More Thoughts on Gaza

More Thoughts on Gaza

How can I write about the Gaza War?  How can I not write about the Gaza War?  These are the questions I have been tormenting myself with this summer, trying to write something and finding myself  time and again, finding myself unable to do so. 

The Gaza War has been an absolute horror, a war blundered into by both sides, a war that has accomplished nothing, has solved nothing, has created over 2,000 corpses, damaged countless lives, and has made both sides hate and fear the other side more than before.  And if you add the still developing stories of ISIS and Ukraine to the mix, this August is right up there with the famously un-fun summers of 1914 and 1939 as one of the most depressing summers of all time.
But when I have started to write about the Gaza War, I find myself tongue-tied, ending up in a muddle of  clarifications and reservations that reduce my statements to the clarity of mud.  Israel’s war against Gaza is indefensible, but then so is Hamas’s war against Israel.  When you choose to fight an insurgent army in an urban area, you will end up killing a lot of civilians; so please, no hand-wringing from Israel supporters on the use of Gaza civilians as human shields.  On the other hand, if you are an insurgent army fighting a war in an urban civilian area, you better be damn sure your cause is worth the civilian casualties that are likely to ensue.  Israel has an obligation to ensure that its citizens are not living in terror of rocket attacks, by force if necessary. Gaza has an obligation to end the horrible constricting blockade that Israel has imposed on it, by force if necessary. 
And I am sick and tired of occupying a rapidly narrowing middle ground, that respects the legitimate national aspirations of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, and sick and tired of the shrill catcalls of the partisans on both sides, utterly unable to hear the suffering of the other.  And then I worry that this middle of the road plague on both your houses stance is simply a lazy person’s evasion, a  way of standing above the fray, and that in the end, this is a war, and in a war there is only one question—which side are you on? And if you ask me to tell you, in the deepest center of my moral resolve, which side I am on, I can only say: I don’t know, both sides, or neither side, I don’t know.  
But if I don’t know how to write about the Gaza War, I have pretty clear ideas about how not to write about it:

  • Let’s call it what it is: a war.  And it is not a war of Israel against Hamas, it is a war of Israel against Gaza.  It is not a fight between political factions, or even between governments.  It is a war of one people against another people.
  • Take responsibility for the misdeeds on your side; acknowledge, if you support Israel, that it has killed far too many civilians, and don’t be outraged when the international media criticizes Israel for killing far too many civilians.  If you are sympathetic to Gaza, admit that Hamas, as much as Israel, is responsible for the war; because if you start a war, you are not without responsibility for all the death and destruction that follows.  
  • Keep the discourse civil; find the humanity on both sides: 

One of the biggest domestic developments in recent weeks on this issue has been the decision of the University of Illinois to “unhire” Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor who evidently has no impulse control; he tweeted such gems as “I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would vanish” and “Zionism: Transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible to something honorable since 1948.” 

He has become a martyr to free speech for many in the academy, and in truth, I think he does have a case; the administration was high handed in its treatment of him.  What is sad about the potty-mouthed Mr. Salaita is that his coarse and vulgar hatred of Israel has been entirely acceptable in many quarters of the academic left.  Far too many of his defenders are outraged that people are outraged about his slurs.  He is not an outlier.  Unless we can find a common language to discuss both sides, without rhetorical excess, without demonizing what we find distasteful, we are lost.  No side has a monopoly on terrorism, fascism or anti-democratic practices, and no side has a monopoly on good intentions and high-minded aspirations.  

  • Stop writing articles, please, saying the two-state solution is dead, because the alternative that most of these articles advocate, a single unitary democratic state in all of former Mandatory Palestine, is deader. It remains as beautiful an idea, and as politically stillborn as it ever was. This is not a time for much optimism on the peace front, obviously, but nothing has fundamentally changed.  What needs to be fought for is justice and freedom for the Palestinians and fairness and security for the Israelis on an ongoing practical basis.  Work to end the inequalities in Israel and the territories. Work for open dialogue. Eventually the outlines of a solution will emerge.
  • Stop trying to decide who won and who lost the war. This wasn’t a damn football game. Both sides won, and both sides lost.  And if it were a football game, the score would be something like minus 21 for both teams.  
  • Stop complaining about “moral equivalence.” There was no moral high ground in this war.
By | 2014-08-31T15:14:00-04:00 August 31st, 2014|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Lilly Rivlin September 2, 2014 at 12:39 am - Reply

    Peter, this is perfect. I can send it out. I have been thinking similarly, however, I want to add a TO DO:
    1. try to form coalitions with people you never thought you would ally with. We all know its a crises, A.S. is coming out all over, but the best thing is to get on with supporting two-states, and ameliorating the lot of the suffering, dispossessed.

  2. Edward September 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Peter. You’ve made a heroic effort to think this through, to be honest with yourself and with us. A rare effort in today’s Jewish life.

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