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.

Syria’s civil war machine keeps chugging

Last week an estimate came out; with over 1,700 dead, the third week in July may have been the deadliest in the Syrian conflict to date. This combines with a press conference held by a regime defector who has tens of thousands of pictures of dead Syrians, who had been brutally tortured. This man surfaced back in January, which led to a post I made located here, which links to a gallery of photos, most not for the faint of heart.

Destruction in the middle of Homs, Syria. Credit: Yazen Homsy, Reuters

In the international community, a cadre has long hoped that the Syrian conflict would reach a stalemate. The parties would then be open to a negotiated settlement, and large-scale violence would cease.

There has been no slowing down. Syria’s army, the Free Syrian Army, the fundamentalists, the Kurds, and all the other groups trying to survive are not out of will and fight.

Assad’s regime continues to get heavy weapons from Russia, while the Islamic State is now making huge sums from the oil fields it has captured. As long as the various factions have the money and arms to sustain a struggle, the idea of a lasting peace seems absurd.

 

 

War brings people together. War gets dissenters thrown in prison.

 

Eugene V. Debs- socialist, labor organizers, snappy dresser, jailed for opposing World War I.
Eugene V. Debs- socialist, labor organizers, snappy dresser, jailed for opposing World War I.

Hopefully this will be part of a trend towards a more critical approach to how World War I affected the United States: The Atlantic published “Why Wars Always End Up Hurting the Most Vulnerable Americans” yesterday. A choice quote:

Most Americans have forgotten how repressive a period World War I was. “You can’t even collect your thoughts without getting arrested for unlawful assemblage,” quipped the writer Max Eastman. “They give you ninety days for quoting the Declaration of Independence, six months for quoting the Bible.” Walter Lippmann said Woodrow Wilson’s administration had “done more to endanger fundamental American liberties than any group of men for a hundred years.”

What it comes down to is that there are two sides to any event, like a war or a terrorist attack, which rallies people together. There is union, but also violence and repression to those that are in the wrong place (or of the wrong race, or nationality) at the wrong time. Triumph over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan gets so much romanticism, but for 100,000+ Japanese-Americans who were herded into camps, they suffered because of the drive to war. Intellectuals of both liberal and conservative background have often welcomed war as an engine for social good, but as Randolph Bourne thought, “using war powers to achieve domestic reform is like using a firehose to fill a water glass”. Social solidarity in wartime comes with special symptoms: jingoism, inflexibility, and mob sanction.

1917 wasn’t just about giving the Kaiser a good licking, it was about government-led oppression against trade unionists, socialists, and anyone who opposed the war. That legacy remains with us- Edward Snowden, should he end up in US custody, would face charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, which doesn’t even allow him any kind of legal defense. Any justification, no matter how good, is irrelevant. That was the dark mentality of America at the time. You’re with us, or against us. No extenuating circumstances, no middle ground.

Long before each soul was laid

Now hushed, fields once green;
stained crimson by those that paid
the greatest price, their fate foreseen
long before each soul was laid,
screams dissolve, the cannons fade

bodies clad in rival dye
together form more fertile ground,
so under kindly azure sky,
gleeful daisies now abound
the tragic scene their joy surrounds.