On 2 April 2013, Maysara Abdu Hamdiya, a retired Palestinian Authority officer imprisoned in Israel, died of throat cancer. He had been arrested in 2002 on attempted homicide charges after he sent a suicide bomber to a café in Jerusalem. Following his death, Gaza violated the ceasefire negotiated in November and fired two rockets into Israel. Israel responded with an airstrike, bombing an uninhabited field in Gaza.
So far, almost every statement I have heard concerning the tumult in Gaza follows the same formula: “The [Palestinians/Israelis] are callous aggressors! They just bomb [Israel/ Gaza] with no regard for civilians! The [Palestinians/Israelis] just want peace, but the [Israelis/Palestinians] want war. And the [Palestinians/Israelis] have a right to defend themselves, doncha know!” Some orators go beyond national identities and venture into religious territory, invoking sensitive words such as ‘jihad’ or ‘Jew’ and asserting that the current situation in the Middle East is one of “ideological warfare.” I assure you, it is not.
The crisis between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is not centered on something so abstract as ideology; it is based on something banal yet fundamental: land. To paraphrase famed Israeli author Amos Oz, the Israelis and Palestinians are engaged in a dispute over real estate. There is little more to it. There is a piece of land – now Israel, formerly the British colonial territory of Palestine—which both the Israelis and the Palestinians have legitimate claim over; though different, each of their claims is equally viable. The problem that both factions face is that of extremism. Extremists (from both parties) adulterate and corrupt any attempt at the successful negotiation of this battle over land.
On the Palestinian side, there is Hamas. It is no secret that Hamas, the terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip, purposely and unabashedly aims its missiles at Israeli towns, purposely targeting civilian hubs. Hamas does not recognize the existence of an Israeli state, referring to Israeli citizens as ‘occupants’ of Palestinian territory.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government struggles to simultaneously defend its citizens and deflect accusations of human rights violations from the international community, stemming from Israel’s blockade of Gaza following the election of Hamas in 2006. The blockade served to prevent the construction and deployment of missiles toward Israel by Hamas; it was thought that, with fewer military resources, Hamas would be weakened, and the moderate Palestinian National Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, could return to power.
So far, in part due to the blockade, Hamas has not been able to develop modern and accurate weaponry – many of the missiles it fires either do not reach Israel or are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. The inequity between Israeli and Hamas’ weaponry has attracted criticism from the international community, which claims that Israel should not retaliate against a weaker foe. This is a spurious claim; no country should tolerate continuous missile attacks and a perpetual threat to its citizens. However, Israel could certainly do more to mitigate the justified indignation of the Palestinian people.
Over the past few years, Israel has defiantly violated international law by constructing settlements in the West Bank, and even the legality of its blockade against the Gaza strip is suspect.
The current centre-right government under Netanyahu is intransigent and unwilling to even negotiate the possibility of a two- state solution. Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, is a nationalist fanatic, whose policies and political perspective border on the xenophobic. Israel receives a lot of criticism, and deserves a good deal of it. Hamas deserves a good deal of criticism, but does not receive nearly enough. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – there is only peace, which cannot be achieved until both Israel and Hamas receive censure for the current status quo.
Not every Palestinian is a member of Hamas, and not every Israeli is Avigdor Lieberman. It is these ideologists that make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into an ideological one, when it does not have to be. The demagogues at the keel of both Israel and Gaza rile up both the population and the media, stratifying Semites into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The moderate ones, those that support a nonviolent discussion, a two-state solution, an atmosphere of tolerance, they are silent.
For, as Bertrand Russell wisely said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.”