April 17, 2011

The West’s Lack of Understanding

Print More

We have learned to yield and use with no remorse a sword in one hand and hold an olive branch in the other — the sooner the population in the Western world is able to understand why, the better.

As an Israeli and as someone who has served in the Israeli military, the subject of the Israel-Arab conflict is obviously very important to me. I am a harsh critic of many things (the settlements, for example), however, I also believe that there is a right side and a wrong side — and that Israel, despite all the mistakes that it has and will continue to make, is without a doubt on the right side.

I have long come to the conclusion that the majority of the Western world is too far removed from the subject to care enough, learn enough or know enough.

During my three years at Cornell, I have heard ridiculous arguments that seek to equate Israel’s policy of notifying civilian areas of impending air strikes to Hamas’ obscure and nebulous “we will retaliate” statements; I have heard good arguments as to why continuing violence does nothing to better either population; and I have heard arguments that are frankly irrelevant — written by students who think that opening a headline qualifies them to have an informed and educated opinion on such a complex issue.

Nevertheless, I was shocked after reading Richard Goldstone’s recent reconsideration of his 2009 “Goldstone Report” on the Gaza conflict that took place from December 2008 to January 2009.

“In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.” Goldstone, who was appointed by the U.N. as the head of the committee, had no idea who was dealing with — yet he was deemed educated enough to condemn Israel of war crimes.

I will not comment on his editorial, but you should read it; while it has no legal bearing (unfortunately), it presents a reversal to his original opinion in the report.

The error of the West is a very clear and fundamental one: they analyze the conflict using THEIR set of values, THEIR points of view, THEIR lives and THEIR setting.

You may have heard that Hamas recently offered a “truce” to Israel; Hamas will stop the recently restarted mortar attacks against the civilian population (that is, with the clear intention of harming civilian population) if Israel will stop its air strikes in the Gaza strip (targeting militants and their compounds).

You might be shocked that Israel did not even respond. Why won’t they agree to this? Isn’t the safety of Israel’s civilians the top priority? Don’t they want to stop these attacks?

What many don’t seem to understand is that by agreeing to this “truce,” Israel is giving the existence of Hamas legitimacy. So Hamas, the same body that cries openly for the destruction of another country, the same body that tries with all of its resources to harm civilians, the same body that celebrated (actually danced in the street) at the throat-slitting of a Jewish four-month-old baby (the recent slaughter in Itamar) — is a legitimate governing body with which Israel should negotiate.

“Moral equivalency” is a fallacy. You cannot compare Israel to the Hamas, or the U.S. to Al Qaeda. Goldstone’s “hope” that Hamas will investigate is a symptom that many Westerners have; they think that by negotiations, “trust building” gestures and appeasement, this conflict can be resolved.

This is not a conflict between two groups of people who just want to live their lives (which, with a little stretch, I would attribute to the population in the West Bank) — this is about one side wanting to live and the other wanting to live, but only after slaughtering the first side.

You cannot negotiate with Hamas. You cannot negotiate with Al Qaeda. You cannot negotiate with Hezbollah. You cannot negotiate with the Ayatollah regime in Iran. They are playing by a different set of values, by a different standard of time.

Maybe if you come to live a few years in the region, you will be able to understand why my grandparents — some of the few who created the state of Israel with their blood, sweat and tears, who have fought side by side with the great Yitzhak Rabin, who have lost a son in protection of their country, who believed for the past 70 years that peace is achievable and who have voted to the left-wing “labor” party for as long as they were able to yield weapons — why they voted in the last election for the right-winged “Likud” party. Why my father — who vowed when the infamous “Sabra and Shatila” massacre occurred to run away from Israel if Ariel Sharon were ever to be elected Prime Minister — gave that same Sharon his vote in the 2005 election.

Goldstone’s remorse is a refreshing break; but it obviously did not surprise any Israelis. It should surprise you; it should be taken as a sign, to those of you who think that Hamas and its likes are somehow manageable. They are not.

In the face of an evil that is able to slit the throat of a four-month-old baby, brute and unyielding force is the only response. We have learned to yield and use a sword in one hand and hold an olive branch in the other — the sooner the population in the Western world is able to understand why, the better.

Omer Ben-Zur is a junior in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at ob46@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Omer Ben-Zur