Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Us versus Them in Gaza

In 2004, a documentary called “Control Room” was released, chronicling the Al-Jazeera coverage of the United States invasion of Iraq. One of the men featured in this movie was a Marine lieutenant named Josh Rushing. He was a relatively low-level press officer from CENTCOM assigned to handle the foreign news agencies’ questions about CENTCOM matters. During the documentary, Lt. Rushing recalls how disgusted he had felt when watching images of injured and dead Americans. He then recalls how his earlier reaction to even more horrifying images of injured Iraqi children did not affect him as much. He felt ashamed of his double-standard, saying that, “it upset me on a profound level that I wasn't bothered as much the night before,” adding, “It makes me hate war, but it doesn't make me believe that we're in a world that can live without war yet.”

It is human nature to flock to a common cause. Us versus them, in other words. We see it all the time, everyday. Your department at work is better than the others. Your company is better than the competition. Your sports team, family, city, state, nation, etc. We all group together to find commonality in ourselves. So when something bad happens to our side, it feels much worse than if something equally bad happened to the other side. It’s human nature.

For example, take the Virginia Tech shootings. In all, 33 people were killed, including the gunman. Compare that to the hundreds killed in Iraq bombings, the thousands of children killed in the Chinese earthquakes, and the scores killed in the Mumbai massacre, and 33 doesn’t seem like a lot. But we don’t feel the same way about the Iraqi hundreds the same way we feel about the students of Virginia Tech because the Iraqis weren’t Americans. The loss of life at Virginia Tech means more to Americans than loss of the Iraqis, the Chinese, and the Indians. It’s just human nature.

What’s the point of all this?

At the end of this year, fighting has erupted once again in Gaza. The cease-fire was broken by Hamas, by their continuous rocket attacks; Israel has retaliated with continuous bombardment. So far, as of this writing, over 350 Palestinians have been killed, and Israeli deaths are in the single digits. Yet even with the high disparity between death tolls, American political and general opinion is in full support of the Israeli bombardment. As one Washington Post columnist asks, “What Reasonable Alternative Did Israel Have?

Before this question can be answered, others need to be asked first:
1) What is life like for an average Palestinian?
2) Who does more for this Palestinian: Hamas or Israel?

These questions are crucial to understanding why Hamas and groups like it have so much support. They have support for the same reason men like John Gotti had support: Hamas, like John Gotti, supported the people. Groups like Hamas are well-funded, and not all those funds go to weapons purchases. They provide health care, schools, and basic necessities to help people live a dignified life. Hamas may be a terrorist organization that needs to be eliminated, but they are not the ones who have killed Palestinians.

One might ask, “But what about the life on an average Israeli?” It’s a fair question, but it’s a question that has many more answers than the previous questions I posed. We here in America know more about the plight of an Israeli than we do about the life of a Palestinian. As such, we care more about Israeli citizens than we do about Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, and yes, Iraqis. The death toll in the current conflict suggests that the life of an Israeli is worth more than the life of a Palestinian. To assuage guilt, we can justify the disproportional death toll by claiming that while the Israeli casualties are innocents, the Palestinian dead and injured are all Hamas or Hamas supporters and deserve it.

Regardless of Israel’s response, it was Hamas who broke the cease-fire by firing rockets into Israel. It would be irrational to think that those rockets were meant for any other reason than to kill Israelis, and Israel has every right to defend itself. But at the end of the day, we end up with thousands on one side dead and injured, and a minuscule fraction of that on the other side.

So, what to do? Here’s my suggestion, and it’s a risky one. Israel should treat the Palestinians in Gaza better than Hamas treats them. If Hamas gives them clothing and food, then Israel should give them better clothing and more food. If Hamas gives the citizens in Gaza the semblance of dignity, then Israel should treat Gazans with even more dignity. Because until one life is seen as equal to another, there will be no end to this conflict.

No comments: