Friday, January 16, 2009

I feel clueless.

For me, Israel's three-week attack on the Gaza Strip has been heartbreaking, infuriating, and mind-boggling. It's also profoundly difficult to write about, because I certainly don't feel comfortable throwing around terms like Israel, Zionism, Colonialism, Anti-Colonialism , or Palestinian Liberation as if they were monolithic entities. As we've seen in the massively different coverage that the Gaza onslaught has received from various media outlets, the very words we use to describe the conflict, its parties, and its people are fraught with problems. This is why I prefer to discuss the attack in terms of my personal reaction. Most of us aren't experts, but we are thinking human beings, and our responses need space to exist.

My dismay and anger is not only because of the massive loss of innocent life, but also because I've rediscovered just how difficult it is for me to understand the ideological position of the Israeli government. I really don't understand Zionism. Nor, to be fair, do I understand the desire to violently destroy Israel. But I'll admit it: in my knee-jerk heart of hearts, I sympathize more closely with Islamic, anti-colonial jihad than I do with Zionism and the use of military force in its defense. That is my bias. And any discussion of this conflict seems to require an announcement of our biases.

So. I really, really don't understand Zionism. That is why, before my very eyes, quotes from Israeli officials morph from sad-calculus-of-war into holy-batshit-crazy. For an example, see last week's New York Times:

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post ... “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.
Or this quote from Moshe Halbertal, a "left-leaning" Israeli professor, from the same article, emphasis mine:

“You have Al Jazeera standing at Shifa Hospital and the wounded are coming in,” [Moshe Halbertal] continued, referring to an Arab news outlet. “So you have this great Goliath crushing these poor people, and they are perceived as victims. But from the Israeli perspective, Hamas and Hezbollah are really the spearhead of a whole larger threat that is invisible. Israelis feel like the tiny David faced with an immense Muslim Goliath. The question is: who is the David here?
Indeed, this professor has put it quite well: while the rest of the world seems to see quite clearly who the tiny David is (that is, the poor, defenseless, trapped, brown Palestinians), Israel sees things in just the opposite way. For them, Israel is the tiny David among an ocean of armed, angry, Jihadist Arab nations intent on its destruction.

For me, as a helpless observer, this begs the question: What is this attack about? Is it tactical, or is it ideological? Is it about Hamas and its ineffectual rockets terrorizing Sderot? Is it about establishing peace in the region? Is it about rescuing Gazans from the tyrranical rule of the party they elected? Or is it, in fact, about David and Goliath? About East and West? About Islam and Judaism?

I suppose it's about all of these things. But as an Atheist, this is where I have to jump ship. I can't follow those arguments where they lead. More than a thousand people have been killed, and I can't see fit to describe it in terms of David and Goliath, or as a "moral imperative." And that's about all I've got.

1 comment:

Arvilla said...

We're in the same boat on this one. From the pre-existing biases to the reactions to Zionist defenses for all this...It's overwhelming.