“How do you want us and Hamas not to fire rockets if Israel is the one that started killing civilians?”
That’s a question I received from Haytham Mohanna on Saturday. He’s a 16-year old who just returned home to Gaza after attending high school in Haines this past year. He was responding to my message that I wished Hamas would cease firing rockets that could kill innocent people in Israel. Answering him isn’t as easy as it should be.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, through July 12 Israel’s military strikes killed 168 Palestinians. Among them were 133 civilians, 33 of whom were children. In Israel, Haaretz reported one fatality on Sunday — an elderly woman who died from a heart attack while seeking shelter from the rockets.
Lopsided is the right word to describe the conflict. It was used by NBC News anchor Brian Williams last Thursday in terms of casualties, weapons systems and “the rocket shield they call Iron Dome, paid for in part by close to $1 billion U.S. dollars. The Palestinians are more or less trapped in Gaza, with no sirens to warn civilians of an incoming strike, as the Israelis continue to hit back when struck.”
Mohanna would agree with everything Williams said, except the implication that Israel’s strikes are only in response to Hamas’ rockets. From a casualty perspective, Williams is not entirely wrong. Israel was the first and remains the only side that has directly killed any civilians.
But I refuse to accept his argument that it gives Hamas the right to target the civilian population areas.
“Violence begets violence,” Martin Luther King Jr. frequently said in reference to a concept from the Gospel of Matthew. King was a devout believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent teachings. Violence as a means to achieve justice becomes a “descending spiral ending in destruction for all” he warned. “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.”
The current crisis escalated after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The 1948 Arab–Israeli War began after a similar crime. Almost immediately after the U.N. approved the creation of the State of Israel in November 1947, seven passengers were killed when two Jewish buses were ambushed by Arab gangs. What followed was a civil war that grew beyond Israel’s borders as Arab states intervened on behalf of the Palestinian people.
Israel successfully defended itself and the war officially ended with the signing of an armistice with Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. It came too late for the 6,400 Israelis and 10,000 Palestinians and Arabs who died in the war. Most of those lives would have been spared had either side found the courage to embrace Gandhi’s wisdom.
In India and America, Gandhi and King successfully brought an end to systems of legal injustices which oppressed their people. The nonviolent movements they led gained international support for their cause, and pressure from outside was a significant factor to winning equality, freedom and peace. This is why I believe Hamas would serve its people more effectively over the long term if it would adopt tactics of nonviolent resistance.
But by responding this way to Mohanna’s question, I’m implying that nonviolence is only a tool for militarily weaker and oppressed people. What about Israel, he essentially asked.
Indeed, Israel isn’t on the moral high ground when its idea of justice goes well beyond an eye for an eye. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, five times more Palestinian/Arabs than Israelis have been killed during violent conflicts over the last 50 years. Worse yet, the revenge ratio was 100-to-1 in the 2008-2009 war between Israel and Gaza. And tragically, even by Israeli Defense Force estimates, between 25 and 40 percent of the 1,200 Gazans killed were civilians.
The problem here is that the more powerful states, including America, preach civil diplomacy to win peace but are quick to use their more sophisticated weaponry to inflict greater destruction than the havoc and suffering perpetrated by the weaker enemy. It leaves nations like us with blind hearts to the suffering of people on the other side of the conflict. And it’s the model that armed militants mistakenly imagine as strength and embrace as a badge of courage.