Friday, January 16, 2009

Balancing Act

I may have upset some of my Jewish friends with my criticism of the Israeli government's extreme aggression in Gaza. If so, I should clarify. I am not "pro-Palestinian" in any sense of the word, just as I am not anti-Semitic. In fact, I prefer to erase labels of race and culture, and treat all people simply as human beings. Public opinion research the world over has shown that there are certain basic human values common to nearly all people: fairness, justice, respect, freedom... Unfortunately, these values often take a back seat when people self-identify culturally or nationally, or when their religious ideology is at odds with their values. Peace can only be attained when human values are the basis of relationships.

Underlying my observations about the Israeli government's actions in Gaza are the questions: Is this fair? Is this just? Is this respectful of the Palestinian people? Does this advance the cause of freedom and peace? In every case the answer is no. In fact, the entire history of the relationship between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people is marked by disregard for these basis human values. Land grabs, illegal settlements, restrictions on travel, harassment, arrogance, a sense of religious entitlement, and an underlying attitude that Palestinians are sub-human are defining features of Israeli government policy.

I make no excuses for Hamas' militancy. In fact, I appeal to the Palestinian people to follow the Ghandian path to freedom and justice. By utilizing non-violent means the Palestinians can deny the Israeli government the most powerful tool that Israel has used to justify the oppression of Palestine: the claim that they are fighting "terrorists." If Hamas would fundamentally change course and resort to massive PEACEFUL protests instead of acts of violence and provocation, they could swing world opinion so completely on the side of the Palestinian people that a just solution would have to arise. The powerful examples of colonial India and the US civil rights movement are textbook cases of the effectiveness of non-violence as the path to justice, freedom, peace, and respect. It is not only a morally unassailable tactic, it is wonderfully strategic and effective, for it will show the people of the world Israeli government policy for what it really is.

The reason my criticism has been aimed at the Israeli government is that their actions have been and continue to be so extreme--and the casualties of war so disproportionately on the side of Palestinian civilians--as to make Hamas look almost like a pacifist movement by comparison. Public opinion is a powerful tool for change. Unfortunately, Israel has lost--and continues to lose--credibility and sympathy in the eyes of the world. "Going wild" (the term used by one senior Israeli official to describe their aggression in Gaza) may be gratifying to an angry mob, but it is counterproductive and has done the state of Israel enormous harm.


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