Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is Israel killing Arabs in Gaza senselessly, and other FAQ about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

While I don’t typically go into politics, and I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, I have spent the majority of my life living in the Middle East, and I’ve taken the time to study not only the major religions, but also the cultures surrounding them and the psychology of the people involved. Since I have a somewhat public profile, I get asked for clarifications about this topic, and so I decided to put together this FAQ, based on stuff people asked me. I hope you find it useful.
Is it true that Israel started all of this?
Depending on your definition of “it”, the answer differs, but mostly the most general answer is “no”. If you really go all the way back, then Abraham, the 1st Jew, “start” it by moving from his home land to modern-day Israel, based on, supposedly, what God said to him. After that, most of the “its” were started by Arabs. The current war (mid 2014) was started when Palestinians grabbed and murdered 3 Israeli teenagers, which quickly escalated to launching rockets randomly into Israel, to which the Israeli army responded by trying to vanquish ammo depots and missile launchers. Other conflict such as the 1st Israeli war was initiated by several Arab countries attacking Israel shortly after it was founded.
Is Israel trying to annihilate the Palestinians?
Absolutely not! Even though Israeli actions in Gaza are leading to an unfortunately high number of deaths, it is by no means an attempt to conduct genocide. Even if you don’t believe me, consider this: Israeli has hundreds of planes and thousands of rockets. Does it make sense that it would drop hundreds of bombs per day but only succeed in killing a dozen people in such an attack?
What then, is the purpose of the Israeli actions in Gaza?
The purpose is two-fold: One is to find and destroy the many tunnels that go from Gaza directly into Israeli cities and used by Hamas operatives to infiltrate and attack civilian population centers. The 2nd is to reduce the Hamas’ ability to launch additional rockets into Israel. The 1st part is done by infantry, scanning the Gaza strip for such tunnels and blowing them up (which includes an occasional battle with Hamas infantry). The 2nd part is done by gathering intelligence of ammo depots and launch sites and bombing these depots and sites from the air.
Why doesn’t Israel, instead of bombing Gaza, try to block the tunnels from the Israeli side?
On the Israeli side, the tunnel exists are randomly located in a massive area (over 7000 acres) and are well-concealed and some aren’t even open (as in, digging stopped a feet below the surface to avoid detection). It’s literally a needle in a haystack. Inside Gaza, though, the entrances are large and possible to detect due to supplies stocked next to them and evidence of the construction which are often left around. By the way, the bombing isn’t against tunnels – it’s against rocket launch sites and ammunition stockpiles.
Why don’t the Israeli simply kill all Palestinians?
While there are some extremist who want that, this is definitely NOT something Israel would ever do. Virtually all Israelis just want everything to stop, and to live their lives peacefully without fear of attack or war. Even before the current conflict of 2014, many Israelis live in fear. In the South, the fear is from random rockets coming in, which happens occasionally even during times of rest. In most major Israeli cities, a lot of people are afraid of going on busses or into shopping malls, because there were many of suicide bomb attacks over the past decades. I myself left Israel in 2008 in large part due to wanting to live without the threat and not wanting to raise kids in that sort of “atmosphere”. However, the idea of removing the problem by genocide is so far from the Israeli state of mind that I can guarantee it’s NEVER going to happen.
Why are there so many casualties in Gaza?
Beyond the fact that the numbers are often exaggerated for publicity sake, the ammo depots and launch sites targeted are always located (often hidden) in highly populated areas, so when these are bombed, it’s not possible to completely avoid hurting bystanders. Keep in mind that the Hamas is intentionally using population centers to host and hide their activity, because they benefit politically from the carnage.
Why are there many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel?
Even though Hamas is launching dozens of rockets daily, they are optimized for distance in order to reach as far into Israeli cities, which means they are extremely inaccurate. In addition, Israeli’s Iron Dome defense system eliminates a large portion of the incoming attacks.
Does Israel want peace?
Virtually all Israelis, other than a handful of extremists, do want an everlasting peace, or at least quiet coexistence. This has always been the case, but the reality is that peace requires two sides.
Do Palestinians want peace?
Many of them do, but their leadership is against it on principle. Offers for peace have always been offered, and in fact, back in 2000, Israel’s Prime Minister Barak extended an extremely generous offer to then-leader Yasser Arafat, which would have given Palestinians almost all the territories they ever claimed, but this too was rejected by Arafat. The current rulers of Gaza, the Hamas, have made it a core of their charter to destroy Israeli completely, and have re-stated that intent publicly over and over again, so it seems pretty clear that the desire for peace is unilateral.
Why is the Palestinian leadership not interested in peace?
It seems weird to reject peace when it seems to cost SO much, but the reality is that Palestinian leaders are not only detached from their people and their suffering, but also benefit greatly from the ongoing war. The people of Gaza receive huge amounts of money from countries like Qatar, as well as donations from other countries, and significant parts of that go directly into the pockets of Hamas leaders. For example, Khaled Mashal, Hamas leader, owns multiple properties in Gaza and Qatar, and other leaders have comparable fortunes. In fact, after Yasser Arafat’s death, it was discovered that Arab leader had over a billion dollars stashed away – all carved off money received to benefit his people. In addition, promoting anger and hate against Israel serves to divert the people’s attention from this sort of corruption. They gain the public’s support by promising revenge against Israel’s, and then promote further violence to fuel the hate. It’s a vicious and endless cycle.
Hamas fires missiles to Israel, Israel fires missiles to Gaza. What’s the difference?
The key difference is that Israeli missiles are precisely targeted to destroy Hamas missile stores and rocket launchers. Each missile or bomb is dropped to a specific point determined by military intelligence and surveillance. Hamas rockets, on the other hand, are only roughly aimed at Israeli cities, trying to cause as much death and destruction. Israel’s rockets are preventative measures, trying to destroy military supplies using very small explosive charges so as to cause as little casuals as possible. Hamas’ rockets are intended to inflict as much suffering on Israel as possible.
Isn’t what Israel does similar to what the Nazi’s did to the Jews in world war two and the holocaust?
Far from it! Unfortunately, Palestinians are wounded and killed daily as part of the conflict, but this is an unavoidable as Hamas weapons are used and stored within heavily-populated places. When these are destroyed as part of Israel’s effort to reduce the number of rockets fired at it daily, innocent bystanders get hurt. Israel takes many steps at great costs to minimize this, including informing civilians of precise future attack targets, but this isn’t always possible. The Nazi’s, on the other hand, personally executed millions of Jews (up to 3000 people PER HOUR in a single camp!) without warning. The Nazi’s actions were specifically and efficiently targeted at wiping out the Jewish people.
Why so many Palestinians get killed if it’s not the purpose?
This happens for two reasons. When Israel finds a location of a missile launch site or ammunition depot, it’s not possible to destroy it with a 100% precision. A bomb typically levels a building, but damage to surrounding structures is inevitable, usually, especially with Palestinian architecture not being very sound to begin with. The 2nd reason is that Hamas is actively and intentionally keep civilians as close as possible to these targets because they WANT casualties, as this promotes their goals and agenda (The Israeli army, as well as the UN itself discovered many missile stocks hidden inside hospitals and schools)
Israel has such advanced Army, so why not be more precise?
When a launch site is discovered, it’s usually not possible to just walk into a crowded city and hit it. The time it would take would easily allow the missile launchers to clear out, and moving large army forces inside a hostile territory would inevitably lead to a large volume of casualties for Israel. This is a price the Israeli government isn’t willing to pay and instead, they alert the population of impending attacks with enough time to let them clear out. Some choose to ignore the warnings, or stay intentionally, and the result is casualties.
If Hamas's weaponry is so substandard as to cause minimal damage, then the carnage caused reciprocally seems unnecessary, right?
Keep in mind that when an Israeli bomb kills Palestinians, it's not a "retaliation" or "revenge", and so it's not supposed to be "reciprocal" or proportional. It's a specific action aimed at reducing the Hamas’ ability to launch additional rockets. Israeli leaders would prefer to reduce the death count as much as possible, which is why they drop warning leaflets and send out text messages to the population, to give them a fair chance to clear out.
If residents of Gaza know about upcoming bombing, why do they stay and get killed?
There were a few occasions of misunderstanding that led people to think their neighborhood is in the clear, but for the most part, this is because Hamas leaders instruct the population to ignore the warnings. In fact, there were several documented cases where residents, including women and children who were violently forced into targeted locations.
Isn’t there a way for Israel to stop Hamas missiles other than bombings?
The only way to reduce the death toll would be to send in troops on the ground to do this, which would lead to a much higher death toll for Israeli soldiers (you can see the high number of casualties in the IDF in the tunnel-related operation). A Palestinian life is just as precious as an Israeli one, but a military leader can’t be expected to send his own men die solely for reducing numbers on the other side. Also, the human-shield policy used by Hamas would inevitably lead to many casualties in any type of military operation.
Do the deaths of three individuals (the Israeli teenagers murdered in June) justify killing over a thousand?
Of course not! However, this is not the right way to see it. The military action in Gaza and the resulting deaths are NOT “punishment” for the murdered kids. In fact, Israel didn’t retaliate for that at all. A group of Israeli individuals did try to avenge by murdering a Palestinian, but that was a singular action for which Israel took immediate action (of capturing the Israeli murderers). At that point, things escalated to firing massive numbers of rockets into Israel. The Israeli action is strictly preventative.
So, do the rockets launched from Gaza justify the deaths of Palestinians?
“Justify”…not exactly. There’s nothing “just” about death, but the circumstances mitigate the seemingly unjust decisions and actions. As I explained earlier, Israel is doing a lot to minimize the death toll, but it absolutely has to try and reduce the number of incoming rockets.
Why isn’t Israel simply giving the Palestinians what they want?
Israeli is actually willing to give the Palestinians ALMOST everything they want, but not all. Most of the what is known as “the occupied territories” is in total Palestinian control anyway, but the Palestinians are also demanding full ownership of core parts of the state of Israel (such as the city of Jerusalem). Jerusalem is still a site of major importance to Jews and giving it up would prevent Jews from accessing some of the most important places such as the Wailing Wall and the old city.
Why is Israel occupying the Palestinian lands?
Israeli presence in Palestinian areas is actually very small, but it still has to exist because there are many Israelis living in these areas or very close to them, and this necessitates an armed presence to defend them. In addition, Israel has to secure the passage between Gaza and the west bank to prevent terrorists from sneaking in (such attempts occur daily).
Why do Palestinians have to be humiliated and mistreated just because they want to travel to work inside Israel?
Border crossings between Palestinian territories and Israel are FAR from efficient, and no doubt the experience is sometimes rough. The long lines are not unusual (you get the same if you drive from the US to Mexico or back) but unfortunately, the men who secure the passage are young soldiers. They aren’t versed in Arabic or Palestinian culture and due to the high threat level and tremendous stress, the results are sometimes humiliating to those coming through. When a security event happens (and those happen almost every day), things can get even worse as the lockdown can grind things to a halt. No one wants or enjoys it, but just like the TSA in the US sometimes detains someone needlessly due to some random error, Israeli border patrol makes mistakes too.
Why are there Israeli settlers in Palestinian territories?
Mostly for financial reasons. Because the Palestinian territories are mostly uninhabited and very far off Israel’s main cities, land there is extremely cheap and so many Israelis have chosen to live there over the years. In addition, taxes are significantly lower. For most of Israeli’s history, the area officially belonged to Israel and at times settling was even actively encouraged by the government of Israel. Over the years, Israel has cleared a significant portion of settlements, but some existing settlements aren’t that easy to remove. I should say that ejecting all Israelis from Palestinian territories wouldn’t really benefit anyone, because there’s no shortage of free land there. On the same note, there are several million Arabs living inside Israel and no one is wanting to eject them.
Why are so many newspapers saying that Israel is bad, then?
Many people think that the media reports facts and do so accurately, but the reality is that it’s not like that at all (and I know this because I worked as a journalist for half my life). Journalists have opinions, and they often reflect in their writing, and their editors’ opinions affect the depiction and topic selection as well. In addition, Journalists report info that is given to them, and that’s not always accurate. For example, the Palestinians often twist facts and conceal info, but journalists don’t question it because it comes from an “official source”. Many don’t conceive that a government rep might lie, nor do they have a means to check the facts. In reality, the Palestinians think it’s perfectly fine to lie, and have been caught red-handed falsifying footage and photos multiple times.
Why is the UN always blaming Israel?
The UN is supposedly a body that is neutral and peaceful, but the reality is that a significant number of UN members are pro-Palestinian by default because they are either Arab or anti-Israeli. These members use their combined numbers to drive the agenda of the UN. They offer proposals and drive decisions that are against Israel, with little to no resistance or opposition. For example, resolution 43/54 from 1988 that condemns Israel clearly describes how it’s based on the twelfth Arab summit. In reality, the United Nations is little more than “United Arab Nations”, and the organizations is exploited by Arab states as a platform to attack Israel on a regular basis.
If Israel is not in the wrong, why then all of Europe is condemning Israel all the time?
The Europeans have good intentions, but there are two main things that affect their conduct. First is the fact that a significant part of the population of many European countries is Muslim and therefore automatically against Israel and pro-Palestinian. This puts a lot of political pressure on leadership, which often leads to biased opinions and actions. Secondly, many European nations have participated in aggressive occupation and persecution in their past, which leads to a heightened sensitivity to the topic and a desire to distance themselves from stuff they did. The British, the Germans, the French and the Spanish have all tried (with various level of success) to conquer the world, destroying and killing anyone who stood in their way, and their collective guilt leads them to be as vocal as they can against Israel for fear of their own past being brought up against them.
Is there a solution to this never-ending conflict?
Many have tried over the years, and I certainly am no smarter than experts and leaders, so I don’t claim to have a solution. I believe there’s a lot of will and readiness within both the Israeli and Palestinian population for co-existence, but it takes only a handful of extremists to break the balance. After all, a single individual Palestinian independently launching a few rockets into Israel, or a single individual Israeli doing something crazy could easily set the region ablaze very quickly (in the current conflict of 2014, a murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair by an Israeli in revenge of the killing of 3 Israeli kids is what lit things up). Given that, and how the fighting benefits Palestinian leaders, I think it would be very long before a permanent solution is ever reached – probably not within my own lifetime.