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Gaza-Israel Crisis in Context

Gaza currently has 1.5 million people running out of food, fuel, and water suitable for drinking. The region has been set ablaze with Israeli attacks, leaving hospitals unable treat the myriad of people in desperate need of care. As a recent editorial in The Nation pointed out, 75 percent Gaza is without electricity and their sewage systems are bordering ruin. Furthermore, the loss of a dozen Israeli deaths and just over a dozen injured, Gaza has been lost over 600, a quarter of them being civilian. To say that this is a mere crisis would be as grave an injustice as the conflict itself.

All of this has created a dividing line in the mainstream media punditocracy. Neo-conservatives, the Israel Lobby, Christian Zionists, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Peace Now have engaged in some of the most vitriolic debate many have had the misfortune of seeing in a long while.

The worst has been directed towards those seeking a just peace, questioning the actions of Israel and proposing actions, ranging from conventional to the extreme, in hope of bringing this age-old crisis. Neoconservative writer Andrew Sullivan has compared The Nation’s Eric Alterman to the authors of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He writes, “Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young has accused me of blaming Hitler’s victims for Palestinian misery.” Statements just as striking can be found (predictably) in publications such as Commentary and The Weekly Standard.

All of this couldn’t come at a worse time. America is in shambles, and our credibility in the Middle East has been squandered on account of eight years of belligerent foreign policy, unjust wars, wrongful imprisonment, torture, and the perception that the US works only in the best interest of Israel. Attempting to play a vital role as the “middle man” will be take an extraordinary amount of finesse, not to mention the need to send a strong and clear message to the world that we wish only for justice and peace in the region.

This is easier said than done. The US has a long history of failure in the area of Middle East diplomacy, and this is particularly true in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. More often than not, it is that the US and the international community lacks the resolve to implement and enforce agreements, while giving a wink and a pass to breaches of the agreements.

How, then, are we to overcome these obstacles?

We must first begin with a change in perception. An example of such change would be US citizens overcoming the notion that Israel has for years been sacrificing land for peace. While it is true that land has been transferred, these plots are by no means sacrificial. The regions are settlements, having gone beyond it’s pre-1967 borders. In short, they are returning land that they confiscated and settled upon, forcing an outrageous number of Palestinians from their homes.

Doing this will force the US and the international community to hold both sides accountable for their former agreements. All sides endorsed UN Resolutions 424 and 338, the Oslo Accords of 1993, Bush’s “Road Map for Peace” in 2003, as well as those agreed upon at Annapolis. The only thing at play here is forcing both sides to be implement what was already agreed upon.

Secondly, the US must consistently apply their calls for democracy with the results of the democratic process of elections. The crusade for global democracy has resounded from Washington for some time, but leaders have been very selective when recognizing those democratically elected. If the goal is to have “the people” vote, and “the people” vote for a group that the US doesn’t particularly like (i.e. Hamas), the US must, if wishing to be consistent in their crusade for global democracy, recognize the decision of the people. To do otherwise is to be horribly inconsistent, fueling the Arab world’s impression that it isn’t so much democracy that we want, but rather to put leaders in power that have US interests and secular values at the forefront of their mind.

It would do us well recognize the fact that without a resolve which favors a two-state solution and a complete (or almost complete) withdraw from illegal settlements, there will be further tension in other areas of the Middle East. Iran, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah have much to gain from a failed peace process. Recruitment will increase, policies will be justified, and alliances will be solidified.

The US must identify and condemn various actions committed by both sides. The difficulty in doing so rests, at least in part, with the fact that we are dealing with two radically different groups.

Israel is a nation with a capitol, huge military and economic subsidies from the US, as well as a military force that rules the region like a colony, punishing a people collectively. As UN human rights representative of the territories has recently been quoted as saying, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is a “crime against humanity.” Women, children, and the elderly have been victims of attacks from Israeli air strikes. Palestinians are required to carry color-coded IDs and travel permits. Civilians have had their homes demolished. One must also include the barricades, checkpoints, and settler-only roads.

On the other hand, the Palestinians left with little more than guerrilla warriors and the unconventional tactics often accompanying them. As Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said to Alya Rea of CounterPunch, “Unfortunately the insistence on violent repression by or assailants leads to innocent blood on the streets. Since 1996, 12 years ago, we have proposed to exclude civilian targets from the conflict on both sides. Israel did not respond to that. When Israel insists on killing our kids, our elders and senior citizens and women, and bombarding houses with the gunships, F-16s and Apaches, when Israel continues these attacks, what is left for the Palestinians to do? They are defending themselves with whatever they have.”

None of this is to say that targeting civilians is ethically permissible. All that is meant here is to put the situation into context. One country with a capitol, subsidized military and economy, the ownership of nuclear weaponry and a state of the art military over against a colonized people with little more than Qassam missiles, outdated artillery, and individuals willing to be human bombs in order to settle a score.

President Obama has a tough road ahead, both on the home-front and internationally. But he must have the courage and wisdom to confront this age-old controversy in a way and with a resolve that former presidents have not. Unless he begins seeing the bigger picture, with all its complexities (i.e. religious, ethnic, economic, and militaristic), he will follow the same path as those who went before him. A path covered as much with the inhumane and unjust as much as it is with the blood and tears of the innocent.

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