The Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza has evoked reactions from all over the globe. There are no easy answers in a conflict like this — and it is extremely easy to ignore the nuances.
The reactions have ranged from heart-felt concern to downright bigoted blame being hurtled at one side. The Islamist right-wing in Pakistan has not been far behind in condemning Israel and blaming it for the death toll. Voices from this quarter have also painted the United States as responsible for loss of Palestinian lives. But the nuance in all of this must not be ignored — same goes for bigotry.
Let us start with the position of the United States. It considers Israel a vital ally. Israel’s security as a state is non-negotiable for the US. And that position too is based on a concern for peace and stability in the region. If the US stays away from the conflict zone, it is blamed for not doing enough. If it gets involved and exerts pressure on Israel or Hamas to restore peace, it is accused of meddling — and trying to do too much. States are motivated just as much by principles as strategic interests and anyone who ignores that is being naïve.
Neutrality is a myth in the power play of nation states therefore those blaming the US must realise that it is balancing competing interests — historical as well as for the future. The US has made clear its preference for a two-state solution. Anyone who has the interests of the Palestinians at heart must not ignore this. You cannot solve the Middle East crisis by painting the US as a villain — the weight of the world’s foremost power will have to be behind any solution that is adopted.
An equally important fact is the distinction between one’s concern for the Palestinian civilian population and the actions of the Hamas. Hamas deserves no sympathy. It is a terrorist organisation with the destruction of Israel as its declared aim. In essence, its aim is to disturb international order.
Now there may be those in Pakistan who question the legality of Israel’s creation as a state. Such arguments, at least to me, are misplaced and in fact counter-productive; if your aim and wish is to see lasting peace in the Middle East. You cannot wish away Israel. It is a sovereign democratic republic with many admirable and liberal traditions — a nation that is here to stay and its rights and existence as a state are accepted by most in the comity of nations. To argue against the existence of Israel is not just bigotry, it is also short-sighted. The US or any other major world power will not even entertain any resolution of the Middle East crisis without Israel’s security being guaranteed. One cannot wish away nation states. Some may argue history but if you want to go back in history to decide whether you count as ‘fair’ what happened then this could be true of any country in the world — be it Pakistan or even the US.
I remember that when Hezbollah and Israel were locked in a conflict many years ago, I wrote to a major Pakistani television news network with the argument that the Pakistan media was unnecessarily ignoring Israel’s genuine plight. The lives of citizens of Israel matter just as much as others — Palestinian or otherwise. Is our concern based on human life or on the nationality or religion of those who die? I remember, and I was only amused, when a popular anchor ridiculed my perspective in her show. I guess she had the benefit of not living in an Israeli border town and rockets never rained down on her neighbourhood.
Counting Israeli deaths against Palestinian lives does not serve anyone. Maintaining a scorecard of how many died on which side and apportioning blame according to such a score card is an insult to humanity. If a state is careless in striking back against terrorists with reckless disregard for civilians then it should be criticised. But why do we need to close our eyes to the fact that Hamas has repeatedly used civilian neighbourhoods to launch terror/rocket attacks on Israelis?
Hamas has repeatedly refused to initiate a cease-fire. And one needs to be very clear about the gains for Hamas in this. Each time a Palestinian civilian is killed, it uses the grotesque images to recruit sympathizers and to brainwash more people. You can have your view of Israel and I am not writing this to convert anyone, but you simply cannot ignore Hamas’s atrocities and blame Israel. An elected government will have to react if its citizens are facing terror strikes.
Of course, whether Israel’s measures were disproportionate is a debate that one can have. But this does not legitimize Hamas’s continuing wrongs or make Israel guilty.
Our concern in this should be protection of human life and our collective humanity. It is disgraceful to see posts on social media when people celebrate the deaths of Israeli soldiers but cry tears of pain when a Palestinian is killed.
It pains one to see the virulent anti-Semitic sentiments of the right-wing in Pakistan being paraded as concern for human rights. Posters and popular personalities in this country, including politicians, routinely make racist comments about Jews. This hate speech is not just derogatory to the Jewish community but entire humanity.
The right-wingers today blaming Israel’s flags have done everything within their power to lend legitimacy to the terrorists from the Taliban. Human life is not their concern, whipping up anti-US, anti-Israel and hatred for Jews is their agenda. We must call a spade a spade.
I, like many in Pakistan, have friends from Israel. People are people and in our rush to blame one government we must not paint an entire community or an entire religion a particular way. Ironic that Pakistanis forget this so often — even though half the time we blame the world for stereotyping Muslims. You can disagree with Netanyahu but that is no reason to think that all Jews or even all Israelis support his actions. Israel is a rich and diverse country with a vibrant media. If you ever read its newspapers you will notice the rich debate within that country.
It is important to remember that the conflict in Gaza is important because it affects human lives — not just Muslims or Palestinians. Terrorists should be seen as terrorists and no amount of crying about the past should justify their intent or actions of murdering others.
In order to be pro-human rights, you do not need to be anti-Israel. And if you care about human suffering then the suffering of all should matter — whether a Palestinian civilian or an Israeli citizen.