Commentary | Hyde Park: Beyond the dichotomous debate

War is a terrible thing. It comes with tears, deaths, devastation and raging fires. It comes with aghast civilians caught in fighting, dying children, rubble, shells, rockets, and fear. Some think there is not enough horror there and would like to add smear and lies. In light of the crisis between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, many of us have stakes and many would like to simply take a stand. It should be a stand for dialogue. It has become crucial when writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to decrease not the passion but the tension.

The utterly restrictive and sadly widespread belief that those expressing support for one side must consider the other people as their enemies, and as such unworthy of their compassion, has been propagated on our own campus by irresponsible medias and agitated group leaders. This incredibly divisive argument keeps the moderate voices in the dark.

Perhaps especially in the context of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, words have great meaning and numbers have little bearing. There is little meaning to considerations on the exact proportion of Hamas men to civilians in the 1,300 Palestinian deaths in Gaza, and only pettiness in thinking the exact numbers actually matter. It is plain that too many innocents have died, in Israel as in Gaza. Yet, as we awake to a ceasefire and realize the extent of the devastation caused in Gaza, let us use some restraint before indulging in the all-too-usual branding of Israel as an evil creation of colonialist power.

In a sometimes seemingly senseless world, words have power and sense. It is in no way negating the suffering of civilians in Gaza to remark that Israel is far from committing genocide. Israel is not trying to annihilate the Palestinians, is not deliberately targeting civilians, and is not starving an entire people. Israel is not a fascist state, in fact it is (arguably with Lebanon) the only democratic country of this region. It is in no way denying that Palestinian civilians have been the primary victims of this conflict to remind that some of their suffering has also been self-inflicted: by the Hamas government using its own population as human shields, rejecting ceasefires, and Egyptian mediations, and by the terrorists using schools and homes as rocket launching bases.

If anything, the use of such words as genocide – along with slogans that borderline anti-Semitism in demonstrations, and with words negating Israel’s right to exist – isolate the voices calling for compromise on both sides of the front lines. They cloud the debate and alienate, they divide along Manichean lines a conflict so old and so long that its complexity is hard to grasp. What’s more, they insinuate that the suffering of the population of Gaza is not great enough, not terrible enough to be described by words that actually apply. Have the Gazans really not suffered enough that proper characterization would fail to catch the world’s attention? Or is it just rather that it failed to arouse enough anger and calls for revenge?

This ceasefire brings a renewed opportunity for dialogue. Our campus leaders would do well to seize it to appease their own base. An educational institution is no place for slander and hate, but an ideal environment for discussion and exchange.

Perle Nicolle is a U4 Mechanical Engineering student. Get the discussion started at perle.nicolle@mail.mcgill.ca.


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