Monday, January 05, 2009

Israel, Hamas, and I

Tibor R. Machan

When one is bombarded with information about events the history of which is ancient and so complex that hardly anyone commenting makes sense of them, it is very tough to judge. That’s how it is with me and the current upheaval between Israel and Hamas.

The news reports at the beginning said Israel took military action after hundreds of missiles were being launched at it from Gaza. So to rid the Gaza strip of the missile launchers, Israel began to target various areas from which the missiles were being launched, presumably centers where Hamas had most of its personnel and equipment located. Further reports, especially on CNN International, observed that Israel’s response to the initiation of aggression by Hamas was disproportionate to what Hamas did to Israel. Still, as with most fights, this one had to start with someone throwing the first punch, as it were, and that seems to have been Hamas this last time. (Last time Hamas supposedly kidnapped some Israeli soldiers, another situation that was bizarre from the start.)

The Israelis claim that all they want is for the missile launching to stop and Hamas spokesmen on CNN say they will only stop of Israel stops its aggression! But this is confused since Hamas clearly started the launching of missiles out of the Gaza strip and isn’t even disputing this. So how could Israel be the aggressor? To aggress is to begin a fight, not to respond to one being initiated.

As I was watching report after report on CNN, while attending a conference—and getting no sleep--in Mexico, I noticed that the reporters of this news network kept repeating the claim, made by Hamas leaders and others who support Hamas and oppose Israel, that Israel is targeting innocent civilians. Yet it is nearly impossible to tell who is a civilian in the Gaza conflict, judging by the footage showing various groups of young people and adults shooting whatever weapons they have at hand and throwing rocks in the direction of the border between Israel and the strip.

Unfortunately the reports fail to include any discussion of how one is to tell the difference between Hamas civilians and Hamas militia. I have never seen any footage showing Hamas soldiers, if they exist; Israel, however, does distinguish between its civilians and its army by way of their garb.

After about five days of the hostilities CNN’s reporters had some Gaza government officials on the air and posed some pointed questions about who is the victim and who the aggressor. It was immediately clear that the official wanted at all cost to dodge the issue of who had started the current hostilities. When the CNN reporter asked about Israel officials’ claim about the missiles that had been launched at Israel and to which Israel was supposedly responding, the spokesman was so obviously evasive that I couldn’t believe it. Who sent this person to speak for Hamas? He replied to the CNN reporter by saying “I have always been known as an opponent of violence.” So what? Why is that an answer to “Israelis say they are responding to your aggression, so what is your answer to them?”

When one is bombarded with selective, nearly haphazard information about events around the globe, events that are one’s only source of understanding who is doing what to whom and how is it all justified, there is not much one can do but listen very carefully and determine who is making logical mistakes--who is equivocating, who is being evasive and vague, who is being clear and answers relevant questions directly, without obfuscation.

By that criterion I have to say that my provisional assessment of what is reported from the Middle East leaves me with the impression that Israel is less responsible for the recent mess than Hamas. That’s as well as I can do with the immediate information at hand. Maybe more detail, more history will lead me to alter what I think about the matter but for now I am pretty sure that Hamas is the bad guy here, while Israel, as so often in history, is the victim.

As my mother, who lives in Europe and went through the mid-century disasters there, said to me a while ago, “Why don’t they leave those people live in peace?” Frankly, I am mystified myself. And it is also puzzling why so many Western academics seem to get on board with the anti-Israel stance. No, I don’t call it anti-Semitism because I don’t know the motivation behind their position. I do know that they nearly always favor Israel’s enemies and consider America’s official pro-Israel stance something wrongheaded, based not on considerations of justice but on the so called influence of the Jewish Lobby.

I don’t care about any lobby. I am only concerned that when fights break out, those who start them be identified, and that their reasons and motives be objectively evaluated. That is the only way I personally can make some bit of sense of these kinds of situations of which I receive such spotty information unless I become a specialist and for that I would need to return to school and get a graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies.

No comments: