Friday, August 1, 2014

Gaza and the outrage of millions


I do not follow the Palestinian-Israeli conflict very closely, but of course, given the high visibility of this issue, I am not completely ignorant of it either and do have opinions about it. Ever since the current war started, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been aflame with outrage at Israeli actions and support for the Palestinians. I have posted a post (basically saying there is no end in sight) and a few comments here and there, but generally stayed out of it. This (relative) lack of outrage has outraged some of my friends and forced me to think about it a bit more. So here goes:

First, about my relative lack of outrage: I plead old age. I am so old, I remember when i was outraged at Nixon's Christmas bombing of Hanoi (I was a child, but I was a precocious child in that way, in a very politically aware household). I was outraged at the genocide in East Pakistan a few years after it happened (how I missed being outraged at that in 1971 is a long story). I remember being outraged when the CIA sent terrorists to blow up stuff in Nicaragua and when right wing death squads nailed nuns to the table in El-Salvador. I was outraged at the first Iraq war (and marched in Washington to oppose it, then went to a bar and saw zero coverage of that HUGE march on TV) and approaching old age, at the second. If that looks like a leftish list of outrages, its because (like all Westernized Desis) I grew up in a Leftist milieu when it came to being outraged. But I compensated in my old age. I have since become retrospectively outraged at Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, among others. I was even mildly outraged by our (Pakistan's) close allies the Sri Lankan army, and their tactics in their elimination of the Tamil Tigers. But the point is, I have discovered by now that the outcome of these things is rarely determined by the number of people outraged. In actual wars, especially wars where the opposing parties look at it as a fight to the death, its usually a matter of who can fight better and longer and who has the deadlier weapons.

In short, if there is no middle ground, then the conflict (no matter who is at fault, or who did what to get here) will, NECESSARILY, be settled by the battle-axe. Any settlement by the battle-axe means more Palestinian suffering than Israeli suffering because Israel has the better axes. Supporters of Palestine (and I continue to believe that I am one, since I think a two-state solution on near 1967 borders is the most humane solution and complete defeat of either party involves too much human suffering) should keep this in mind before they valorize an armed resistance in which they themselves take absolutely no bodily risks. Israel must stop bombarding Gaza and killing civilians as collective punishment, but Hamas must also stop firing rockets and getting civilians killed. Even if we believe that the moral burden of those civilian deaths rests on the killers, not on Hamas, the price is too damned high. Moral victory at that price is not worth it.

Cheer leading that victory from 10,000 miles away on Twitter or Facebook is easy. But the price for those dying and suffering is too high. Should Hamas then accept blockade and lack of recognition and x and y?...yes and no. They must not act as if they can FIGHT their way past these restrictions because clearly they cannot. Then they should get out of the way and let more Gandhian alternatives try to improve the life of Palestinians instead of using them as cannon fodder. By not accepting X or Y, what exactly have they achieved? Has the blockade ended? has the suffering stopped? If the tactics you are using are only getting your own kids killed, then the tactics are not working. Honor and admiration from countless millions backslapping each other in their drawing rooms is not enough of a reward or achievement.

Almost all my friends disagree with me on this, but then, like me, they are safely away from the kill zone....also, many of them have had nasty words for Abbas (Abu Mazen). Well, he has not achieved what he wanted, but the West Bank Palestinians are still better off than the ones in Gaza. Their kids are not being slaughtered in the hundreds and they have the chance to resist non-violently and make their case to the world AND TO ISRAEL. Of course it is possible that (as most of my friends claim) Israel  is really not interested in making an honorable peace. But since the Palestinians do not have (and will not have in the foreseeable future) ANY way to militarily defeat Israel, their options are rather limited. Distant cheerleaders with nothing to lose are encouraging them to commit suicide so that we can all have dead heroes to admire. I dont think thats a good idea for Gazans.

Those protest demonstrations in Western capitals? I saw bigger ones before the Gulf war. What happened next is well known.

PS: What about my disproportionate attention to Pakistani Jihadists, ISIS and suchlike? I think its semi-rational. They have killed friends of mine already> they may kill more in the days to come. Their actions affect people I know personally. Its selfish, but its (sort of) rational.