Okay, so I noticed the conflict…

During my research methods class last Wednesday evening, we received news that Hamas’s military leader, Ahmed Jabari, had been assassinated by an Israeli air strike.   As the conflict between Gaza militants and Israel escalated over the next day, my friends and I decided to move ahead with our weekend plans to go to Jerusalem.  We reassured ourselves that we would be safe in the center of the country and reminded ourselves that, as all Israelis and Palestinians know, we couldn’t just stop living because of a remote threat.

After Friday afternoon prayers ended in Jerusalem’s Old City, I joined a huge mass of people moving out of Damascus Gate into East Jerusalem to see what kind of demonstration against Israeli action in Gaza might ensue.

I thought some kind of demonstration was in the works because riot police had been loitering outside the Old City for several hours.  Maybe 20 people were chanting, but most people – myself included – were just trying to move away from the demonstrators.   For a few minutes, Palestinians chanted, an IDF surveillance helicopter circled overhead, and Israeli riot police and members of the press observed from a distance.

I have no idea how the violence started.  All it takes is one person to feel physically threatened and shove someone else, and things begin to escalate.  There’s no way I can accurately interpret the actions of either side, so I’ll just stick to what I witnessed as objectively as I can.  Young, unarmed Palestinian men trying to run away from the demonstration were apprehended by police officers in full riot gear (helmets, body armor, batons, guns, sound grenades), usually three or four officers to a protester.

Many of the Palestinian women present got close to these scuffles to yell at the officers, and when they were knocked down, the crowd got angrier.  At one point, a girl a few feet away from me was elbowed in the face by a police officer wrestling with a protester; later, I saw an elderly Palestinian couple get knocked down by a crowd swarming toward a young man being arrested.

By the time the protest quieted down, I had seen probably four or five young men being frog-marched to the nearby jail.

I don’t think the behavior I observed was significantly different from riot police conduct anywhere else in the world, but I wonder about what contributed to the violence.  What would have happened if the riot police officer hadn’t been close enough to the crowd to get shoved – why couldn’t he watch from a distance?  What makes a teenage boy so blindly mad that he charges three or four fully armed soldiers who weren’t directly provoking him?  Why are nearly one hundred Israeli officers in riot gear so paranoid about twenty shouting Palestinians?

(On a more apolitical note, why are all Israeli police horses big, black, and Friesian-y?)

We returned to the Old City a couple hours later to see the Shabbat celebrations begin at the Western Wall.  A few minutes after sundown, we heard Jerusalem’s first air raid sirens since 1970, followed by several explosions in the distance.  (Rumor has it that I shouted some expletives at that point, but I can’t imagine myself ever using foul language).  My friends and I held hands and ran with the crowd of panicked tourists and worshippers to the closest form of shelter, which was a small cave on the opposite side of the plaza from the Western Wall.

We inadvertently picked the cave that was filled with hysterical teenage girls, but I can’t say I was more composed than any of them.  I clung to my friends and thought about what my mom would say if she could see me now, just a few hours after I had promised her there was no way a rocket could reach Jerusalem.  I thought about how completely vulnerable I was, and how the true terror came from having no clue what was going on.  Were there more rockets coming?  Had they been intercepted by Israel’s defense system?  Had they caused any casualties?  Were we in the right kind of shelter?

After a few minutes, everyone in our cave started to dash across the plaza to a more fortified tunnel, and we followed.  We crowded together in the tunnel waiting for information – at this point we learned that a rocket had landed near the Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank, but there were no casualties.  Totally shaken, we decided to head for Bethlehem, which seemed as safe as anywhere else we could get to on Shabbat after Israeli transportation shuts down.

Our friends in Bethlehem told us that lots of young men were rushing to the Separation Wall to protest the Israeli operation in Gaza.  They were throwing rocks, and the IDF soldiers were responding with tear gas and rubber bullets.  Several times during the two days in Bethlehem, we heard Palestinian ambulances rushing injured protesters to hospitals.  I, however, had had enough of protests for a few days and spent my time in Bethlehem catching up with some dear friends.  If you’re reading this, please take a bit of time from reading news of Gaza and south Israel to learn about protests in the West Bank.  Hundreds have been arrested (including this unconscious young man in Nabi Saleh, who was simultaneously denied medical attention), and many Palestinians have been injured.

(Marian, Kate, Emma and I had quite the bonding experience this weekend).

I am now completely out of rocket distance in Haifa, but still find myself struggling to process my thoughts about this weekend (and now you, reader, have the great joy of watching me try and do it!).

One thing I know is that life is hard in Gaza.  From 2007 until 2010, Gaza was under such a strict blockade that the import of a ridiculous array of goods was forbidden.  It’s true that Israel eased the blockade in 2010, but this has done little to change the very low quality of life in Gaza.  Schools are overcrowded, freedom of movement is severely limited, unemployment is high, no building materials have been allowed in since Operation Cast Lead decimated infrastructure in 2009, and the process of getting permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment continues to be inefficient and deadly.  Israeli civilians and soldiers have the security of advanced military technology – a defense shield that stops nearly all missiles headed for populated areas and fortified shelters stocked with supplies in or near most homes – while Gazan civilians have none of these luxuries.  They are undeniably more vulnerable than their Israeli counterparts.  It’s hard to see how these conditions that are so closely linked to Israeli policies foster anything but animosity for Israel.

I wouldn’t have written this two months ago, but I do think that Israel has a dilemma here – on a different scale from the difficulties Gazans face just trying to live every day, but a dilemma nonetheless.  The Israeli government has made some peaceful overtures toward Gaza: it withdrew settlers in 2006, and eased its blockade in 2010.  As many Israelis see it, these concessions have been met with more and more rockets being launched into southern Israel.  I think many Israelis feel exasperated – they hate seeing Israel dragged through the mud in the international media, but they don’t know another way for the Israeli government to stop the rockets.  My Israeli friends aren’t warmongers, and they’re legitimately scared for their friends and family who have been called to active duty near the Gaza border.

The conversations I’ve had about these issues since returning to Haifa have been emotional, to say the least. Often, talking about life in Gaza is incorrectly interpreted as a denial that Israel has a right to self-defense. Friends whose political beliefs I respect are blindly re-posting political cartoons that are racist, de-humanizing oversimplifications of a tragic and deeply complex issue.  It is appallingly stupid to suggest that Jews in Kiryat Malachi died because they are Zionist occupiers, or that the four children of the al Dalou family died because their parents didn’t love them enough to move them away from Hamas militants.

Discussing possible alternatives to Jabari’s assassination or the military operation is immediately written off as anti-Israel.  I don’t know the answers – nobody does – but for the life of me, I can’t see how this operation in Gaza is a sustainable form of self-defense for Israel.  Hamas will regroup after this bombardment, it will gain more support from civilians in Gaza and from international actors, and it will strike Israel again.  Laying the framework for future attacks isn’t self-defense, and it endangers civilians in Israel and in Gaza.  I don’t believe all nonviolent options for peace are exhausted, and I don’t accept that the killing of Hamas operatives is ever so imperative that targeting errors resulting in the death of innocent civilians should be tolerated.

Yours in peace/salaam/shalom,

Nora

PS. I have some really smart friends here, and you should check out their blogs for other takes on what happened this weekend and some cool ideas in general: Lauren and Aaron were both in Tel Aviv/Jaffa; Emma was with me.

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104 Comments

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104 responses to “Okay, so I noticed the conflict…

  1. Wonderful blog, and courageous.

    From the other side of the world, it looks like this is not a war between two countries, but a civil war. Israel has controlled the borders of Gaza for 50 years, the water, the fishing, and trade, travel to and from, and shows no sign of giving the territory up. Over half the Jewish people in Israel are Arab Jews, and probably have as much in common with Palestinians as with the Russian Jews. Interesting point about the Egyptian border by one of your commenters — checked a map. Doesn’t look like it’s much of a border. Anyway, if Israel doesn’t want a one-state solution, if it wants to remain a democracy, with Jews in the majority, they are sure seem to going about it backwards.

    Best wishes, and congratulations on your recognition on Fresh Pressed. I look forward to updates.

  2. Dear Nora,

    Congratulations on your blog being chosen as en Editor’s pick.

    I have to say that I have never before read a more well-balanced, honest and decisively human account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Sad to say that modern journalism lacks the honesty and integrity shown in your blog – your work is therefore too good to describe as being of a professional journalistic standard.

    Write (and report) with Gusto,

    Davidh Digman,

    Melbourne, Australia

  3. Hi Nora. great blog. I’m interested in whether the Israeli students on your course (both Jewish and Arab) manage to see the conflict from a more balanced perspective – or whether they still get caught up in the nationalist rhetoric? My own experience has suggested that this time around the voice of sanity was heard (very quietly) even during the violence – whereas during the last round it was more or less inaudible. You may (or may not!) be interested in the blogs I wrote recently as I struggled to deal with the conflict from my Israeli peace-building perspective…

    • In classrooms at least, we all tended to keep things fairly objective – most people are from a political science background and are pretty used to unbiased dialogue in academia. Outside of class, I would say biases on all sides tended to emerge. I will definitely check out your blog – thank you!

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  5. Hey Nora, Tell something please: If you’ll hear about a man that attacked a woman and planes to attack her again, you think he should be arrested? why? You know he is not the last repast, you know someone else will attack other woman, and maybe he will attack again after the court will send him free from jail.
    That’s is the reason why we (Israelis) support the killing of Hamas leaders. They fire rockets at us. They want to kill as many Israelis as they can. They are part of Iran army, here in our back yard. So as we say in Hebrew: Kol ha kavos le tzahal .
    One more thing, you wrote: “I am now completely out of rocket distance in Haifa..” Its not true. Haifa is in the distance, but from the north – the second rockets base near Israel.

    • Aside from your oversimplification of the justice system (which is set up so that people who are likely to re-offend are supposed to have some sort of supervision or qualified release, such as probation or parole), I agree with you on both counts….that is why Israelis want to kill Hamas leaders, and we’re definitely within rocket distance from Lebanon.

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  7. Wonderful blog, and as I think about a young girl from Iowa, this blog is a revelation! I think I have just read the most honest report on the region I have ever come across. I am a former Marine Sgt. and a Nam vet, so I have a lot of time to reflect on conflict abroad over the years and have done me best to try and search out viewpoints from both sides. It was amazing to me that I was gifted with insight from you that let me see a little bit of both sides of an issue. Thank you for this insight, I would love to see more.

  8. Sorry, I don’t agree with Digman’s assessment and I find your writing to be irresponsible, by your own admission, and lop-sided. You do nothing more than isolate an incident and begin to pass judgment. I agree with you that this has become complex, but only to cloud a very clear issue. Even the Koran recognizes Israel’s right to this land. It is there that the dialogue should focus. This is a place of common ground that is being ignored by Muslims.

    • Does Israel have a right to all the land, including the West Bank and Gaza? What about transJordan? Do the Palestinians living in Israel have a right to remain here? Should they have equal rights to the Jewish citizens? If Israel is able to claim all the land as one country, will Israel lose its status as a Jewish democracy or will it have to become an Apartheid state? What about the sizable and influential Palestinian Christian population? Not such a clear-cut issue, sorry – claiming that an obvious solution exists and that it’s being ignored by just one group of people is what is truly irresponsible and lop-sided.

    • “… I find your writing to be irresponsible, by your own admission …”

      Where does Nora say that she was irresponsible?

      On the subject of your disagreement with my post, that is your right, as it is mine and as it is everybody else’s.

      I stand by my appraisal of this excellent blog.

      And I don’t like being referred to by my family name alone. I was raised to consider that rude and dehumanising.

      Thank you.

      Davidh Digman

      • It is difficult to tell from a screen name or username or ID what is a real name and what is just a handle for expediency. So, no offense meant, Mr. Davidh Digman. I have to admit that I have never seen the name David spelled with and “h” on the end. I hope that is correct since that is the way you have it written as you name. I don’t want to dehumanize you or anything.
        Mr. Davidh Digman, maybe you should have made it clear to everyone when you posted your name that you would be offended if everyone didn’t respond to you in the way you are accustomed.

      • In reply to Mr Shanholtzer, my full name is clearly noted at the end of my posts, and I was not aware that I need to explain that in most circles, the use of a family name only is usually considered aggressive and disrespectful.

        That said, I think we need to focus on the topic at hand here.

        Davidh Digman

  9. In regard to Palestine being granted Observor member status, I would be interested to know what you and your fellow students feel about their upgrade from Nonentity. The uniquely positioned viewpoint you are providing should be more widely available so that Americans such as me know there are intelligent, but compassionate citizens of Israel who may someday be in a position to find a way to Peace. Thank you for giving me hope.

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  12. Let’s face it. You can not negotiate with someone whose chief goal is your extermination. Israel is doing what it needs to in order to protect itself.

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  14. Israel is projecting the psychological shadow of the sufferings of the last 2000 years of suffering and exile onto the Palestinians. The agony which culminated in the Holocaust is now being visited on Gazans.

    The abused child will in turn abuse, as clinically proven.

    Nora, your essay is a jewel of non-dualistic thinking. Give us more of these revelations of compassion and fair-mindedness. Don’t be discouraged by those who apparently argue rationally from a reactive position. As a believer in nonviolence I still grant anyone – or any state – the right to retaliate if attacked, even though such retaliations play into the system of violence and only generate more conflict in the end.

    Yet the fact is that when grievances are addressed the ‘terror’ stops, as the Brits have just discovered in Northern Ireland.

    Israelis of heart and compassion, hear world-opinion and make your voices heard. The tide is turning in favour of the Palestinians and if we are all dragged into an atomic conflict because of Israeli intransigence fools and lunatics will begin to say: ‘Maybe Hitler was right.’ Iran, as despotic theocracy executing teenagers by hanging them from cranes in public squares, is no-one’s paradise, that’s damned sure. But Netenyahu’s policies are forcing the Palestinians ever-deeper into a symbiotic relationship with Terror-ran.

    Listen, Israel, to voices like Nora’s before it is too late. You are provoking beyond endurance. You will never quell the waves of rage from the Arabian world, the Arabs are a fierce and proud people. Yet they will accept a strong nuclear Israel if you stop now and partition the land fairly.

    Salaam, shalom, peace.

    PS I have a post called Unholyland on my blog here which I dare recommend to all following this thread. Unholyland mentions my just-released verse-novel (of the same title) which tell the story of a Jewish dj who falls in love with a Palestinian girl-rapper. There you can find a link to a book which recounts in simple and straightforward language a love-story at the crux of our times…

  15. nidal

    Dear Nora

    Great Post and an honest reporting on the facts.
    I am a Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon. Currently I live in California and I wish this conflict ends today. My parents were kicked out of Palestine in 1948. Mom was 4 and Dad was 8 years old when they ran in their pajamas across the boarders to a refuge camp in Lebanon during the 1948 war. If you ask them they will tell you Israel stole our land and I agree with them and I teach this to my 4 children. Today the reality on the ground is what we have to deal with, Israel will stay as a state as long as the American government supports it.

    The PLO agreed to a two state solution, they have recognized the state of Israel and stopped all military operations for the last 6 years. The Palestinian Authority got nothing in return (Zero). The current Israel government has no intention in giving the Palestinians a state and Hamas knows that. Hamas knows that they only get respect by force. Look at Lebanon, Israel left South Lebanon overnight because the cost of staying in Lebanon was too high. Ask any Israeli why they RESPECT Hassan Nasrallah! Because he has power and he can deliver. I am not advocating violence, but when the Israeli government loses officers on the ground they react differently. I am against Killing of civilians on both sides. This does not help anyone. The solution has already been agreed upon but it only needs the delivery from the Israeli side. Return the west bank and Gaza Land based on the 1967 boarders that are outlines in the UN Documents and let the palestinians have a real country and let us all live in peace.

    The Problem is POWER! Israel has too much fire power and they think they can get a better deal, more land, more water, more natural resources, more of everything …
    This thinking will cost too much on both sides.

    P.S. The Palestinian Authority gave Israel everything they wanted but they got nothing in return ZERO.
    Keep up the good work

    • Artist Patti

      When did it become ‘pc’ to have to give back land won in a war? The 1967 war or otherwise? Just after that mandate, the Palestinians started fighting—-THAT’S what caused the 1967 war to begin with—–

  16. Speak Now America

    Thank you for giving your interpretation of the situation there, but I have to ask you, who is really to blame here? Who has allowed Hamas to continue waging military operations against Israel from within the urban centers of Gaza (neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, etc.), using your people as human shields (perhaps even not entirely against their collective wills), if it’s not the new residents of Gaza, themselves? Had the new residents unequivocally told Hamas that this was totally unacceptable to them, this would have been a different story, altogether. But, no, Hamas is still attacking Israel with rockets (you’ve just reported it), and they cry foul and you question Israel? Incredible. [As in not credible.]

    Even according to you, Israel “withdrew” its “settlers in 2006″ [from Gaza], they eased the blockade of Gaza in 2010, and now in response to protesters throwing rocks at them, “the IDF soldiers had responded back with tear gas and rubber bullets,” and not with actual deadly force. Hmm? What could be more civilized? And speaking of “civilized,” “throwing rocks?” Really?

    • So, why do you think Hamas hates Israel so much? And what is the viable political alternative to Hamas? I’m sure residents of Gaza would love to hear your answer. (Please, actually do some research on political organizations within the OPT before you reply). Nobody in Israel’s government (I would venture to say in all of Israel, and include myself in that group) believes this military operation – just like Operation Cast Lead before it – will end rocketfire from Gaza. I fail to see how looking for a real, lasting solution to ending Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli civilians is somehow anti-Israel. For someone whose handle, “Speak Now America”, implies valuation of free speech, it seems rather hypocritical that you’re so opposed to questioning government policies.

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  19. If you don’t know why Hamas hates Israel so much then you have wasted your time in Middle East studies.

    • My academic career has taught me to seek out multiple answers to every question, and to avoid the arrogance of believing that one of them is “the truth.”

  20. Nora, it is unavoidable I am afraid, that you were going to get some negative feedback. The issue is too close to the heart of too many in the region, and both sides think they are morally and religiously right! These beliefs are rooted heavily in ancestry and religion, much more so than politics, which seems to be the platform world leaders are trying to make repairs. I would like to point out to your readers that you did state that you could not interpret the actions of either side but would just try to describe events as objectively as you could. I do need to point out that when you use assassination to describe the result of a rocket attack, you have in effect, taken sides! I think maybe you did not intend that, but is is plain that you tend to think Israel is not dealing from a fair and decent position. It is hard for those of us in the States to make a fair judgement. I would be the first to admit that our news is slanted, so our opinions must be gleaned from extensive research, and the average American is too lazy, or at least to complacent to spend the time. I myself am ashamedly ignorant of all the facts. I am however attempting to educate myself. It is hard to know where the truth lies. You can find both sides of the same coin on any subject you care to name. So I will, in this case, presume that someone who is living in the region has maybe a little more insight. I would like to state that college students have always been, shall we say, a little biased about the guy with the biggest stick. I point to students in 60′s who called me a baby killer and murderer, I was neither. I was also not interested in fighting communism or any of the other rhetoric, I just wanted to keep me and the guy on either side of me alive. There is always four sides to every coin, some hard to see!

  21. NIDAL

    John

    I wish every one is as polite as you are in the comments. When people visit Palestine and see what is on the ground and report it you get the truth as long as thy are not one of the parties in the conflict.

    AT&T used to have a COMERCIAL “Reach out and touch someone” if people look at how miserable the Palestinians live all over the world they may reconsider the way they view them and treat them. We want to have normal life just like everyone else. Go to school, graduate, work, buy big screen TV and SUV, have children (lots of them :) ….

    I only ask people to think positive and think of a solution not try to blame someone. As my mentor used to say “fix the problem and make sure it does not happen again”

    THINK….

    • Nidal, I don’t believe in name calling and thank you for noticing. Educating ourselves is our best goal toward peace. The conversation should always remain civil, and everyone should make that the first rule. Having said that does not mean you cannot disagree, but do it in a way that educates your opposite in the debate. Yelling kill the infidel, or the Jew or the Palestinian gets us nowhere. This is a very simple idea, but one I have thought of often. They used to have a program when I was young where they paired up children of the same age group with others in other countries and made them pen pals. In this way they learned about each other, but most importantly, each others culture. We should get our kids together, on the internet if we can, but if there are no computers to be had, letter writing still works. I suppose some translation problems will occur, but you see what I mean. It is like wishing politicians in Washington DC would quit playing the blame game and get something done. There is no easy answer except to communicate with one another often and in a civil manner, each trying to win points in his favor in the debate, but always, always civil!

      • Hey, thank you for bringing up these great points! If you read back a bit further in my blog, I make my biases pretty clear – I’m definitely not trying to cover them up, and I make absolutely no claims to objectivity (it’s something I value, but I believe it’s impossible for anybody to be objective on issues like these). I’m trying my best to moderate comments so they stay civil and constructive, and you have articulated exactly why I’m doing that.

    • A solution to this problem:

      For Israel and Palestine alike to recognise each other as belonging together.

      For Israel and Palestine alike to learn from the nature of thie own children, who are themselves too clean for hatred.

      For Israel and Palestine alike to set aside differences as they set aside all other puerile notions, and they work side-by-side for a better tomorrow.

      For Israel and Palestine alike to refrain from provoking each other with rockets and settlements and harsh words and violence.

      For Israel and Palestine alike to mature into adult, mutually respective nations, and stop acting like teenage boys who must always get the better of each other.

      Call this naive if you will, but this is all it takes.

  22. Some time has passed now since rockets flew over Jerusalem but I have a feeling that your post will be as relevant in a year from now as it was two weeks ago. This is the sad news. The happy news is that hopefully someone in Gaza who is reading your blog can see the madness of all of this. Both sides are afraid and the distrust is mutual. Yet the more you get to know the other side the more your realize that the mainstream in both societies could get along just fine.

  23. Alex

    Hello, my name is Alex, and I am a student of the global and cultural perspectives class with Dr. Cavanaugh. I would just like to say that i enjoyed reading your outtake on the situation and that i appreciate your approach to informing your readers in a neutral manner so that what is truly obtained from the writing is the current situation and not who’s side is to be blamed. I have family friends in Israel as well and I hope that the violence can soon come to an end although there is no clear resolution to the conflict at hand.

  24. Thank you so much for writing this post! I can only watch from the outside, so it is interesting to hear from someone on the inside. I am in a particular situation right now, where I know someone who is Jewish and very pro-Israel because of his Judism. The way he talks about Palestinians is very upsetting to me because he talks about them as though they are not humans. And any attempt to say that perhaps, just perhaps, Israel doesn’t have to kill civilians is met with remarks that I’m anti-Jewish, which I’m not, truly I’m not, I just don’t like seeing people die, when I feel, like you, that not all non-violent means have been exhausted.

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