Both sides in the Gaza conflict are ill-defined

There are certain issues that I don’t often write about; this isn’t due to apathy but rather the toxic nature of the debate. Guns are one, abortion is another. The discussion has calcified, and most writing gets subjected to the same, predictable criticism and vitriol. Best avoided when possible.

Currently the focus is on another landmine topic, the State of Israel, the Palestinian territories on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and who’s right, who’s wrong, and who’s justified doing this or that. Take a look at #Gaza on Twitter for about thirty seconds and you’ll be incensed in some way.

No conflict currently active today has more history and nuance around it. By necessity, commentary about it has to be highly simplified and compressed.

A continuing issue when discussing Palestine-Israel: people conflate groups and ideas together.

Even prior to 1948, Judaism and the idea of Israel have been locked together and equated. This despite a long history of Jewish rabbis and academics who were skeptical or against a new, physical state in the Middle East. Because the two are seen as the same, any criticism of Israel must also stand as valid criticism of the Jewish community. If this is maintained and applied, very few arguments against Israeli conduct can exist that are not attacked as antisemitic.

What this can do, and appears to be doing as I write this, is create an anti-Israel movement where legitimate antisemitic elements are not isolated from the swath of regular people. Yesterday the New York Times published a piece on rising antisemitism in Europe. Supporters of Jewish rights and for tolerance in general could use an ally to collaborate with. Unfortunately, people of such a disposition have been lumped together with vandals and thugs, and they rightly resent such association.

Regarding Palestine, there is the conflation of Hamas with the Palestinians in general. When used, this has a serious impact on how civilian causalities are viewed. If everyone is part of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, that means they share moral culpability with rocket attacks and tunnel ambushes. Such thinking is dangerous, as it’s clearly not the case, and a similar merging of Israeli citizens and the Israeli military has  the same problems. Some civilians are incapable of supporting terrorists, including children. Given that civilians have been over two-thirds of the casualties in this conflict, we can see the danger of a mindset where armed militants and unarmed civilians are merged together under the same banner- Hamas.

All people in Israel are not served by these links. Jews, living in Israel or elsewhere, are not served when any criticism of the State of Israel is spun and treated like a personal insult. Palestinians are not served when criticism of Hamas, or armed attacks on Hamas, falls on civilians because of perceived equivalence. To solve any problem, the first step is to define terms. In this case, it is: what is Israel? how does it relate to Judaism? what is Hamas? how does it relate to other groups in Palestine, and the Palestinian people in general? If there is no definition, the very parties in the conflict are uncertain and inaccurate.

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