The moral battle over Israel and Palestine

Does the immorality of war and numbers of the dead, compel the international community to impose a cease-fire on Hamas and Israel?

Palestinian children take part in a rally in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City marking Palestinian Prisoners Day. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian children take part in a rally in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City marking Palestinian Prisoners Day.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I find myself caught in a perpetual trap searching for answers to the constantly unfolding situation and finding information that is contradictory, uneasy to accept and at times downright hurtful to my deep-seated love for and fealty to the State of Israel. That said, I was born a liberal Jew and Zionist and will die (hopefully far in the future), carrying the same appellations.
But believing that, knowing it as a fact, doesn’t negate the difficult issues surrounding war and peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the extraordinary complexity in being true to both one’s values and to fundamental allegiances throughout this, the latest battle in this horrendous war of attrition.
It is impossible to be right and fair and just in one’s individual response to the rolling death and destruction that continues to metastasize like a cancer into thousands of individual aspects viewed through the lenses of the media, personal stories, political spokesmen and the victims of missiles and rockets and bombs and bullets and the shrapnel that slices through flesh and the fear that slices through the hearts of the young and the old living and dying in danger’s path.
Sophisticated public relations campaigns are at work 24/7 by multiple sources, spinning the story of this war in favor of Israel and Hamas. It would seem that Israel has an extraordinary advantage in dollars and sense in telling its story about a terrorist group whose very charter calls for the elimination of the State of Israel.
But large segments of the international community, far beyond the usual suspects and the hyperventilating anti-Semites that look to end not only Israel, but the Jewish race, have looked long and hard at the 47-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and come to see it as an unacceptable burden hanging around the neck of the Jewish state. So, Israel gets to live under a microscope that constantly hunts for, identifies and promotes examples of human rights abuses minute to minute on a variety of international stages that have placed it in the dock particularly at the United Nations far more than any other potential violator including those who have killed and maimed thousand and even tens of thousands more.
Is it fair? No. Is it a satisfactory excuse to let Israel off the hook, or at the very least (and this is the crux), treat it with the same disrespect the media, human rights organizations and governments have for other potential offenders? Is there one standard to live up to, or is the history of each nation and some non-nations to be examined and judged independently? Hamas has plenty of issues, beginning with its charter. But in this war it is all about dead children and civilians and whether Hamas uses its people as human shields? There are many manifestations of the media war, from the explication of why Israel recently targeted a 13-story apartment building and the counting of its dead and wounded, to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his Values Network utilizing Elie Wiesel in a provocative full-page advertisement against Hamas and children he says are being exploited as human shields versus 327 Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors making a statement against the “massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine,” and against “Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable,” for the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.
Some people consider it an asymmetrical war between a top- 10 military power and a thirdworld people held behind walls and security fences. Others use a different math that places Israel, (roughly the size of New Jersey), isolated among some 22 Arab/ Islamic states that add up to be 640 times its size. Of course it matters who is telling the story and to what end. But the larger question remains is there a way to look at the two peoples practicing three ancient religions and provide each with information that actually humanizes the other, (not those firing the weapons but a mother sitting with her children in a UN school in Rafah or another with her children in a shelter in Ashkelon), bringing a modicum of understanding and the faith and hope that peace can replace war and allow both children to grow up in freedom and security? Let’s face it, if you are a parent and you have to run with your children from a rocket or missile, (with or without a Color Red siren blasting out a warning), you may not be ready to “seek peace and pursue it,” as it suggests in Psalm 34. At least not yet.
Does the immorality of war itself and the black-and-white numbers of the dead, the wounded, the houses destroyed, the rockets and missiles launched and numbers of people affected compel the international community to impose a cease-fire on Hamas and Israel? Proportionality is a tough master because there are battles being waged less than 400 km away that have taken tens of thousands of lives and not garnered either the attention or action of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union or the world in any form that is conducive to ending the slaughter. What does it mean if 200,000 dead Syrians are not as interesting to the press, to governments and to individuals as 2,000 dead Palestinians? Is considering proportionality a dodge to make room for the IDF? Has the Palestinian story and the heady resistance/terror of Arafat, Yassin, Abbas and Mashaal captured the imagination of the public? Or is it just finally time to deal with this conflict on a level that actually resolves the half-dozen major issues that have been waiting for decades to be dealt with and disappeared to achieve peace?
The author is president of ICMEP; The Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]