January 29, 2009

Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth

More thoughts on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

My sister and I, like many siblings, had our share of fights while growing up. And our mother, like many parents, tried not to take sides. “It takes two to tango,” she would often say when one of us went to tattle on the other and then leave us to work out our differences.

It takes two to tango. A profound insight, one which I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the years. For it seems clear that most human conflicts involve, not just one, but two guilty parties. Sandbox scuffles erupt because two kids want the same toy, office backstabbing occurs because two employees want the same promotion. It takes two to tango. A simple truth but one which Americans generally fail to apply to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Though many have acknowledged that Israel’s actions in the recent war were disproportionate, and perhaps even excessive, it is still widely agreed that Israel did what it had to do, that it acted in self-defense. For many years now, Palestinian militants have been launching rockets—thousands and thousands of rockets—into Israeli towns. So, the argument goes, Israel had, not just a right, but a duty to defend itself.

While the first part of this narrative is undoubtedly true, it only tells half the story. Yes, militants have been firing rockets into Israel. But these rockets were responses to Israeli violence, which themselves were responses to Palestinian violence, and so on. Remember, it takes two to tango.

Yet most Americans continue viewing this conflict as though it were the latest Die Hard film, with the noble John MacLean (Israel) on one side and the bloodthirsty terrorists (the Palestinians) on the other. Even some of our best journalists hold this prejudice.

In a recent New York Times article, for instance, Isabel Kershner reports that on Tuesday Palestinian militants “detonated a bomb on the border with Israel, killing a soldier. Israel retaliated with limited raids and an airstrike that wounded a militant.” Kershner doesn’t tell us what motivated the militants, thus creating the impression that the Palestinian bomb was the action and the Israeli airstrike the reaction. Strike one against the Palestinians.

Then on Wednesday, Kershner continues, Palestinians launched a rocket from Gaza, which in turn prompted Israel to bomb a Gaza weapons factory. So, once again, the Palestinians initiated the violence, while Israel merely responded to it. Strike two.

Later in the article, she reports that Israel Prime Minister Olmert has decided not to permanently reopen border crossings into Gaza until Hamas returns an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in 2006. In other words, Olmert’s refusal to reopen the crossing is just another response to terrorism. So strikeout, game over: Israel wins another moral victory over the Palestinians.

So, according to Kershner, it doesn’t take two to tango after all, just one group of very hateful Islamists.

Nonetheless, I still contend that my mom was right, as a closer examination of recent events reveals. First, the Palestinian bombing on Tuesday was more than likely retaliation for a recent Israeli gunboat attack and/or Israel’s refusal to end the blockade. Second, Wednesday’s Palestinian rocket attack was retaliation for an Israel Air Force bombing in southern Gaza. Third, the 2006 kidnapping of an Israeli soldier was retaliation for an IDF kidnapping of two Palestinians.

My point here is not that the Israeli government is guilty and the Palestinians militants are innocent. My point is simply that, as with so many conflicts, both sides here are guilty. And until Americans realize this and begin pressuring their leaders to stop blindly taking Israel’s side, there will never be peace in the Middle East.

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