the entire GDP of Palestine. Israel controls access to Palestine and has international airports, while Palestine's airport was destroyed by Israel. With Israel's power and resources come options. Like the U.S., which spent trillions on attacking Iraq instead of helping Iraq, Israel has always had many options in how to spend its money. War is often portrayed as a last resort, yet the U.S. and Israeli governments act as if it is the obvious solution.
Israel Is the Lone Democratic Tolerant State in the Region
A friend of mine pointed out that gays have more rights, safety and freedom in Israel than Palestine. This could well be true, but I think it's inappropriate to compare a society that has been under constant poverty, blockades, occupation and attack for generations with one that has had the privileges of a "first-world" nation. Palestinians, like any other people, become gradually more tolerant with more education, more exposure to differences, more material comfort, more security, more space, and more freedom. Israel is the single biggest factor in driving Palestinian intolerance.
A Jerusalem Post editorial tries to argue that people are hypocrites if they would to prefer to live in Israel than under Hamas and yet act as if Israeli crimes are the same as or worse than those of Hamas. The skipped logical step here is that the material conditions or intolerance in Palestine and Israel are not necessarily in proportion to how many crimes they have committed. Indeed, an argument could be made that the inverse is true -- that the level of brutality of one side is indicated by the state in which it leaves the other. To the nonsense argument that Israel is the lone democracy, we need only notice that Israel's last two attacks, against Lebanon and Palestine, were both against democracies.
War Brings Peace?
Livni continued with her rhetoric: "And what we are doing today in Gaza strip is not against the peace process, but for the peace process.... In order to strengthen the moderates and the legitimate government, we need to weaken the others. This is now the conflict. On the one side there is Israel, the legitimate Palestinian government, other moderate states in the region, they don't want Hamas to have any kind of victory on this because they have their own radical elements. So in changing the perception of the conflict I hope there is a better understanding that in doing so we can continue the peace the process. It doesn't stop the peace process, it helps the moderates." Marvin Gaye said simply: "War is not the answer; Only love can conquer hate." But responding to Livni's spiel on a more cynical level also, Israel only strengthens the popularity of the Palestinian groups it attacks.
We're Doing Everything We Can Not To Kill Civilians
This line is repeated by Israelis more than a cop who kills an unarmed person says "I felt in fear for my life," but they're both nonsense. Doing everything you can not to kill civilians would include not massacring them and dropping chemical weapons on them.
We Don't Need to Talk to Them / Hamas Is Not a Legitimate Partner for Negotiations
Imagine a country telling the U.S. that it would only negotiate with a political party not currently in power -- imagine the Russian president saying he would only negotiate with Ralph Nader or Sarah Palin and not Obama.
They're Smuggling Arms / They Started It
Israel is allowed to obtain, transport, and use arms, but Palestine is not? Whatever "they" do is an attack and whatever "we" do is a response?