Over the past weeks I have read numerous blogs, opinion articles and Israeli news sites representing viewpoints of both the left and right. I have written several comments on people’s Facebook walls expressing my opinions whilst simultaneously watching countless hours of Youtube videos and live Arutz 2 news reports about the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel. Throughout this process, I have noticed the same familiar expressions appearing in almost every discussion. “Israel has a right to defend herself,” “Israel has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza” “Israel’s use of force is disproportional,” “The Arab world will be glad when Israel defeats Hamas,” “It’s time to end this cycle of violence” and “Ceasefire now.” I have also read enough comparisons with the Holocaust to make me believe that Avraham Burg's assertions have more legitimacy than his detractors claim.
Inevitably, every one of these talkback pages ends with the opinionated author being accused of such deepantior pro-Israel bias, with comments that usually attack the person more than deal with the complexity of their argument. The people who write these comments usually fall in to two groups.
There are the leftists who believe that, based on the lessons of both the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon wars against Hezbollah, it is not possible to “teach Hamas a lesson” through force and that this conflict will only end around a negotiating table. They argue that terrorism does not emanate from a person or organisation that can be eliminated with a bomb. They believe that terrorism is an idea that can only be defeated by a more compelling idea, which in this case should be the value of dialogue and compromise.
The rightists argue that the path of the left has been tried and failed because there is no one to talk with in Gaza that can stop the rockets on Southern Israel. Therefore, in order for Israel to defend its citizens from daily rocket fire, the only solution to this conflict is a military one.
In between all these arguments, which are often expressed with colourful and emotive candour, I have come to notice one thing: Very rarely do our co-religionists switch from the right or the left during these debates. If anything, these debates serve only to harden their positions.
In two rallies held in Melbourne last week, a pro-Israel rally was attended by 600 Jews, whilst a pro-Palestinian rally was attended by 3000, with a few Jews there as well. Did either of these rallies convince anyone to change their positions? If all these “hasbara” efforts do little to change other people’s views, why do we bother?
In my observation the real reason we argue with one another so passionately is because we are desperately trying to convince ourselves that the very strong views we hold are legitimate.
Some say, “It’s right to bomb a school in Gaza to kill a gang of terrorists who use children as human shields.” “It’s right to negotiate with terrorists who don’t even recognise our existence because of the wrongs we have done to them in the past.” “If Arab mothers loved their children more than they hate us, there would be peace.” “It is Israel, the illegal occupier, who is the real threat to peace in the region.” These categorical statements make me shudder. Their shallowness and crassness only ever lead to screaming matches. By engaging in this kind of “information war,” be it from the left or the right, we are doing mental gymnastics to justify a logic that for many others is simply unjustifiable. Perhaps it is our way of saying “even though Israel’s choices seem unfathomable to you, I am trying to have them make sense for me.” However, the result of blaring our positions at each other through megaphones has resulted in us gradually becoming deaf to the subtlety and nuance required for reasoned debate and reflective understanding on the issues.
When we see every argument as a point scoring opportunity, then perhaps we are not really engaging with Israel or the main issues at all. Perhaps the purpose of these “hasbara” efforts is, depending on your point of view, to make us feel less guilty about Palestinian civilian causalities of this conflict, or to make us have less awareness of the incompatibility of Hamas with responsible leadership. Either way, I think it’s time to move beyond the confident proclamations of “the truth.” We should begin searching for the shades of grey and the humanity that this terrible war is sapping away from both sides every minute it continues.