An Open Letter to Israeli and Palestinian Hawks

Israeli Apartheid Week artwork

Dear Israeli hawks:

What are you thinking?

I realize that you consider every destructive, civilian killing, infrastructure shattering air raid you launch on the impoverished people of the Gaza Strip to be an act of self-defence against the terrorism of Hamas and other militant groups, and that every cheap rocket fired at you from the Strip represents an existential danger. You have even managed to convince most of the mainstream media (at least in North America) of this rocket-and-retaliation narrative. But reality is considerably more complicated.

Forget for a moment the near impossibility of determining who “started” any given Israeli-Palestinian flare-up. If we wish to rise above the proverbial cycle of violence in search of root causes, we are left with three explanations: the blockade of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank, and, to a lesser extent, the refugee crisis that has been ongoing since 1948.

Your blockade, enforced with Egyptian assistance, has never limited itself to purely military concerns. The import of fuel and construction equipment is heavily restricted, and your government has at times reportedly counted calories to determine how much food to allow into the Strip. From day one, the intent was to strangle the Gazan economy and pressure its long suffering civilians.

None of this excuses Palestinian violence, but the importance of these issues must be acknowledged. Context matters, and so does scale. As of this writing, the death toll from the current escalation is at least forty on the Palestinian side and three on the Israeli side. This ratio is fairly standard.

It is therefore incumbent upon you to accept an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and bring an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Dear Palestinian hawks:

You are not helping.

I realize that the humanitarian crisis brought on by the ongoing blockade or siege on Gaza fosters anger, desperation, and extremism, but you need to recognize that you will never defeat a nuclear-armed, American-backed regional superpower militarily. Not only are your constant rocket attacks ineffective; they are positively counterproductive. They produce an unreasoning impulse for revenge among Israelis no less than Israeli strikes do among you.

Furthermore, in addition to the above strategic considerations, any act of violence against civilians is morally reprehensible and a war crime. This applies both to your actions and to Israel’s. I do not mean to present a false equivalence; it is not even close. After all, context matters, and so does scale. But a death is a death is a death. Crimes cannot be justified simply because the other side is doing it more.

It is therefore incumbent upon you to accept an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

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4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Israeli and Palestinian Hawks

  1. David,

    You are a good friend of mine. Though I was very upset of you blog here, I am trying to be polite as much as possible. But please accept my apology in advance if there is anything offensive to you.

    Nobody likes violence. Even George Bush said it was unavoidable military action for the sake of peace when he invaded Iraq. We have to look at the background history and current circumstance carefully before we criticize the violent protest. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any of your effort to understand the situation why Palestinian had to choose the rocket attack.

    As you mentioned last night, humanism and civilization can be progressed by the peaceful movement little by little. I partly agree with that. But we don’t know how many innocent sacrifice has been made during the peaceful progress. We don’t even know how many people trying to change their situation by peaceful movement but come across unresponsive result until they unavoidably choose violent way or self-destructive way of protest. I believe the most situation you have found the noticeable result or change that came from peaceful protest must be associated with the media exposure. There are currently more than thousands of peaceful protest occur in the world I believe but nobody knows about that until the media involved in that movement. Like the situation some lady picketing against that McDonald treat chicken violently before they cook it, media will love the situation and pretty much all North American will enjoy the situation. But, how Palestinian mother can explain her situation that lost her innocent son by the genocide of Israeli to western media with just picketing?

    You also said the violent protest can provide very good excuse to the invader. Yes. I agree. But, so what? You and I both know that is just a good excuse or co-factor that can expedite the invader’s attack, not a REASON to cause the attack. No matter if there is a violent protest or not, US or Israeli would invade just for the sake of their PROFIT as soon as they find another justification. When Saddam Hussein accept the international investigation for MDW and even though (or as soon as) the committee didn’t find any evidence of mass destructive weapon in Iraq, US invaded Iraq and killed hundred thousand people including 70,000 civilian.

    You mentioned the violent protest can be strategically considered as inefficient way. But I think those kinds of mention should be claimed only in the same battle field. I mean, you and I both are not qualified to mention about the strategy of the people who have lost their son and daughter, and their history and dignity, and still being attacked on-going basis by Israeli Zionism fundamentalists. We are living in the country 7000 miles away from that field and we even haven’t had a single chance to get beaten or assaulted for years. We don’t understand how seriously they struggle to make the decision of the rocket attack even if it is very clear that attack can be used as a good excuse for re-attack.

    Please take down this letter. Your mention about Palestinian hawk can be interpreted not only a thoughtless mention but also serious verbal harassment to the ordinary Palestinian mother who had to witnessed her son and daughter got ripped piece by piece by Israeli air strike. They will respect our opinion when we have a similar situation as that Palestinian mother in that battle field but still want to claim the peaceful way of protest. But, for now, please take down the letter from you blog.

    Respectfully

    Kay

    • Hi Kay,

      Thanks for your comment. I consider you a good friend too, and good friends are allowed to disagree. So that’s okay. But I will not be removing anything I have written.

      You mention rightly that I am not in a situation remotely similar to that of a Palestinian mother who lost her child and that I am in no position to judge. Israelis routinely make this same kind of point when they are criticized. I have always felt that, while it is important to acknowledge that different people find themselves in drastically different circumstances, we should try to assess arguments on their own substantive merits rather than suggest that some people are not qualified to have an opinion.

      You say that I make no effort to understand why some Palestinian groups have resorted to rocket attacks, but I mention very explicitly in my post the three root causes of the current conflict: the blockade, the occupation, and the refugee crisis. If all Palestinian attacks were to stop immediately, these three injustices would still be in place, so you are absolutely right to say that Hamas’s rockets are not the ultimate cause of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. But they are not irrelevant either.

      Human societies tend to be very complex and multifaceted, and Israeli society is no exception. Not all Israelis are hawks (the same goes for Palestinians too), but when they are faced with rocket fire on civilians, the position of the hawks within Israel is strengthened, and long-term prospects for peace are diminished. (Again, the same can be said of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians.) Furthermore, rocket attacks make the international community less inclined to support the Palestinian cause, and honestly, I can see no way for this conflict to end without significant international pressure on Israel — both diplomatic and economic.

      The ultimate question is this: do Hamas’s rocket attacks have positive or negative consequences? If positive, how? And if negative, well, shouldn’t they be condemned?

      But I really do appreciate your comment, Kay. Thanks again for writing, and please feel free to keep doing so.

      • David,

        There seems to be some misunderstanding or communication breakdown. It was my fault. It needed to be more clear.

        The blockade, Occupancy and Refugee crisis have always been main issue of the conflict for last 60+ years. For the time being, there were actual battles and terrorism as well as political negotiation and peace treatment. You mentioned the background history of the conflicts in your blog but why do you think Hamas launched rocket attack this time when US Democratics government successfully sustain their political life and Egypt has LESS US friendly government established? That was my ultimate question when I heard the news of the rocket attack and I haven’t noticed your effort to understand that fact.

        Yes. I partly agree international pressure may help for the doves in Israel strengthen their voice in the parliament (Honestly, I don’t really know there is any historical example one country quit their occupancy because of international pressure though. And I don’t know if there was any time US quit supporting Israel because of international pressure). And as I respect the power of public opinion, I think it is still important to form the right trend of public opinion regarding certain incident no matter we are suffering the same situation or not. I agree with that part.

        The part I pointed out was you (and I) are not in the position to criticize Hamas’s violent protest based on strategic consideration without any detail information or similar experience. Do you really think they never have considered of international feedback before the rocket launch? Like the situation you are in the battlefield, and you just witnessed your civilian friend (it could be ME!!) has been torn down by piece after the enemy’s attack. Can you really plan the peaceful way of protest to consider the international feedback at that time? Yes, there was just one person did that in civilization history, who was Mahātma Gandhi and he has been revered as a saint. Non-violent protest in battlefield is that much difficult to be accomplished because it has to overcome all the hatred or political consideration and should be formed under the respect of humanism and the victim’s dignity. That was what I meant when I said you are not in the position to blame the violent protest under the strategic consideration.

        Warfare destroy all humanity. I know there must be Israeli mother who suffering similar circumstance as Palestinian mother. But it is not fair to blame the violence in general and criticize each side in same weight. When we blame violence, we blame the situation that one taking out something from the other by force. We don’t usually blame the physical activity to keep their property or freedom from outer intrusion, which is so called self-defense. Considering the background history and current circumstance, which side is trying to taking things out from which side? Who is invader and who is victim? Regretfully, Just because of that fact, I have to stand by Palestinian side and ignore Israeli side even though I am not 100% supporting many of discriminative stuffs in Palestinian society. I believe that would eventually be supportive of the invader if we keep focusing on the violence of the each side in same weight because that will blurred the fact of invasion at same time.

        Again, my question is why Hamas did Rocket attack at this moment even if it is REALLY clear the trend of international public opinion can be formed negative way. Was it politically considered? Are there negotiation under the table between Israeli Hawks and Palestinian Hawks? Or Was it a just pay back for the incident that never been disclosed internationally? I don’t know. And I have very limited source of the information about the incident, mostly only through western media like CNN. So I wouldn’t judge their attack this time, just like I don’t want to blame the revenge of the mother who lost her daughter killed after sexual assault.

        Once again, Warfare destroy all humanity. That’s the nature of war and that’s why we are desperately opposing War. But I don’t think that can be an excuse when we criticize the each side in same weight. More than that, we have to focus on who is taking the profit and taking advantage of this humanitarian crisis.

        Respectfully

        Kay

        • Hi Kay,

          You are right to point out that we should not condemn both sides with equal weight, but that is not what I do. In my post, I devote almost twice as much text to examining what Israelis are doing wrong as I do to Palestinians. I use lines like “I do not mean to present a false equivalence” and “context matters, and so does scale.” The three root causes that I identify are all Israeli rather than Palestinian responsibilities. I also note the extreme asymmetry in the death toll. These are all good reasons to take the Palestinian side, as both you and I do, but that does not mean that we must endorse every tactic of every Palestinian group.

          As for explaining why Hamas chose to launch rocket attacks at this particular moment in history, I am not so sure that they did. For many years now, there has been nearly constant low-level warfare between Israel and the Palestinians. It is just that every one in a while, that warfare rises in intensity, and this appears to be one of those times. But I don’t think it is fair to attribute this decision solely to Hamas. Yes, there has been speculation that perhaps they want to regain credibility they may have lost to the more extreme militant groups in Gaza, but others have argued that it was Israel that chose to escalate this conflict due to its upcoming election or maybe as a prelude to war with Iran.

          Regarding the role of the international community, global pressure played a big part in helping South Africans to overthrow apartheid. Many of those who took part in the anti-apartheid struggle point this out, and so do the Palestinian activists who started the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel. Also, in 1991, even US President George HW Bush threatened to withhold loans to Israel to pressure its leaders to take part in peace talks. It is hard to imagine a US President doing something like that now, but if it happened then, it could happen again in the future.

          Finally, I mentioned a very interesting study to you yesterday about the effectiveness of non-violent resistance and some of its historical successes. Here it is if you are interested:

          http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/IS3301_pp007-044_Stephan_Chenoweth.pdf

          Who knows? There may be methodological flaws in the study. But still, the discussion is a fascinating one.

          A pleasure talking to you as always.

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