I don’t know

I was awake half the night. I couldn’t sleep. Yes, the heat was oppressive but that wasn’t it. My mind just wouldn’t let go of what’s happening in Gaza. I don’t have any answers. I don’t know enough about what’s happening to contribute in any meaningful way to the debate.

I have never lived in Israel or in Palestine. Other than spending a week there last year, I know little of what life might be like there. I have no close Palestinian or Israeli friends. I’ve never studied Middle Eastern politics. My knowledge of international affairs is limited at best.

Jewish father and son

And yet, it seems as if I’m expected to have an opinion. Everyone else does. I’ve spent the past few days reading posts on Facebook. I’ve been following links. I’ve been reading newspapers. I’ve been combing through blogs. And one thing that puzzles me is how anyone, anyone not directly caught up in it all or an expert on the subject, can categorically say that they support one side or the other, without question.

I have questions. Lots of them.

How come the stats I see show more Palestinian civilian casualties than Israelis? Could it be that Israelis better protect their civilians while Hamas urges Palestinians to stay put? And storing rockets in schools can’t be safe, can it? I don’t know.

By all accounts, Israel is on the receiving end of more attacks than it makes. And apparently it has offered no military response to many rocket and mortar attacks in recent months. So why then is it the bad guy in this mess? I don’t know.

Graffiti on Bethlehem wall

Yes, the photos of dead kids and dead women are horrendous. The thought of killing kids, any kid, is beyond comprehension. The civilian death toll is abhorrent. Civilian casualties in any war are tragic – but they are a fact of war.  I’m not condoning, I’m not excusing. I’m just saying. For as long as man has been alive, we’ve been killing each other and nothing makes that right.

Graffiti on Bethlehem wall

In today’s technology-driven world, soundbites and photos are practically instantaneous. We see death and rockets and mortars and hear cries and pleas and our hearts bleed for what is happening – and we react. We’re human. But are we are seeing an emotional, knee-jerk and all too human response to a situation that could well be being manipulated (however intentionally or unintentionally) by the world’s media and its sources? I don’t know. I do know that paper will take any print.  I lack faith in the media to report accurately, with full context, exactly what is happening. Which is why I read, and read, and read – and am still none the wiser. For every answer, I find two more questions. Does anyone really know?

I don’t know much. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert. Yet I can’t forget what happened in Bosnia, when the Serbs were castigated by the world’s press, and often rightly so, but equally often as a result of the machinations of the Bosnian PR machine. Even today, Serbia still struggles to shake a reputation that, to my little mind, should equally have been shared with Bosnia. The Serbs I know (and I know quite a few from all walks of life) are, without exception, some of the nicest, kindest, most hospitable, most intelligent people I know and still they’re cast as the bad guys. I am not comparing like with like here, or equating then and now. That would be ridiculous. I just want to voice an underlying concern I have about the possibility of moral manipulation.

Israel Paletsine

Israel isn’t without fault. It takes at least two sides to wage a war. What must it be like for Palestinians to live behind a wall, in a veritable prison? Or to have had to give up their land to create a nation-state for Jews? I don’t know. Yes, I read the testimonies on the Wall and I was moved, very moved. And shocked, and horrified. And yet I wonder what must it be like for Israelis living in a country where their immediate neighbours would prefer if they were wiped off the face of the Earth and their collective might could well accomplish this? I don’t know that, either.

Some say that international laws are being broken, that Israel is in violation by allowing its citizens to live in occupied lands, that it is edging inch by inch into forbidden territory. Others say that Israel has no rights to the land at all. But decisions were made, rightly or wrongly. Some Hungarians might prefer the Trianon Treaty to be reversed just as some Irish might prefer to see a united Ireland. Are they right? Are they wrong? I don’t know.

Israeli fence

Extremists seem to be ruling the day – people who have little or no interest in finding a compromise in a war that is, to my uneducated and unedified mind, about who gets to keep what land. This latest round in a war that has been going on for decades started when Hamas reportedly killed three Israeli students in June. Israeli extremists reportedly responded. There is no denying the numbers…Palestinians are faring very badly, urged are they are to ignore Israel’s warnings of pending attack and stay home. And should they have to move? Are they right to stay? I don’t know – I’m not there. Surely though we need to look behind the numbers. Behind the images?

Wall in Bethlehem

I see petitions to expel Israeli ambassadors. But isn’t diplomacy the only way out of this mess? I see petitions to place sanctions on Israel but who will this really affect? I feel a rising wall of revulsion against Israel and I worry that this won’t stop at hating a country but will degenerate into hating individuals. What must it be like, as an Israeli, to be living anywhere in the world right now? I don’t know. What must it be like as a Palestinian to have your leaders tell you to be brave in the face of death? I don’t know that either.

There is so much that I don’t know. I will continue to ask questions. You might continue to answer them. But then I will ask how you know what you know and why you think as you do. It’s a given that it’s inexcusably wrong to kill kids – but even to this uneducated, unedified mind, there has to be more to it than that. It’s not that simple.

If I don’t agree with your opinion, or I don’t take as gospel what you are saying, or I don’t apologise for asking questions that you believe make me partial to Israel, am I wrong? I can’t pretend to know what I don’t. I can’t see how I could ever take a side without speaking to those involved, without living the lives they live, without growing up in a culture that is so alien to the one I know. If you are happy to do so if you know enough to make your mind up and debate your corner, hats off to you. But please, don’t feel the need to convince me of the same.

By all means, engage me in conversation. Let’s have a discussion. Feel free to share what you believe. But please, don’t evangelise. Be open to what opinions I might have that may not tally with your own. Be open to questions I might ask, even if you don’t have the answers. And please, whichever side you are on, don’t make this about individuals. Nations act in the name of their citizens, but not each and every one of those citizens necessarily agrees.

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16 Responses

  1. I had a conversation earlier today, Ginger, where I wondered why, given what happened particularly during the holocaust, that Jews collectively are not more supportive of those who are also being persecuted. Perhaps they are, and I just don’t see it/read about it/know about. (My bad.) What if Israel decided tomorrow to stop fighting Palestine (being the older of the two). If it downed arms and simply stopped. What I wonder would happen then? I can’t see them living together peacefully in one state. And I can’t see them agreeing on two separate states, either. But living every day wondering what next has to be hell for people on both sides.

    1. They exist. Among Jews, Irish, Hungarians, Americans, etc. etc. etc. They are called moderates. A group being collectively sidelined by belligerent ideologues and extremists on both sides of the aisle.

      When Bush made his “ya either with us or against us” speech I was living in Switzerland, a country that takes a third, unmentioned, path: neutrality. Being neutral is of course an option, but that does not mean it will be tolerable or tolerated by anyone in one or another of the polarized ideologically driven camps.

  2. I’m always worried by the use of the word ‘civilian’ in this sort of situation, and not just the present one. As all too often the belligerent parties are not properly constituted armies trained to observe international conventions on warfare, I feel that ‘unarmed persons’ would be a more suitable term.

    1. While I understand your point, any military personnel that drops all his or her weapons becomes at that instance an ‘unarmed person’. It may make sense to you, but to others it may make less sense without some explanatory and detailed footnotes.

  3. Last night i listened to a BBC radio programme ‘The Moral Maze’ ……….a good production with a sensible chair and panel. There were 4 speakers, 2 for Gaza/Hamas and two for Israel. Like you the panel found it hard to reach a conclusion ………..for myself listenening to the pro Israeli speakers the strong element that came out was what do you expect us to do in the face of such attacks, the pro Gaza/Hamas speakers seemed to be saying we are the weaker side, we have a grievance ( and I do not try to pretend that they don’t) and that allows us to do whatever is necessary to atchieve our aim ( one of the Hamas stated aims is to wipe Israel off the map). It was difficult for the panel to reach a conclusion, the closest was probably saying that the current conflict would come to an end, both sides would say they had won and both would feel that they had atchieved something…………..Israel would feel that they had reduced the capacity of Hamas to attack Israel, Gaza/Hamas would feel that they had increased the amount of world public sympathy they receive. Hmmm!
    My conclusion (for what it was worth) was that Israelis ( Israel a place that I haven’t visited but a people that I think have what I would call a western culture) after having been nearly wiped out as a people now have a home that understandably they cling to literally for dear life are surrounded by people of a quite different culture (one that embraces the current problems in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Iran ect.) and unfortunately as yet there has not been able to be a lasting understanding between the parties…………would anybody like to bet on when that might be? Both sides in the current conflict are supported by others, so lets not pretend that this is about Israel versus the Palestinians in Gaza. Of course the problem would dissapear immediately if Israel gave up and went somewhere else………..I wonder where?
    Like you I have no answers only questions…………as a parent one big question that I have when I hear the terrible stories about the poor children who have been killed in Gaza is this…………….whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, whatever the possible long term aims of certain actions would be, whatever my religious beliefs……………would I leave my children in areas where they might be harmed. My answer is a very loud NO!

    1. Read something today that stuck with me – WWII US casualties in the hundreds of thousands; Nazi Germany casualties in the millions. And who had the moral high ground? It’s a mess.

      1. Not really a valid comparison. For one thing, WWII had been going on for two years before the USA even entered the war in December 1941. Then, major battles involving the US did not occur until the spring of 1942 (Pacific – Battle of the Coral Sea) and fall of 1942 (North Africa – Operation Torch).

        Rather compare total Allied versus total Axis casualties. By the end of the war there were actually more Allied military casualties than Axis (mostly Russian and Chinese).

  4. Enjoyed reading. Thank you for the objectivity. As an Israeli and a Jew, living in Europe, I dont meet many people who actually think, ask questions and disput media biases. Everybody just quote yesterday’s news paper without asking a single “Why”.
    Regarding the UN, dear Gingerpaque, I advise you to check how many arabs/muslim countries are there in the Human Right Council and how many Jewish one and than decide for yourself about the facts.
    Feel free to ask me anything 🙂

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