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Not So Humble Opinion: November 27, 2012

Picking Sides

I had written something on the conflict in Gaza only to find out, within minutes of finishing, that a cease-fire had been announced. I considered scrapping the whole thing, but you know what? Sadly, this will probably still be relevant going forward, because chances of this ceasefire setting the foundation for a lasting peace are slim to none.

And if I’m wrong, and the end of this particular conflict marks the beginning of a new, more peaceful era in the region, my having published one dated column will be a very small price to pay, I think.

Now, I have to apologize for some amount of levity here. I know this isn’t a situation one should make light of. However, all I can really say is that any glibness in my tone isn’t due to a lack of empathy, but a kind of spiritual self-defense. If I dealt with the situation— really processed what’s going on at the emotional level instead of just treating it as news from someplace far away— I would be of no use. I would be curled up in a little ball in the corner weeping, muttering over and over again in a broken voice, “Why?”

Look, the fact that this situation is a mess, and has been for some time (millennia, if you want to be precise), isn’t news to anyone. I doubt I will make any enemies just by pointing out that this seemingly endless cycle of violence in Israel is horrible and I wish the situation could somehow be resolved in a peaceful manner. I will, however, make enemies if I attempt to say anything else about it whatsoever, and that’s the problem: not the fact that I will make enemies (that isn’t new), but the fact that everyone’s taking sides, like that even makes sense anymore.

You can have all the sympathy in the world for the Palestinian cause, but Hamas is a terrorist organization, with genocidal ambitions, that seeks to kill civilians, and even exploits the deaths of its own civilians. That’s not a viable “side.” You can respect Israel’s right to defend itself, but bombing Gaza likely won’t accomplish anything, other than turning the international community even more against Israel than it already was due to the tragic civilian casualties.

I grew up going to Hebrew School, so it tends to be easier for me to see things from the Israeli perspective. Yet, even with that admitted bias, I can’t support what the Israeli government has been doing recently. Killing Hamas operatives doesn’t accomplish anything when they can switch them out like light bulbs (after all, it’s not like being able to shout “Death to Israel!” really loud requires a highly specific set of skills), and the humanitarian cost is staggering. Now, we have no viable sides left.

But of course, people are using all sorts of bogus logic to justify taking a side. I’ve heard that the fact that Hamas has been bombing Israel all year doesn’t “count” because their bombs are smaller than Israel’s (what?), one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter (no, when your primary goal is killing civilians, you lose eligibility for the Freedom Fighter Merit Badge, I’m pretty sure), and Israel has to be in the right because Hamas started it (and dear God, isn’t this the one situation that proves the sublime uselessness of “they started it,” as a justification for anything? Go back a few thousand years and everyone started it.)

None of these justifications make any sense. It’s possible to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian on general principle, but as far as I can tell, to support either side in terms of how the situation plays out from a military standpoint is engaging in a kind of opportunistic myopia. “If I ignore how complex this situation really is, I can pick a side and be righteously angry at the other side for their many atrocities. Sounds like a plan.”

I can only hope that people will stop making excuses to pick sides, therefore legitimizing the conflict; after all, if you have a side that you support, you can pretend this is something other than senseless violence being fought not even over religion, but a shadow of something that maybe once was about religion at one point in the distant past. Let’s stop pretending there’s anything sane about this.

Karen Gellender is editor of the Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald.