On October 7th, members of Hamas attacked villages on the Israeli border. In an attack on innocent civilians, they killed at least 1400 Israelis. These included men, women and children. Some women were raped. This was wrong.
For the past weeks, Israeli military has attacked military targets in the Gaza strip. In doing so, they have bombed homes and schools. By one estimate, over 40% of the homes in Northern Gaza have been damaged or demolished. As of this writing, at least 10,00 people have been killed, most of them civilians, not including those who are lost under rubble. At least 4000 of those killed were children. This is wrong.
Imagine a nation who lives in constant fear of its neighbors – where many of its neighbors reject its very right to exist, and who have habitually launched missiles into its borders. Imagine living in perpetual terror. This is how many Israelis live. It is wrong.
Imagine a district about twice the area of Boston, but with the same population density. Imagine that the residents of this district were poorer than the poorest of Boston. Imagine that all food, water, and medicine were cut off from this district, and that no one was allowed to move in and out. This is what has happened to Gaza. This is wrong.
Imagine a group of people who have been persecuted for hundreds of years – a group who were the victims of the holocaust – the worst attempted genocide in history. Imagine a people that continues to suffer persecution in the various lands they live. This is wrong.
Imagine that residents of an enclave were told that a ground invasion were imminent. Imagine one half of this district – 1.1 million people — were told to immediately vacate their homes and move to the other half of the district – a district with no access to food, water, or medicine. This is happening in Gaza. This is wrong.
The history of this conflict contains a long litany of wrongs attacks launched by each side against the other. Each side has felt morally justified in their actions. Indeed, as you read this, you may experience yourself making a series of arguments that you feel may justify the actions of one or the other group.
If you are doing this, it is understandable. It is also, I suggest, part of the problem.
When we seek ways to justify or blame the actions of one side or the other, we will certainly find them. This is, however, precisely what causes conflicts like this to endure. So long as parties continuously seek revenge, so long as they justify their violence as a justified response to the other side, the moral tit-for-tat will continue. Violence that will likely extend beyond the borders of the present conflict.
In a conflict, there are generally three classes of options. If we have strength but a limited capacity to create ideas, we will try to decimate the other side. If we have ideas but no strength, we are forced to capitulate. If we have strength and the capacity for ideas, we can work to transform the relationship between warring parties.
To do this, each side must try to put aside moral judgment – no matter how painful it is to do so. They must acknowledge their own pain, and the pain on the other. They must then seek to identify the unmet needs of all involved and seek to meet those needs collaboratively.
Israel has a need to have their claim to a homeland accepted. They have a need to live without fear of being attacked by neighbors. The Palestinians have a need for self-determination, to be free of constraints of Israeli regulation. They also need to have their historical sense of being uprooted from land that they claimed as their home to be acknowledged.
Israel is the side with the power. The Israeli government seeks to decimate Hamas in a dramatic show of force. Perhaps they believe that will teach a lesson to those who would attack Israel. Perhaps they feel that doing so will lead Palestinians to turn on Hamas. More likely, the invasion will be a breeding ground for further resistance.
Even if the Israelis prove successful in their goals, it is difficult to understand how the ends could ever justify the means. When President Biden announced his full support for the Israeli military operation against Gaza, we became complicit in a heinous wrong. The fact that it was followed by a previous heinous wrong does not mitigate this claim.
To seek to meet the needs of all parties to this conflict, Israel must collaborate with representatives of the Palestinian people. What happens, however, when one makes the judgment – right or wrong — that one’s negotiation partners are unwilling to do so?
Here’s but one approach. Instead of seeking to decimate Hamas, seek to marginalize them. Instead of destroying Gazan infrastructure, invest in factions of Palestinian people who are open to new ways of being. Work with the population. Help them build economic, social, and political infrastructure. Show them their needs and long-standing grievances matter.
Triangulate Hamas and related groups. Yes, protect oneself against them – even seek them out and eliminate them. But show people who may be open to improving relations that Israel can be a constructive and reliable partner — and not an enemy.
Argue for Israel’s right to exist. But do not ignore the equally compelling sentiment, shared among many Arabs, that Israel was thrust upon them against their will. Instead of eye-for-an-eye, launch a truth-and-reconciliation process.
If you are thinking that this is an impossible task – if you are already identifying reasons why something like this can’t happen, it is understandable. However, I suggest, it is also part of the problem.
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