Commentary | Israel, Gaza, and you

Show pride without contempt

Consider the following statement:

Given the present conditions, we have extended far more patience to our neighbor than they deserve, offered generous terms of peace, and countless compromises, yet they have persistently violated the terms of our ceasefires, and offered us nothing. We will not tolerate the unremitting terrorization of our people, nor the constant threat facing our very nationhood. After the most extensive reflection it is decided that we are left with no other option than to commence combat operations against our enemies, utilizing the full extent of our military capabilities. As citizens, we expect your full and unbridled support during this crisis. Only united can we prevail in these trying times.

Changing certain parts to directly name Israel or Gaza, I shared this blurb with some friends who hold very strong views on the matter. Both sides felt that my statement very accurately described their nation’s side in the conflict. This simultaneously gives me great hope and worries me tremendously.

I am hopeful because my beliefs are reaffirmed that on the most human level, the people of Israel and Palestine are very much the same; they both feel threatened, and desperate for means to defend themselves. It is easy to see why; as of writing, five Israelis and 136 Palestinians have been killed with hundreds of injuries. Neither people want another outbreak of violence, but see no other option than to strike “preemptively” in “retaliation” for the other nation’s “acts of aggression.”

What worries me is that the people of Israel and Palestine are aware of this reality, yet continue on their path. What worries me is that no matter how successful their operations are, they will not move one inch closer to lasting peace. No matter how effectively Hamas launches rockets into Israeli cities, no matter how many buildings they damage or civilians they kill, they will not achieve their goals. Likewise, no matter how effective the Israeli Defense Force’s bombing campaign is, no matter how many Hamas military leaders they assassinate, they will not achieve their goals. As a matter of fact, the greater the effectiveness of their operations, the more improbable success becomes. Effective rocket strikes against Israel will only lead to more punishing interference in the lives of Palestinians, and more support for nationalistic politicians. Effective aerial bombings of Hamas military operations (which inevitably result in civilian deaths) will only lead to more radicalized young men ready to take up arms against those who killed their families. The vicious cycle will continue.

Unlike what seems to be the norm in realm of political writing, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I can offer a solution to this crisis. Far more intelligent men and women have devoted time and energy to this problem, with little to show for it. I have no ivory tower delusions that the passage of some magical law will bring peace to the region: it takes a special amount of fanaticism to believe that objectively deciding on “who was there first” will somehow convince the losers of that agreement to vacate the premises. Likewise, only people wearing patched elbows and bow ties or straightjackets believe that settling the “chicken or the egg” argument (over which side started this round of aggression) will somehow make the soldiers kiss and make up.

And I won’t be appealing to my national government, or any other. The U.S. and Europe customarily stated their support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Russia and most Muslim nations customarily condemned any military action against Gaza. Everyone and their grandmother customarily expressed concern for civilian casualties and urged restraint. The sun rises in the east. No protest, demonstration, or declaration by a bourgeois university halfway around the world will change that. But most of all, I see no reason to appeal to Israeli and Palestinian leaders: their hands are tied by the nationalist fervour of their constituencies.

Instead, I want to appeal to the people who tied their hands, particularly the enormous diaspora of both nations. This geopolitical conflict is more divisive than any other, jumping the hurdles of borders, languages and generations without skipping a beat. This week in my high school, which has a sizable Jewish population, a student in the grade 11 was assaulted by group of his classmates over a social media argument about the conflict. Concurrently, a pro-Palestinian student group at nearby York University displayed, to put it mildly, anti-Semitic banners around campus. Even with the meager expectations I have for our generation, I found this appalling.

Young Israelis and Palestinians of McGill, Jews and Muslims of Canada, do yourself a favour. Despite your overwhelming desire to do, contain your demonstrations of patriotism. Distinguish between showing pride for your country and contempt for your neighbors. Express concern for the safety of all civilians, not a desire to bomb those responsible for their suffering. And just as importantly, develop a tolerance for the other side – appreciate the similarity of their concerns. They are not fascists or sociopaths; no race or religion is composed of rats or dogs. These are people just like you, worried about the lives of their friends and families, just like you.

Alexei Simakov is a U1 International Development Studies student. He tried really hard not to offend anyone with this article, and can be reached at alexei.simakov@mail.mcgill.ca.


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