Although the events in the Middle East are of a more serious nature, this is not the first time in the past month we have been witness to two large groups of people taking sides against each other. Only a few weeks ago when Barack Obama won reelection, the ongoing battle between Republicans on the right and Democrats on the left, at least to some extent, finally settled down. Although the differences between the American presidential election and the conflict in Israel and Gaza are significant, one interesting similarity is that in both circumstances all parties think the same thing. They think they are without any question correct for choosing the side that they did. The question this makes me ask is this. What causes people to pick sides?
I discussed this with someone prior to the election, and we both agreed that there are many people out there who pick a political party based on what they were born into. It is not uncommon to see three generations of Democrats or Republicans. After all, it is very normal for parents to influence their children. By no means do I mean to imply these people are not thinking for themselves, after all, being born to parents who always voted Democrat, I too fell into this category. I just know that my political opinions were influenced by the discussions I heard and participated in at home and that my opinion was, at least partially, molded by those dinner time chats. Now don’t think for one second I don’t recognize there are multitudes of people who make their decision when they reach adulthood based on experiences or analysis, but it is important to recognize that there are many people who in some ways never really had a choice to make. It’s all they ever knew from a young age.
Although the stakes, certainly immediately are far greater, there are similarities to be found between the U.S. presidential election and the conflict in the Middle East. The similarities I speak of surround the taking of sides, the reasons for doing so, and the certainty with which each side holds its view. Although there is great passion in American politics, the majority of people realize that each side isn’t entrenched to the point where no one can see how it will ever change. I am not so sure the same can be said for the situation in the Middle East.
Examining the situation in Gaza, I asked myself what makes someone choose one side or another. There are of course the people who live in the affected areas, and then there are people such as myself who live geographically far away, but feel close to the situation. I’ve heard the stories of Palestinians who in their early years saw people who they were close to die, and living in an environment where they never heard anything other than the fact that the Israelis were responsible, grew up wanting revenge. Regardless of the accuracy of the information, was there ever a question what side they would be on? Were they ever given a choice?
In Israel, boys and girls know that when they reach the ripe old age of 18, that they will get called up to do their required military service. Military service made necessary from living in a nation surrounded by enemies. Then there are the thousands who have been killed in terrorist attacks and their families who have been directly affected by these attacks. Even if for argument’s sake Israel’s attack on Gaza held no justification, what side would you expect these people to be on? Past incidents give them little to no room for choice.
There are people on both sides of the conflict who pick a side based on their background, religion, or in some cases, political expediency. In some cases people pick sides without any genuine regard for the well-being of the people on the side that they pick. Some politicians and journalists thrust their careers into high gear during conflicts such as these, and although I am sure that for the most part these people are not looking to see anyone suffer, in some cases they are not exactly praying for things to get back to normal either.
It’s very important to mention that the media that supplies the information to a large percentage of Israel’s enemies makes no attempt at being balanced and in many cases is controlled by their governments that do not believe in the concept of freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Israel is a democracy with these freedoms and with an open channel to get information from all sides. All of these factors play a major role in how the people on both sides think and implies that people’s feelings are controlled by factors entirely out of their control. A point I have no intention of disputing. All of this leads me to how I picked the side I am on.
I am a Jewish man and the son of Holocaust survivors from Holland. I’ve always believed I was created by God and by my mother and father. However I recently came to the realization that there is one other player, for lack of a better term, in forming who I am as a person. That player is the anti-Semite. From a young age I was aware of the suffering of the Jewish people. After 6 million Jews were murdered by Hitler’s Nazi Germany, many surviving Jews went back to their biblical home in what was then Palestine. It did not take long for the surrounding Arab nations to begin hostilities against the newly formed modern nation of Israel in 1948, and subsequently have major wars in 1956, 1967, and 1973. These conflicts began prior to Israel having any control of Gaza or Judaea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. Gaza and the Sinai Desert were Egyptian territories taken over by Israel during a war and the West Bank was Jordanian and was also taken over by Israel. Particularly regarding the latter, Jordan was more than happy to be rid of what they saw as a problematic population. In the 70s, when Yasser Arafat’s PLO developed a new strategy, the strategy of terrorism, a new era began in the Middle East, and once again a political organization found it justified to kill Jewish people at random. Arafat’s Palestinian “cause” had him embezzle funds and keep his people down and impoverished. After all, should the Palestinians prosper he would have no basis of leadership, being that the leadership was based on hating the Jewish, I mean Zionist enemy. The Palestinian Authority, an organization now recognized by the world as being legitimate, is the political offshoot of Arafat’s PLO and is now considered the more moderate voice of the Palestinians. This is because Hamas, now running the show in Gaza, justifies terrorism as a political means to achieving their goal.
Seeing innocent people crying and bleeding as a result of Israeli airstrikes is never a pleasant sight, but it pales in comparison to suicide bombers going into Pizza places and wiping out entire families intentionally with one bomb. A car on fire in Gaza because it was near a terrorist base of operation, does not compare with buses being blown up intentionally. And civilian Palestinians are not targeted in European countries, while Jews are fair game in places like France and Bulgaria to mention just a few. And when Ahmadinejad of Iran speaks, I once again hear a leader of a nation speak openly about wanting to murder millions of Jews.
I see the enemies of Israel accuse the Jewish state of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. To this I ask; “if you are so convinced of this, why are you not willing to give it a try?” I see the answer is being a simple one. Even if the people would want peace, their leadership does not. And for this reason I believe that they are not only out to kill as many Jews as possible, but that they are responsible for dying Palestinian civilians in Gaza as well. How did I pick my side? I had no choice. I put a value on human life.