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Cycle of Violence in Israel/Palestine

Peter J. Miano

Like so many others, I am carefully watching the escalating violence in Israel and Palestine, with a combination of disgust and horror. Quite a few of our travelers have made inquiries. These include expressions of care for the people of Israel-Palestine, requests for insight into the recent escalation of violence in Israel-Palestine, and guidance toward sources of information. It isn’t surprising that our travelers are alarmed and concerned. So, my first word is to reassure you that the people you met during your journey are safe and appreciate your concern. Neither is it a surprise that our usual sources of information don’t satisfy our needs for insight.

As a preamble to my own insights, which you are welcome to take with a grain of salt, or reject, I caution everyone not to expect much from our media. it is important to filter out the meaningless noise, which is 95% of the reporting and commentary. The media are geared toward sensation rather than information. There is no single source to answer all your questions. Try to ignore TV reporting and commentary in particular. It is important to read a variety of sources, while reading each one with healthy skepticism.

I am not surprised by this outbreak. This is what happens when a conflict remains unresolved for 72 years, when the solutions are so well studied and so well-known, yet so carefully ignored, when one people tries to subjugate and dominate another people, and when there is the absence of political leadership and moral will to solve the root problems. No one in the history of colonization has ever willingly accepted their own subjugation. It should be no surprise that the Palestinians will not accept their subjugation either. As Americans, we should understand that, because the United States was established in violent rebellion against a colonizing power.

Still, when you’re listening to and reading the news reports, beware of simple platitudes and canards. Even well known and well intended figures can be misleading. Rick Steves, for example, advocates that you listen to “both sides.” While this sounds prudent, it is extremely reductionist and naive, because there are many more than two sides. Do we actually believe that all Israelis think alike and all Palestinians think alike? The “dual narrative” approach is deficient, because there are many more than two sides. There are multiple narratives and they don’t boil down to Israeli vs. Palestinian. Listen to all of them.

Beware, also, of those who opine that “it’s complicated.” This is a slogan usually designed to blunt legitimate moral critique of the State of Israel, as it violates all codes of international conflict as they are codified in the Fourth Geneva Convention. No nation state is exempt from legitimate critique. Critique of Israel is no more anti-Jewish than critique of the State of Italy is anti-Catholic. What exactly is so complicated? Killing innocent people is wrong. Violence is counterproductive no matter who initiates it. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a barbaric slogan that Jesus rejected a long time ago.

No less absurd is the too often repeated mantra that Israel has the right to defend itself. This one is worn out from overuse. I became suspicious of it and, frankly, tired of hearing it, the last time a crescendo of violence similar to the current one took place in 2014. At the time, when she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated repeatedly, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Meanwhile, for every Israel death in that conflict, 500 Palestinians were killed. Who needed to defend themselves? Now, U.S. politicians, including Joe Biden two days ago, rush to their podiums to repeat the cynical slogan.

I’ve never heard anyone actually state that Israel does not have a right to defend itself. Have you? So, right off the bat, it seems odd that it is repeated so frequently by pundits and politicians alike. Israel has that “right” and no one is denying that. That does not mean that it is always a good idea to exercise that right. The problem is that everyone, Israel as well as the Palestinians, and every other person on the planet has that right and sometimes that duty. But that only means that if everyone invokes that right, the consequence is only the tragic, useless escalation of non-productive violence and the horrific killing that results. That is why Jesus rejected it. More often than not, that phrase is repeated to excuse Israel of any culpability in killing. Casualties are always tragic. The ones who pay the price of the marriage between guided missiles and misguided policies are almost always innocent of wrongdoing. One encouraging sign during this round of violence is that at least some U.S. politicians are rejecting the fevered logic of self-defense. Personally, I can’t stomach the twisted logic that would have us believe that somehow, the oppression of the Palestinian people is justified by Israel’s need to defend itself.

But also, beware of those who excuse the conflict with simplistic, absurd phrases like “they’ve been fighting for thousands of years.” This conflict is too well studied and solvable to give in to fatalism. Episodic violence is not inevitable in Israel-Palestine. It is not God’s will. It is entirely human made and human perpetuated. I believe that God is disgusted not only by the violence, but also by the worn out rationale the major players invoke to legitimate their warring impulses. Tragically, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is eminently solvable. All the killing and destruction we are watching is avoidable. Political leaders have chosen not to resolve the issues. This includes U.S. leaders.

The solution requires more from the US Administration and the Congress than political posturing, mindless cheerleading, and sanctimonious hand-wringing. The US approach to the conflict is a bipartisan default of moral responsibility and political will. So, what is the solution? The solution is equal, inalienable rights and privileges for all people who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The solution is transforming the zionist state, which privileges one group of people over the majority of the people, into a state for all its people.

This current round of violence is repugnant. It is also understandable and it could have been avoided. There is plenty of blame to go around, but these episodes occur and will continue to occur, because violence is acceptable to too many major players, including Israel, Hamas, and the United States.

By Peter J Miano


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