Friday, January 23, 2009

"I hope that my children will be the last price."

This was one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the entire Gazan war. A Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, who had worked in Israel for many years and was a bridge of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people watched as an Israeli shell hit his Gaza home, and saw three of his daughters killed. The only person who he could think to call was an Israeli journalist and friend, who took the call live on air on Israeli television. The journalist, clearly struggling to maintain his composure, tried to explain to the audience what was going on, and helped organized an IDF ambulance that was dispatched to the scene, evacuating Dr. Abuelaish's wounded family members. They are currently being treated in Israeli hospitals.

This video -- the raw, human anguish of a man who just saw his innocent daughters die in a conflict he spent his life trying to end -- is something that must be seen by all those who, like myself, consider themselves pro-Israel. Those are the people I'm speaking to right now. It is not difficult for me to empathize with the Israelis killed, maimed, or terrorized by Palestinian rockets. It is not hard for me to feel alongside them the impotent rage. Of course I think that Palestinian terrorism is incompatible with even the remotest regard for Jewish lives.

But I think there is a tendency -- a trap, you might say -- to believe that because we fundamentally do not want civilians to die, the suffering of those that are killed is somehow alleviated. Is diminished. Good intentions mean that most of the dead men and woman "had it coming", or are "collateral damage". They can kind of be lumped in as one indistinguishable mass of an enemy populace.

The video, here, viscerally brings home the fact that innocent, blameless, good-hearted Palestinians are dying. They're dying brutally, violently, in the arms of their parents or children or friends or relatives. To them, it is going to be little consolation that a militant might have been firing next door, or that an Israeli shell fell a little bit off the mark.

Sometimes, military strikes have to happen. But this is their inevitable result. In any large scale military encounter, there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of scenes just like this. I have to think that we'd be much more hesitant to support violent reprisals if we actually were taking due account of the lives of those who will be shattered in its wake. Dr. Abuelaish's family has to be part of our equation. It can't be abstracted, it can't be waved away, it can't be shrugged off as eggs and omelets. A necessary step for actual peace and reconciliation is the fundamental, unshakable belief that these lives matter, something that requires more than a vague regret that civilians are killed.

After one watches the video, one also must listen to the interview Dr. Abuelaish gave shortly after the events. He is distraught, of course -- how could he not be? But even in the height of his anguish, he calls for peace.
“The peace process is the only one, but to be real. Not playing games. not to play games. That is what is going on. And I think it’s time that people should lead the leaders, not the leaders to lead the people.”

That Dr. Abuelaish can express these sentiments, right now, is nothing short of amazing. It shows the depths of his commitment to peace. Could one really, right now, blame him for rejecting that stance? His good intentions, just like the Israelis, bought him nothing but a shell crashing through his house. Yet here he is, still standing and proclaiming his allegiance to co-existence. The path he takes, has to be our own. You have to watch that video, and be shocked. Be outraged. Be angry. And then, after that -- recommit yourself to the cause of peace and dignity for all persons -- Jewish and Arab, whose lives are being broken by this intractable war.

All of this came from Harry's Place, which continues to show why it is one of the most important liberal Zionist voices speaking today. They also link to this post, which says some other very important things. But the key graf is this:
The ‘we are all Hezbollah now’ crowd had embraced Hamas long before the fighting in Gaza. Theocratic totalitarianism is, after all, the latest fashion accessory for the ‘left’. Their language was redolent with scarcely concealed anti-Semitism and demonstrations against the war were filled with an iconography of hate and menace. Those who favoured the Israeli action in Gaza were only too ready to minimise and justify civilian casualties, attempt to discredit inconvenient witnesses for their supposed bias, and, at the margins, flirt with anti-Arab racism.

So whose side do we choose? How about ours? This is a left blog, written from different perspectives though sharing some common values; social justice, anti-racism, equality, respect for human life, a hatred of oppression. That’s the side to be on. Hold hard to our principles and use them as a guide, rather than rely on a blind partisanship. Some of the best commentary chose this path and called for long-term action for a settlement. Too often it was drowned out by the clamour of the committed.

The post focuses on the myriad of distractions trotted out by pro-Israel and pro-Palestine voices alike, all united by the common characteristic of seeking to lay blame and stir rage rather than enforce humanity and forge peace. Many of these people, to borrow from Rev. William Sloane Coffin, hate evil more than they love good. They see conflict as an opportunity to express outrage: to show that they are committed foes or lovers of Israel. They hate the violence enacted upon their "side" so much that they forget to pursue the good -- they forget to act in such a manner as to promote peace.

You look in the eye of an Jewish child who has just been orphaned by Islamic terrorists looking to send a message to Israel, and talk about Zionist colonialism tends to turn to dust. If it doesn't, you've let hate trump good. The Israeli man who felt compelled to scream at Dr. Abuelaish while he was at the hospital bedside of his wounded niece clearly prefers hate to good, because you can't tell me that one can love good and react that way to the presence of an anguished parent.

The rages of extremism simply cannot survive due accord to all the victims of conflict. It can sustain itself quite well when your side is all that matters -- when you pick a "team" to express "solidarity" with and to hell with everyone else. It cannot, it cannot, survive those who care about the lives and liberation of all people.

I believe that more firmly than I do anything else.


Richard Jeffrey Newman said...

This is a remarkable post, David.

Cycle Cyril said...

War is hell.

But peace cannot be based on sympathy, especially when it is one way.

When Palestinians broadcast similar scenes of Israelis grieving; when Palestinians stop dancing in the streets giving out candy to children celebrating terrorist attacks then you will have a chance for peace.

As real as this doctor's agony is, it is all too well known that the Palestinians are not above using civilians, whether alive or dead, whether willing or not, as weapons in the public relations battle.

To have peace in this conflict, in which a meeting of the minds, as they are now, is impossible because of the Arab refusal to consider JEWS as people but only as monkeys and pigs, can only come when the Palestinians, as a whole, surrender their theologically based hope to eliminate Israel.

Richard Jeffrey Newman said...

Clearly, Cycle Cyril, this Palestinian doctor did not feel as you describe. Rhetoric and assumptions like yours, and the actions which flow from them, are as much a part of the problem as Hamas or anyone who might agree with them.