Trying to understand

Following the recent news in Israel has been so disorienting. The conflict between Israel and Gaza has a long, complicated history, but is one that I thought I was somewhat familiar with. However, the comments on social media I’ve been reading this week seem to be based on an entirely different narrative. What is going on?

I’ve started writing this blog post a few times this past week but couldn’t find the right words.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the issue so I’ve been hesitant to respond on social media, but as the situation turns worse and worse, I feel like I need to say something on the chance that somebody who is searching to find their own truth on the matter will come across this and at the very least attempt to understand a different viewpoint.

Fortunately at this very moment, the cease-fire between the state of Israel and Hamas is still holding so Hamas isn’t shooting rockets into Israel and there are no sirens sending Israel’s civilians into bomb shelters, which happened for 11 days. In response, Israel isn’t retaliating.

Meanwhile, around the world, repercussions from the most recent conflict is still being felt as pro-Palestinian rallies are being held across the world and Jews are being attacked on the street in Los Angeles and New York and in other countries.

Like I mentioned above, the history of the region is a complicated one. Despite the fact that Israel is such a young country – it just turned 73 years old – and there are people still alive on both sides who were alive when it became a state and for all the wars since – there appears to be two completely different versions of history.

It’s not entirely surprising, especially after this past year when there seemed to be two different realities co-existing in the U.S. between both the pandemic and the 2020 election, and with the existence of “fake news” and Holocaust deniers. But it is alarming because the two versions of history are causing so much pain and violence today.

I’ve seen posts that imply that Palestinians lived in Palestine (without noting that these people living in Palestinian were both Arabs and Jews or acknowledging that there was never an independent Palestinian state) and then the British gave Zionists land and the Zionists kicked out the Palestinians who lived there (despite being welcomed with open arms, according to one narrative) and in surrounding areas and aggressively did so again in 1967, capturing more land and murdering thousands and now they are trapping Palestinians in Gaza and now Gazans are living horrible lives because of Israel. Some even claim that Israel is committing genocide. (Despite the fact that the definition of genocide is “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group” and the number of Palestinians has actually increased significantly.)

However the above narrative is different from the history I was taught, which I’ll share below. Just as I am stunned that people are rooting for the #FreePalestine movement, which I see as siding with the terrorist group Hamas that rules Gaza, I assume that people are wondering why people are supporting Israel when, in their view, the Israeli government is responsible for genocide and for apartheid. This is for those who are seeking to understand other views of the conflict and not for those who would want me and my people dead no matter what I write, but only because I exist.

There’s no denying that Gazans are living in deplorable conditions and it’s not right. Something needs to change because the current conditions are a humanitarian crisis. Nobody should live in those conditions and I wish the humanitarian funding that Palestinian agencies receive could change their conditions, but it appears that the money is instead going to Hamas, who is dedicated to fighting Israel and taking control of the region and is more interested in building terror tunnels and stockpiling weapons instead of helping those living in Gaza. Is there a way to establish peace and security for everyone?

Let’s start way, way back to ancient Israel.

Jews always had a connection to the land of Israel, which is clear in the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible and also the basis of Christianity and Islam. Israel is mentioned more than 2,000 times in the Torah. After the Temple in Jerusalem (the-center of worship and national identity in ancient Israel) was destroyed, the Israelites were exiled from the Jewish homeland.

Why is this significant? Years later, the Temple Mount mosque was built on the very spot where the Holy Temple was destroyed, which is one example why this area is such a source of conflict between the Jews and Muslims. When Jordan controlled the area between 1948-1967, Jews were not allowed to visit the area, but since Israel regained control of the area during the 1967 war, all religions were free to worship there.

I recently spoke to someone who lived in Israel during the 1967 war and she remembers sitting in a bomb shelter listening to a transistor radio and hearing reports of the Israeli army entering the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a very emotional time for Israelis, and even non-religious Israelis were moved at being able to visit the holy site after so many years.

It’s difficult to not look at the recent conflict without taking into account the religious element of it, with both sides feeling a connection to that tiny area of land. (If you look on a map, you’ll see how tiny Israel is – it’s about the size of New Jersey and it’s surrounded by Arab countries.) It’s the only Jewish state in the entire world (compared to about 50 countries with a Islamic majority). For generations, Jews in the Diaspora dreamt about someday returning to Israel. As they were discriminated against, being forced to choose between converting to a different religion or death, being massacred and being expelled from so many different countries (including many other Middle Eastern countries), they dreamt of someday returning to their homeland.

Palestinian Arabs obviously also have a long history and a strong connection to the land as well. So you have two groups staking claim to this little strip of land. The British owned the land and in 1917 Britain pledged to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine; this public statement is called the Balfour Declaration.

In other words, there was never an independent Palestinian state, but there were Palestinian Arabs living in the area (along with Palestinian Jews, although the numbers were much smaller as much of the Jewish population was spread throughout the world by that time after the expulsion.)

The state of Israel gained independence for a little portion of land in 1948 and 24 hours later was attacked by its neighbors and captured additional land. In 1967, a Six-Day war significantly altered Israel’s map, which included Israel capturing the Sinai Peninsula (which it later gave back to Egypt as part of a peace treaty), the Gaza Strip (which Israel disengaged from in 2005, removing all the Jewish residents and giving power to the Palestinian Authority), the West Bank, the Old City of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

And now, in Israel’s 73rd year, here we are with many wars and conflicts in between.

Before the rockets starting flying once again from Gaza to different areas of Israel on May 9, a few things happened that seemed to start the recent conflict, which had to do with an altercation between police and Palestinians at Temple Mount and a real estate dispute between Israeli settlers and Palestinian families from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where the settlers were trying to evict the families. One report I read stated that the homes were owned by Jewish families before Jordan displaced them when they took over East Jerusalem.

Reportedly these two things are what led Hamas start shooting rockets into Israel, attacking innocent civilians of all religions and ages in Israel. Fortunately Israel has the Iron Dome, which is an air defense system that intercepts rockets that fly over Israel. It’s usually successful, but it didn’t catch all of the rockets and there was destruction and deaths caused by the rockets.

In order to defend its country, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) strategically fired on areas in Gaza which its intelligence showed weapons were being stored. According to the IDF, these were not indiscriminate attacks and they gave warnings beforehand, telling people to leave the buildings. In other words, according to the IDF, their mission was to destroy the terror tunnels Hamas has built under the city that contain weapons used to attack Israelis. This differs from Hamas’ goal, which is to kill as many people in Israel as they can and ideally, as their charter states, to eliminate Israel completely.

In a sane world, this would be seen as a fight against terror – especially when you note that Israel extracted all Jewish people from Gaza back in 2005 in an effort to exchange land for peace. Yet by 2006, Hamas – which is considered a terrorist group in Israel and the U.S. – was elected to govern Gaza and that hope for peace disappeared.

Although anti-Semitic acts around the world seem to increase when Israel is at war, this one feels different because this time it seems like more people are justifying anti-Semitism because Israel defended itself against attacks and I just don’t understand that. Also, sadly, there was a great deal of in-fighting within Israel this time, including in cities that were known for having strong Arab-Jewish relations.

Although I get that there are people who feel like the state of Israel should have never existed, for whatever reason, do they also agree that it’s justifiable to attack Israeli civilians or Jews around the world because of the connection they may feel to their Jewish homeland?

Are those people who see it as a social justice issue as vocal about what has been happening in Syria or in other countries? Why only focus on Israel? For such a small country, it has accomplished so much. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its medical and technology innovations have improved the lives of people throughout the globe. Yet these days it has become the villain of the world stage for defending itself against terror attacks. What other country gives warnings for people to evacuate a building beforehand during a time of war?

One argument I’ve seen posted is the checkpoints that Palestinians need to go through in order to enter Israel and the border wall set up to prevent them from coming into Israel. After a number of suicide bombings – where Palestinians would come into Israel and then blow themselves up in buses and restaurants, killing innocent civilians – Israel needed to do something to help prevent this. Although the situation is obviously different, it’s similar to the safety precautions we now need to take at American airports before getting on a plane after 9/11.

Why are supermodels chanting the Hamas slogan of “From the river to the sea (Palestine will be free)”? Are they really advocating for the destruction of Israel and wiping Jews off the Earth? Because that’s essentially what they are advocating for. (For instance this video where Hamas leaders say it in their own words.) Do they believe that the violence from Hamas is justified? That if Israel evacuated the West Bank as they did Gaza that all of a sudden there would be peace and that the Palestinians’ leaders would then take care of their people? If Hamas is calling for the destruction of Israel, would it make any difference if Israel were to remove all the Jewish people living in the West Bank? Judging from what happened in Gaza, it doesn’t seem like they’d live up to their part of the bargain of land for peace.

Do the people living in Gaza understand that most of world Jewry pray for a different situation for them (at least the people I know)? That the ideal situation would be for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to live together in peace and prosperity?

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