Let me start by saying that every death in this war has made me more and more ill. I go to sleep thinking about it, and I wake up thinking about it. The conflict is six thousand miles away from me–I have the luxury of not having to worry about being blown up in my sleep (unlike some people)–but the searing pain of it never leaves me.
Why is this war so different than wars elsewhere on this planet?
There is great drama to this war. In recent comments in various online newspapers in Israel and elsewhere, Syria has been held up as an example. They point out that ten times as many have died in Syria, but Israelis and Palestinians still get ten times as much attention and outrage. Why is that?
Ultimately a number of writers will draw the conclusion that the war has brought out antisemitism. Any example of one sided reporting which attests to the horrors in Gaza– but makes no mention of Israel’s position–is antisemitic.
I don’t buy it. Not all of these people hate Jews, or even hate Israel. Which is not to say that this war hasn’t pulled out the stops for those who do. The violent demonstrations in France come to mind, where young demonstrators have set upon synagogues and storefronts.
But now I’m going to say something that may really sound off the wall. I don’t believe these angry, violent Muslims hate Jews per se. They hate usurpers. They hate Jews as they would hate any ethnic group that would try to establish a permanent foothold and place of power on their shores. And the hatred becomes all the more acute when that power is experienced as holding dominion over Arabs–especially through policies they believe to be unsound.
Which begins to show us, at least from a Muslim point of view, why the tragic deaths of so many Muslims in Syria is not nearly so keenly felt or dramatically expressed as when a Jew ends the life of a Muslim. The experience carries great dishonor.
The reader may have noted that I have begun to admonish Jews for their paranoia. Don’t get me wrong. When a violent Muslim feels totally justified in attacking a Jew a thousand miles away from Gaza, holding that person responsible for a presumed “tribal allegiance,” Jews have every right to feel concerned. All I’m saying is, it may be more useful to feel paranoid for the right reasons.
Historically, prior to Palestine immigration, Jews were largely tolerated in Muslim countries. Some would say it was through “dhimmi status”–official second class citizenship, and in ancient times even a religious tax, “Dhimmitude” has been contested by Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis. Lewis posits that there was neither a “golden age” of true equality between Muslims and Jews nor was there institutionalized discrimination. He supposes conditions were somewhere in between.
It would be fair to say, however, with the advent of Zionism in the late 1890s, Jews (many socialist) did not wish to be at a political disadvantage in relation to their Arab neighbors in Palestine. They proceeded into the heart of what had been 1400 years of Islamic sovereignty.
But Western incursions were not new to the Arabs. In Michael Oren’s “Power, Faith, and Fantasy,” the author asserts that as early as the 1790s, the US Navy was formed for the express purpose of developing a stronger presence in the Middle East. In other words, Arabs had grown to distrust Westerners and had many years of building up this mistrust. When the Zionists immigrated at the turn of the last century, the stage was set for conflict.
Latin American countries have been widely against Israel as well. Five countries have recalled their Ambassadors in this current conflict: El Salvador, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. These countries join existing countries who have disapproved of Israel for years and have no diplomatic relations: Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Mexican political scholar, Ithai Bras, points out two main reasons: First, anti-American sentiments which have existed for a long time in Latin America regard Israel as an extension of North American policies. Secondly, the protests in Latin America are an “identification with pain, a sentiment of solidarity with what is happening in Latin America where feelings of oppression are widespread” (AFP, Aug. 1st, 2014).
Country by country, we begin to see reactions to the current Gaza war as a projection screen for issues that are much broader in scale than the war itself. The Israeli official position, at least for now, is more immediate: survival. They are perplexed by how the treachery of Hamas’ tactics have been so readily scuttled by world opinion. Even while the country feels its very existence is at stake through this treachery, in the larger scheme of things, this treachery is deemed secondary.
Israel feels this is a slap in the face and has worked harder than ever to stress that this is the primary issue right now. But the world says no.
It feels like antisemitism, but is it? Can these misunderstandings result in antisemitism? Of course. Ad hominem attacks are common when passions reduce the ability to think carefully. The most primitive instinct–the desire to kill–is unfortunately too common in this region and dehumanizing rhetoric paves the way. .
Passions are inflamed. Many are quite vocal. And so I will ask again, what is it that makes this region so important?
I think the answer lies in the frequent use of the term “disproportionate.” The region has extreme symbolic importance. Anyone who lives here is seen by the rest of the world as a guardian of a sacred place. Israel and the territories represent a “microcosm” of three of the world’s major religions. The world would therefore have a greater personal, spiritual, and emotional stake in what goes on here. Additionally, as evidenced by nations from around the world “weighing in” on the conflict, the world’s moral consciousness is tested and evaluated. It is a world drama. In other words, it may be that both Jews and Palestinians are the Chosen People through whom the world looks at itself and tries to reconcile its ancient differences.
We are hated because we are seen as usurpers.