It's likely enough that at this very moment, somewhere on earth, a civilian is being slaughtered because of living in the wrong place at the wrong time. We've been hearing terrible stories from the wars in Syria or South Sudan; now Israel and the Palestinians have decided to actively rejoin this foul dance.
Both sides and their allies blame each other for the latest violence, but that misses the point. It's not about who started the latest round of violence. Israel and Palestine are engaged in an asymmetrical war of occupation and resistance. There have been lulls, but they are no less at war now than they were when Jewish fighters first took control of Arab lands and declared the state of Israel.
The latest outbreak was sparked by Israel and the Palestinians' reactions to a kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens followed by the torture and killing of a Palestinian teen. Israel declared Hamas guilty of the deed. Their military moved into Gaza, arrested about 300 Hamas leaders while killing five Palestinians in the process. Hamas retaliated with barrages of rockets sent into Israeli territory knowing from past experience that these rockets would not achieve their goal -- the murder of random Israelis -- but instead would guarantee that Israeli airstrikes would murder random Palestinians in retaliation.
Defenders of Israel say that there is no moral comparison between its killing of civilians as compared to Hamas.
Hamas is accused of using civilians as "human shields" by placing rocket launchers and arms caches in civilian populated areas. This is not unique to the Palestinians. After the Israeli military conquered and occupied territory beyond its 1967 borders, it started to use "settlers" to move into occupied Arab land. With the encouragement of the Israeli government, these settler civilians are the front line in the fight for permanent control of the disputed ground. Whenever there is an attack on settlers, such as the three teenagers however, their roles as frontier human shields is not included in the conversation. Hamas' willingness to sacrifice the people whom it claims to represent is reprehensible. They point out however, that Gaza is tiny, heavily populated and if there is to be any resistance, it will inevitably happen among the civilian population. Gaza is in fact more akin to a prison camp than it is to a sovereign state. Gazans are subjected to abuse and humiliation by the Israeli military every day. They have little to lose.
The U.S./Israeli narrative sees this as a problem of terrorism and radicals who are not worth negotiating with. But the problem is much deeper and nuanced than that.
From the end of World War I, when the victorious powers reneged on promises of self determination for the Arabs who had helped them defeat Turkey, Lord Balfour arbitrarily declared for Britain that there would be a Jewish state in Palestine. When Israel was declared a state after World War II, Zionists fought Arab resistance, drove out large numbers of the indigenous Palestinian population and expanded the UN-defined borders through force. Atrocities accompanied the occupation and expulsion and the enmity between the two sides has not subsided since.
The U.S. determination to unconditionally support Israel has made us a poor broker in this conflict. We have empathy only for Israel, but without any understanding of the Palestinians, our participation is useless.
Israel says that the only way it can be safe is to occupy more land and to wall itself off from the people who used to live there. Hamas and Hezbollah (uninvolved in the latest fighting, but an inevitable actor in this conflict) declare that they will wipe Israel from the face of the earth. Neither goal is even remotely achievable. Israel is here to stay, but it will never be free from attack as long as it occupies its current territories. If the warring parties won't end their cycle of murderous stupidity, the international community could at least stop supporting them. While Israel acts in its own perceived interests even if contrary to U.S requests, it can only do so because it knows that the U.S. will not reduce its aid and support. America could influence Israel, but chooses not to. Israel has to be convinced to withdraw from its occupied territory and to stop treating Arab Israelis as second class citizens. At the same time, Hamas and Hezbollah have to give up their goal to destroy Israel. If they can't be convinced to see a withdrawal as a fair exchange for acknowledging Israel's existence with a defined boundary, they could at least be isolated and left bereft of the necessary material support to pose a significant threat. None of this is even remotely possible if the U.S. refuses to negotiate with them or with countries like Iran and Syria who back them. The U.S. won't speak with Hezbollah, condemning it for its support of Bashar al-Assad's murderous government in Syria, but this is no less heinous than was U.S. support for genocidal and murderous regimes in Guatemala El Salvador or Indonesia under several American presidents.
The latest round of fighting will only murder innocents and destroy social life. There is no military solution. But as long as powerful nations choose to posture rather than negotiate and military power is accepted as the ultimate arbiter, we will never see the end to these hopeless and devastating cycles of violence.
Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane.