What I wanted to acknowledge even as I wrote that post is that even if while I ponder long term development and growth from my apartment in Portland, Oregon, from my office by the river, over coffee and the New York Times, there are families in Cuba who live in poverty right now. I cannot blame these families for wishing for relief right now, for welcoming with open arms a Nike factory and the jobs and steady (if meager) income that could be provided. The immediacy of the present trumps my abstract projections for economic development.
In this same way, when considering the situation in the Gaza Strip we must consider the lived experiences of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. In response to my last post concerning the war in Gaza, an Israeli friend left a few comments detailing some important facts the international community should keep in mind which also highlighted her perspective on the situation.
I argued that the resultant deaths from the Israeli attacks in Gaza seem disproportionate to the effects of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. I also believe that as a modern world leader, Israel has a humanitarian responsibility, even to Palestinians, and developing greater humanitarian efforts in Gaza and the West Bank would hopefully ease tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians and help open a path toward peace.
I do not believe that this view is naïve or misguided, but my friend is right that I do not live in Israel. I do not live under the circumstances of these tensions. I do not have to take shelter due to the threat of rockets. Perhaps this would change my perspective and prerogative.
My friend is also good to point out that Hamas does not have the best intentions. Hamas is not protecting the interests of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; it is not taking steps to alleviate the humanitarian situation there. Hamas is focused solely on Israel, on vilifying Israel, on fighting Israel, and legitimizing itself. It is set against recognizing Israel and thus against taking any step toward living in peace with the Israelis. Israel is taking the steps it is because Hamas has placed rockets and stored weapons in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas has purposefully placed these weapons in populated areas to use their own people as shields against Israel. As the New York Times reported, “Well into the conflict the Hamas radio station was telling civilians — already reluctant to leave homes given their history of displacement — not to heed Israeli warnings to flee, calling the warnings ‘psychological warfare.’” It wasn’t until recently, probably because of the large death toll, that Hamas has become more active about warning residents to avoid activity in certain parts of Gaza.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations’ top human rights official, has voiced criticism over Hamas’ attacks on Israel and particularly from launching those attacks in densely populated urban sites. On the other hand, Pillay has also criticized Israel over the large Palestinian death toll. She says, "There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes."
Obviously our experiences, our histories, shape our perspectives of the present. While I am not a proponent of the death sentence, I can understand how the family of a murder victim can demand it. Emotional situations affect our perspective. But I think what should be telling in situations like these are what those outside the conflict say. Much of the world is critical of the death penalty still meted out by some states. Much of the world is critical of the Israel’s forceful action in the Gaza Strip and the number of Palestinian deaths there. Criticism like this needs to be heard and considered. In these situations, every country, every person should ask themselves, “Why are the actions of my country being criticized as such and what does it mean for my country?”
With over 800 Palestinians dead now, we should all hope for a ceasefire. But we should all, the entire world, be thinking about active ways to ease tensions, alleviate suffering, and work toward stability, particularly in Israel and Palestine but also across the globe. We need a few brave ideas and we need a lot of brave people to actualize them.