Israel/Palestine Overview
Aug 24, 2011

Israel/Palestine Overview

The Israel/Palestine issue is a particularly difficult topic to talk and write about simply because it is such a poignant, polarizing and established issue. Within a few sentences, western commentators on the issue quickly get lumped as either "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel". It becomes necessary to make explicit a somewhat long list of background qualifiers on the situation before we can continue discussing the issue at an intellectual level. This post represents an overview of those background qualifiers which will hopefully put my many other posts on the subject into context. I don't intend to elaborate on specific issues here, but merely sketch the overarching framework of discussion.


To begin with, we must establish firmly that if we are to claim to believe in a universally applicable morality we must acknowledge that it applies to everyone. We must completely throw away the false dichotomy of there being two sides that one must be either on the one side or the other. What I advocate is always an attempt to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, and any other nation, creed, religion, ethnicity or arbitrary way one can divide humans. We must be pro-human, not pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian.


While this moral non-sidedness is imperative, we must face the realpolitik that there is a legitimate dichotomy on the ground. Occasionally - and I do mean occasionally - there are times when advocating for a policy helps one of these groups at the expense of another and the result of our analysis is this policy minimizes harm to humans in general - perhaps the harm is asymmetrically egregious or asymmetrically affects more people on one side than another. That is just a reality of life in a conflicted world that, rightly or wrongly, pits groups of people against each other. However, most of the time the policies that I advocate are ones that are beneficial for both groups of people; it is not, for the most part, a zero sum game. For example, I think we would all agree that the end goal of a lasting peace agreement is a policy that helps both nations. More specifically, the example of the blockade of Gaza while obviously horrific for the Palestinians does, in my estimation, also harm the people of Israel through entrenching the obstacles to peace and other factors.

It is a sad testament of the state of political conversation on this issue that I feel compelled to say this, but it should be noted that criticism of the policies of the state of Israel is very, very different from being anti-semitic. Of course, there are anti-semites, including in the secular left that I sometimes identify with, and they should be strongly condemned. But I firmly believe that these are in the minority. Moreover, the too frequent statements that attempt to loosely paint opposition to policies of the state of Israel as anti-semitic is the kind of unilateral ad hominem that only succeeds in being divisive and stifling open conversation. Perhaps that is the point of it. I want what is best for the people of Israel, but if the policies of the state of Israel are not accomplishing that then pointing this out is, far from being anti-semitic, is a moral imperative.


It is true that my posts, this one included, are more critical of Israeli and US state actions than of Palestinians. This asymmetry is not, I believe, an example of negligent bias but instead reflects attention to asymmetries that exist on the ground and in the media representation. On the media level, much of western media coverage is staunchly pro Israel either through direct bias or through the various indirect biases such as access or appealing to latent viewpoints in the population. Violence of Palestinians against Israelis is well covered, the opinions of Israeli political leaders are well covered, and commentary that discusses the situation from the Israeli perspective is pervasive. It is thus natural that more effort is spent - especially since this blog covers (western) media as a topic in its own right - on western media coverage and, further, providing a counterveiling voice to that one sided narrative is important and acts as a balance.


More importantly, there is the asymmetry on the ground. Consider the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza strip: over 1,400 Palestinians lost their lives. 13 Israelis did; it has been over 40 years with the one nation occupying the other; etc. Rightly or wrongly, these (and many more discussed on this blog) are asymmetric realities on the ground that simply cannot be ignored and the idea that we must have a moral relativism where criticizing one side asymmetrically is indicative of bias cannot stand.


As a Canadian citizen, I am a member of a country whose state policies are asymmetric towards Israel and is part of an international system that includes Israel but does not include Palestine - policies that are possible because of the tacit support of our population. Likewise, as a blogger, my audience is also overwhelmingly western. As such, my focus is almost forced to be in identifying and decrying violence perpetrated or supported by the west - to the extent that this exists. This is where I have influence, small though it may be. If my audience was Hamas militants, I would surely worry little about the ratio of Netanyahu interviews to Abbas interviews in western media; I would be decrying their violence in the strongest possible terms.


Let me take this opportunity to, again, state the obvious. Violent action undertaken by a Palestinians I condemn in the strongest possible terms. I fundamentally disagree with many of the actions and much of the rhetoric of the various leadership of Palestinians. Absence of focusing on these issues is not to minimize my criticism of them. I also condemn violence, policies and rhetoric of Israelis and their leadership; my attention, however, is focused on the latter for the various reasons sketched above.


Nothing I have said should be remotely contentious. We should all just quickly agree to these background points - agree, that is, to be decent human beings - and get on with discussing what kind of policies are best for the people of the region. It is only because the level of debate has become so vested and contentious that most of these qualifiers are even needed. We can be partisans in disagreement on the most effective policies to various ends, but we must agree about the universality of our desire to help all peoples and that our basic aims are fundamentally just.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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