According to the Palestinian narrative, innocent Palestinian citizens have been demonstrating peacefully against the siege around Gaza, with no violent intentions, for several weeks. It is simply non-violent resistance, they say, which is being met by overwhelming force by the Israeli security forces, such that they now view it as a “massacre.” At the same time, isn’t it also true that Hamas is encouraging young Palestinians to become martyrs and even pays them to endanger their lives by running up to the fence? So one must ask the Hamas leadership: why are you doing this to your young people?
According to the official Israeli narrative of the IDF and the Israel government, the rioting along the fence which serves as the border between Gaza and Israel, is being totally orchestrated by Hamas and led in the field by Hamas operatives. But isn’t a large part of it also non-violent civil resistance? Moreover, according to high-ranking IDF officers, Israeli soldiers do everything they can to prevent civilian deaths since this is part of their training and their code of ethics. Therefore, perhaps the problem is not with the army but with the government who is encouraging a very tough response to these incidents?
Whenever there are such extreme opposing narratives, one must assume that the “truth” (if there is such a thing any more) is somewhere in between.
On the one hand, there are thousands of Palestinian civilians who are demonstrating against their horrible humanitarian situation, which they blame more on the siege by Israel than on the strategy of their Hamas government. Nevertheless there is no doubt that Hamas leadership is deeply involved in the planning and execution of these events, with the goal of achieving a “victory” by someone breaking through the fence. Hamas appears to be desperately trying to instigate violence to influence public opinion against Israel around the world. I would ask the Hamas leaders: why not spend more time, energy and money in trying to solve your humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with the help of international players who care about this deeply?
On the other hand, the government of Israel is using its military might—including and especially lots of snipers—to prevent this Hamas “victory” and, following this logic, to prevent Hamas attacks inside Israeli communities on the other side of the fence. However, as retaliation for so many people who have been killed and wounded, it is likely that the whole situation will backfire against Israel, either through terrorist incidents against innocent civilians in Israel or against soldiers or against targets abroad, or the launching of rockets once again against civilian targets inside of Israel.
As a Jewish citizen of Israel, I am asking myself many troubling questions today: Aren’t our soldiers killing too many unarmed mostly defenseless Palestinians on the Gaza border, including women and children? Aren’t there other ways to disperse demonstrations?
Some experts, such as Amos Harel, the military correspondent for Haaretz, have been calling for weeks for the use of other means to disperse rioting, with the help of the Israeli police. One wonders why this has not been done.
And I would further raise the question, as Harel did in one of his columns this week in Haaretz, why the government of Israel—and for that matter also the government of the USA and other governments around the world—have not taken any serious steps in recent years to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, despite all the warnings that this was going to explode and lead to violence?
Is so much disproportionate killing really necessary? Are there no other tactics in the arsenal of the government and the army rather than killing so many Palestinians in such an indiscriminate manner, all under the banner of “security”? Much of the international community does not think so. Did the government who gave the orders for this very tough response consider international opinion at all? It seems that there were a few cases of violence by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers. The IDF spokesman referred to three such incidents. But how does this justify more than three thousand people wounded on the Palestinian side?
Our government and army are seriously worried about hundreds of Palestinians—some of them armed—crossing the fence/border and endangering the lives of soldiers and civilians within Israel. But we must ask: does this legitimate worry merit such a severe shoot-to-kill policy of Palestinians on the other side of the fence, before they have actually crossed over and endangered anyone?
Finally, what has happened to empathy? Is there any empathy left among Israeli Jews for the killing of so many Palestinians? Can Jews here—and abroad—imagine themselves as if they were Palestinians today? What if, God forbid, Palestinians were able to kill more than 50 Jews in one day and wound thousands, without one Palestinian having been attacked or killed? What would the Jews of the world say about this?
Is it possible to see the other as we would like to be seen and understood? Or, is this no longer possible in the Trump-Netanyahu post-truth era, where only power matters and the ethics of how we use our power are irrelevant?
These are disturbing questions that many of us who are concerned about peaceful coexistence and a sane future in this part of the world are asking ourselves today. I know that there are no easy answers to these questions; nevertheless, they must be raised if we are to remain a people with a conscience, one that forces us to grapple with the ethical behavior of a once powerless but now powerful people at difficult times like these.