The tragic war unfolding in the Middle East desperately needs compassion, not calls for more death and destruction
Can we denounce Hamas’ attacks without being labeled a Zionist shill and defend Palestinian civilians without being labeled pro-terrorist? If not, then we have a serious problem.
Israel and Hamas are locked in a shooting war. It’s understandable when Israelis and Palestinians, as rockets rain down on their heads, take extremely and indiscriminately aggressive positions against the respective other side in the conflict. Those of us observing the fighting from a distance don’t have to do the same – and the fact that a middle-ground position is often criticized as appeasement is proof of how irrational and extreme Western discourse has become.
Ever since Gaza-dwelling Hamas attackers invaded Israel to kill and kidnap innocent Israeli civilians, and Israel responded by dropping bombs that have killed equally innocent Palestinian civilians, the rhetoric in support of both Israel and Palestine has veered to the extreme. This is about the last thing that this conflict needs. Unfortunately, those with the most power and influence are some of the very worst offenders.
Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorism. That’s not a controversial position to take. Terrorism is bad. We get it. Everyone gets it. Only the most extreme radicals would ever suggest otherwise.
Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians were the very definition of terrorism – an assault by non-state actors on civilians for political or ideological reasons. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean that you’re some kind of rabid Zionist, or that you’re in favor of giving carte blanche to Israel to react by indiscriminately bombing civilians or by failing to take reasonable measures to protect innocents in a proportionate response.
The initial rhetoric of Western leaders – most notably, the US president and secretary of state, the only ones with any sort of influence on Israel – should have included this balanced perspective. How hard is it to say that, yes, Israel was indeed the victim of an indisputable terrorist act. However, in light of how Israel keeps ignoring United Nations Security Council resolutions in its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, care must be taken to ensure that any retort is not used as a pretext for further victimization of Palestinians. At the very least, everyone should be concerned with not wanting to create future generations of embittered victims ripe for radicalization.
It would also have been valuable for the US administration to have painstakingly underscored and emphasized the difference between the Hamas terrorists who perpetrated the attack and the Palestinian people as a whole. This could have been particularly helpful in response to the Israeli defense minister’s statement referencing the “human animals” that his country was fighting, while failing to make an explicit distinction between Hamas and regular Palestinian civilians. Where was the Western leadership with a “not all Palestinians are animals – just the terrorists” statement? Would that really have been so controversial that they couldn’t be bothered to speak up?
Resistance to oppression is justified. This slogan, used by pro-Palestinian protesters in the US on the weekend of the Hamas attacks on Israel, is also not a controversial position to take. What is not ever justified is terrorism – but there are those among the Palestinians who see it as the only kind of resistance left to them. And as evidenced by some of the rallies taking place thousands of miles away from the front lines, not all who think so are actual Hamas militants. If Washington officials continue to tilt the playing field that desperately needs leveling, more and more people will start believing that killing and kidnapping innocents is a “justified” form of “resistance,” and more and more people on the other side will start thinking in terms like “human animals.”
Uncompromising rhetoric in response to terrorism has been a Western staple since the September 11, 2001, attacks on US soil. As then President George W. Bush said at the time, you were either with America and its allies, or with the terrorists. A bipartisan green light was given for total eradication. As someone based in Washington, DC, at the time, and working at a think tank, I witnessed how the neoconservative perspective ruled overwhelmingly – at least initially. There was almost no one suggesting that bombing Afghanistan, killing Osama bin Laden, and liquidating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban wasn’t likely to solve the problem once and for all.
It was only when the bombing of Afghanistan ended up just being a gateway to the bombing of Iraq that some dissenting voices started asking how many more countries would need to be bombed before America and the West would consider themselves permanently safe from terrorism.
How’d all that ultimately work out for the West? Over 20 years later, we now know the answer. No amount of bombing is going to eradicate terrorism when many of its perpetrators consider it an act of resistance to oppression – and that such oppression often comes in the form of bombings or other military incursions under the often-abused pretext of… fighting terrorism.
Acknowledging that the bombing of civilians in the Middle East risks radicalizing enough of the survivors to perpetuate the problem doesn’t make someone a terrorist sympathizer or apologist. It just means that you’re more interested in a pragmatic resolution than ideological positions or actions that risk perpetuating the problem.
While the EU and the UN have started to recognize the suffering of Palestinian civilians by at least trying to set up a humanitarian corridor to Gaza and warning against ethnic cleansings, all the US has done is double down on its militant, one-sided approach to the problem. It has sent aircraft carriers to support Israel and made threats at Iran.
But what is perhaps more chilling – and definitely more indicative of the attitude problem at hand – is how the State Department has reportedly advised American diplomats to avoid calling for “de-escalation,” “ceasefire,” and an “end to bloodshed” in the current Israel-Palestine war. The people in the perfect position to inject some reason into the ongoing madness and perhaps foster a pragmatic resolution are instead choosing a black-and-white approach that will only see things spin further out of control. The last thing that the rest of us need to be doing is following their lead.
October 18, 2023 at 01:18AM