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January 02, 2009


I can't believe that many Americans think that the attack on Gaza is "justified." The vast majority of people simply tuned out Middle Eastern violence in the Seventies or Eighties and only take notice briefly when a particularly barbaric incident occurs. Saying that people believe that the Gaza attack is justified is like saying that people approve of Laurent Nkunda's depradations in Congo: such a statement would simply require far more attention and interest than almost anyone is devoting.

Paying attention is dangerous, since those who pay attention feel angry as you do, or helpless, or even spurred to action. As someone who has no relations (beyond same species!) in Gaza or in Congo, how can I figure out which one to pay attention to? If I allow myself to be upset, what then do I do? These are not trivial questions.

I don't know about "many" Americans, I'm just speaking about the people who say to me, casually in conversation, things like "well Israel has to do SOMETHING about those rockets" or "what else can they do?"

But I agree with the "tuning out" assessment. My husband reminded me today that I said earlier that if there's trouble in Kashmir (for instance) I can tune it out, but trouble in Gaza - or at least trouble this bad - obsesses me. Maybe it's because I speak Arabic and people in Gaza look like my relatives. I was very sad about Mumbai and found the story of the rabbi and his wife and their toddler haunting. I had to work to set it aside so I could go about my business.

However there's a difference between tuning out a big atrocity, and trying to make excuses for it.

Perhaps those people making excuses have tuned out what is actually happening, so they don't understand what it is they're making excuses for? Maybe they're like the fellow who claimed that Palestinian children posed for cameras, pretending to be wounded (or dead) - maybe they think it's just not really that bad, it's not really 400 people dead.

If you have not heard anyone in your social circle make excuses for this latest blitz in Gaza, then I am happy for you.

No one in my social circle has even mentioned Gaza. Our capacity to be outraged is completely depleted.


I know many very bright and moral people who oppose Israeli expansionism and want to see justice for the Palestinians, AND who also see Hamas as a vicious fanatical religious group that wishes to keep itself in power at all costs and who intentionally seeks to kill Israeli civillians in order to further its own cause. That these bright and moral people feel perplexed about the situation in Gaza -- pained over the killing of civillians, furious at the Israeli government for not working harder at a resolution during the 6-month cease fire, furious at the Israeli government horrific settlement policy, furious at Hamas for enabling Israeli towns to be bombarded with missles, perplexed as to how this will impact both the next Israeli and Palestinian administrations and what outcome will actually lead to a genuine and real peace between these two people (be that a 2-state, 1-state, or hybrid soultion)-- is actually fairly understandable. Your perspective is likely influenced by your reading solely those people who agree with your POV and rarely challenge you. It's the Limbaugh Fox News phenomena that exists for the Left as well the Right.

You know many years ago I met some Christian Lebanese on a visit to Brooklyn, NY. I couldn't believe the words I heard coming out of their mouth regarding the Shia in Lebanon. It was Nazi-like extermination language. While I clearly don't condone what they uttered one bit, it wasn't until I actually learned about what they had been through that I was able to understand where it was coming from.

For the record, I think the Israelis are not being wise at all with their actions in Gaza, and this is just one more horrible tragedy for the Palestinian people, who need no more tragedies. Unlike you, however, I am not so certain that I feel entitled to make judgments on others who might not be in lockstep with me.

Seems rather simple to me. Killing civilians is a war crime. Laying siege to a people is a war crime. The Geneva Conventions are clear on this.

It's also clear that whatever the crimes of Hamas, Israel's tactics are not working. However, Israel's tactics are killing women and children. There isn't any question about this. Note that I have not said that therefore Hamas' rockets, suicide bombs or anything else are justified. I am simply saying - women and children and civilian men are being killed in Gaza right now, that is wrong, and if my friend cannot see that it is wrong, I question the friendship. I question myself for being so tolerant that I entertain friendships with people so blinded that they cannot see murder as wrong.

You, Cynthia, with your ambiguities - I too see ambiguities and complexities. But when it comes to killing civilians and starving Gaza, I side with the rule of law. International law. Accepted military laws to which the United States is a signatory, to which our own military is supposed to adhere.


We both agree that the death of civillians is a horrible thing and that Israel ought not invade Gaza for a multitude of reasons, but please inform me of any significant military action that did not result in the deaths of civillians. I would wager your friends agree with you that civillians dying in a war is wrong, but they likely also believe it to be unavoidable when you're fighting against a Hamas or Hezbollah who intentionally seeks to put their own people in harms way. This is an ugly truth, but a truth that has been well documented. It is also true that Gaza is so concentrated that it is hard for Hamas to not be near civilians, but like Hezbollah, they seek to "strategically use their own human assets".

As your other commenter Alison remarks, most people are so dulled by the daily news of civillian deaths, whether in Congo, Bosnia, Kashmir, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Mumbai, that they start to accept them as a fact of war, while in no way condoning them.

As an experiment, why don't you ask your friends point blank "Do you think it is right that women and children die in the attack on Gaza?" Then ask your friends who oppose Israel if they think it is justified for Israeli civillians to be killed, unintentionally, if it is in the name of legitimate resistance by the Palestinians.

I'm sure you oppose both, but it's rather easy for us to do so when we are not on the receiving end of Israeli or Hamas bombs.

Oh, and our own military (USA - I'm an American), has killed FAR more civillians in military actions, so perhaps we are not the best example to use for adhering to military law. Though the intentional killing of civillians by our military is most definitely more the exception than the rule. The rule is unintentional killing of civillians, as it is with the IDF currently in their Gaza war campaign. The sanctioning and blockading of Gaza is a more intentional act to harm civillians through collective punishment.

Keep talking, Cynthia. You're not convincing me that it's okay to kill babies in Gaza (or anywhere). You're not convincing me that anything about this war is right, rational or useful.

However you may be doing several useful things. You are protecting yourself from seeing the horror of what you defend; you are protecting yourself from the accusation that you are someone who condones murder.

You are possibly beginning to argue yourself out of condoning murder, although I'm not sure of that. I hope so.

And you are providing for my friend Alison above a good example of the sort of rationalizing I don't care to tolerate in my own friendships.

Now my new idea that I'm going to drop friends because of their stance on Gaza contradicts the values of my friend Len Traubman, as stated in the "War is Obsolete" manifesto. If I were living the ideals of Len Traubman, I would be willing to listen to your story, listen to you fumble for all the reasons why you think it's okay to defend the butchery - and furthermore why you believe I am wrong or cruel or intolerant to call it butchery.

I accept that you have such a story that drives you, Cynthia, and I accept that you are a human being as flawed as any other, and that your story gives you this blind spot. I accept myself for my own blind spots.

But today, this week, I really don't give a damn about trying to listen to your pain and your self-questioning Cynthia, unless you are willing to say that it's wrong to kill people this way. That the deaths in Gaza this week are wrong, and those who support the killing are wrong to do so.

I certainly hope you're not one of my friends in disguise, either, because I don't want to be your friend. I accept your existence as a human being, mind you. I just prefer not to know you.

And I will of course allow your comments on this blog to stand - mostly as an example of exactly what I don't care to stand for in my personal relationships.

I still have to think about how I'm going to handle this in real life, in a social situation. I don't believe in dropping people because I don't agree with their politics. But regarding murder... well, I just have to draw a line somewhere.

A further note: I have in the past dropped Arab-American friends based on their statements about violence and political resistance. I even dropped one guy over Hamas in particular. Not that he cared one way or the other. But I made a deliberate decision to avoid befriending him even though our paths crossed frequently. My feeling about this is non-partisan. You don't use murder to create peace. You don't murder to avenge murder, either. And terrorism by a state is still terrorism. I reject it.

I've been feeling very lost and alone as well, Leila. My non-Arab friends don't seem to understand what this conflict does to us emotionally.

I was frozen at a standstill for the first days of the Gaza assault but today I have been busy posting on my own blog to try to educate people.

I dream of the day when people will want to do something about the human rights violations rather than questions whether it's really a violation because it came from a Palestinian source.


I condemn the murder of any innocent person, especially children. I have made a resolution to limit discussion with people who are unwilling to grapple with the complexity of situations and spout bumper stickers at me when people are dying.

Don't worry, we don't know one another.

i'm new to the blog, lelia. help me understand...
we agree that war is tragic and inhumane-to be avoided at nearly all costs. but governments have certain responsibilities to their citizens. israel is acting on them. hamas is not. by indiscriminate and largely ineffectual rocket fire they have invited a response from a more powerful foe. by launching and storing weapons in residential buildings they violate international law and sacrifice their own citizens. it seems to be without logic...at least from a western mindset.

am i to believe that israel invited civil strife by leaving gaza 3+ years ago so that they could find an excuse to revisit death and destruction? do you not really believe that the citizens and the government have better things to do with their resources? granted the strip has been isolated and "locked down" with security used as the excuse. but the smuggling of missiles and arms through tunnels suggests that opening the airport and oceans would have been sheer insanity, for they surely would have been used for the same purposes.

i firmly believe that a more constructive approach by the palestinians would have been reciprocated-just as the alternative has been. so the issue is one of responsibility and i don't get how hamas isn't held accountable for creating, fostering and manipulating these deplorable circumstances.

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