Editor’s note: The following essay comes from Wilson Report contributor Laurie Thompson. Enjoy.
The comment section takes no prisoners. It doesn’t pull the punches. It reveals our biases and lays bear the ongoing bitterness we can’t seem to shake. Here are some of the more disturbing pro-Israel comments, boiled down to their essence. Some of these will pop up as pro-Palestine arguments as well. They are in no particular order.
1. “We could be more cruel than we are. Thank us for showing mercy by not being more cruel.”
It’s more like “We’re as cruel as we can get away with, without fear of serious international action against us, which is, frankly, a shocking degree of cruelty.” It’s like when there’s some complaint about the police unnecessarily injuring someone in an arrest, and then the response is “just be glad no one died.” It’s horrendous.
2. “My actions are your fault. You left me with no choice.”
Sometimes people really do have no choice. Or rather, no choice that stops the violence. For example, if someone jumps at you and starts punching, you may have no choice but defend yourself with violence, at their expense, because you fear for your own life. Certainly, some nations have (and continue to have) essentially no choice but to fight back violently against powerful oppressors. In other cases, one may choose from a range of options including diplomacy, sanctions, making alliances with more moderate factions/winning over moderates, international pressure… you get the idea. A level of skepticism is sorely lacking in sorting out those who fight because they need to and those who fight because it’s politically advantageous or it gives them a sense of satisfaction. Beware of anyone who says violence was the only choice, and then when presented with other realistic options (I mean truly realistic and reasonable options), rejects them.
3. Related: “There are only two options: attack or let yourself be attacked.”
Essentially, there are those who think that in order to stop the conflict, “we have to get them to leave” or “we have to get them to die.” But think clearly here, are either Hamas or the IDF simply going to “leave” or “die” under any realistic future scenario? Is attacking ever going NOT provoke a counter-attack? I suppose you could argue that one side might simply “give up” and decide “that’s it, we’ve been conquered, goodnight everybody” but really? I mean really?? If every attack is followed by a counter-attack, if neither side ever lets the other side “get the last word” (and by word I mean bomb or missile), then simple math suggests it will not end, not any time soon. The only way it ends is if there is another option.
4. “They are unreasonable too. Let’s talk about their unreasonableness.”
This merely derails the discussion and deflects responsibility. It doesn’t really add anything useful.
5. “This could all have been prevented if only they had given in sooner to our demands/signed the such-and-such agreement”
Well they didn’t. Maybe that agreement or those demands were crap because the people on “your” side couldn’t agree to give more concessions. Or maybe the deal was just fine and dandy, but there was some disagreement on the other side, and some of “them” totally would have signed it because they really wanted peace, but they were derailed by people with their own agenda. Or maybe those demands were made so long ago that it wasn’t really “them” but rather them-plus-some people-who-aren’t-alive-anymore-minus-everyone-who’s-been-born-since-then, and so you can’t really blame the entirety of the current “them” for the oversight of the past “them.” Maybe you shouldn’t treat “them” as a monolith, but understand some nuance in who “they” are. Or maybe you aren’t really interested in revisiting the deal and trying anew, maybe rehashing the bitterness over the failed deal is merely another rhetorical cudgel you can swing against “them” to prove how it is “all their fault” because “history.”
6. “It’s all their fault because history.”
History should be taken seriously, for obvious reasons. Historical wrongs are wrongs just the same, no matter how much time has passed. We should try to right these historic wrongs and make amends as best as possible, absolutely. But there is no history that can justify cruel and intentional killing of innocents today. And yes, children are innocent in war, no matter who their parents happen to be or who they might grow up to become. Let’s look at what’s happening now – what’s happening today. Today’s cruelty costs lives and gains nothing. It includes not only the bombing and killing, but the restriction of freedom and the resulting loss of prosperity. This is the ongoing crime. This is the crime that must be righted before you’re likely to build up the kind of trust necessary to deal with history.
7. “But seriously, our cruelty is nothing compared to this other cruelty over here.” Or “Who amongst you wouldn’t do exactly what we are doing in our situation?”
Sometimes it’s a legitimate complaint that those people commenting from afar are expecting those more directly affected to act as self-sacrificing angels, and then blaming them when they fail to live up to an expected level of sainthood. But this comment has to be judged within the balance of power. Those with more power (including more money, more military might and more powerful allies) have the ability to safely and comfortably choose a less violent path. They can choose ethics and compassion without fear that their saintliness will earn them nothing but death and poverty. The ones with power are the ones that have to put on their grown-up pants, extend the olive branch, and hold themselves to a higher standard.
8. “When we kill them, their deaths are their fault. No, seriously, when we kill civilians in their sleep it is their own fault.”
This is a whole category of comment in itself, but it ranges from “they could have built more bomb shelters/crawled into dirt holes (see comment section here) to prevent themselves from dying from the weapons we aimed at them” to “essentially they are using their own civilians as hostages/human shields to deter us from attacking them” all the way up to the full-blown-nonsense of “they want their own people to die because it makes people sympathize with them and it makes us look bad, so when we kill their children it is actually them killing their children.”
It follows from the false premise of “we have no choice.” You see, if the other side is using civilians as hostages/human shields, we have no option but to kill them, including the hostages/human shields. If they happen to die from our killing them, well it was because they insufficiently protected themselves from our killing. Apart from hypocrisy (many countries have military operations near civilian residences) and a lack of realism (you really think they should dig pits in the ground and stick themselves in them for all of the 28 days of conflict? What about when they have to eat/work/go to the bathroom?) it betrays a lack of empathy and dehumanization of the other side. In the current conflict this is a sentiment almost exclusively deployed by pro-Israel commentators. Obviously Palestinians have suffered most of the deaths, so they must be extra-at-fault for killing themselves?
9. “It’s their responsibility to end this.”
Possibly the most childish of the childish comments, this is the total abdication of responsibility, and it is more hypocritical the more powerful the person who says it. Notably, this sentiment is likely to spring forth from the mouths (or keyboards) of commentariat from the U.S., willfully or un-willfully ignoring the role of the U.S. in all Middle East conflicts, especially in Israel and Palestine.
10. “Our religion is better. Our culture is better. Our god wants us to win.”
Ok, this one is an obvious one, I admit. Granted, not everyone involved in the conflict is very religious and it’s not all about religion. But the concept that you are just simply “better” or “more deserving” because your god is totally awesome and he wants you to have this-or-that so you should totally have – that’s just never going to be productive ever. Honestly, I’ve seen this sentiment across the board, from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine folks. And it isn’t just a Judaism/Islam thing either – the Christians want in on this action too. Of, course, I can’t say for sure if one side is more likely to use this argument, but the U.S. audience obviously sees the pro-Israel argument-from-religion as most compelling. Granted, it’s unlikely these commentators represent the majority opinion of Israelis or Palestinians, or of people within their own religion. Still, the religious fervor is disturbing.
If we are ever going to get anywhere as a species, we have to accept that people who don’t share this religion or that religion are still people with lives of the same worth and the same deservingness of rights. We have to accept the possibility we might be wrong about our religious beliefs. Yes, even you. Yes, even those beliefs. This is a big thing to ask, I know, because even people who are not in conflict-torn areas sometimes stubbornly refuse to question their own beliefs – even (or especially) the beliefs that cause suffering.
11. Bonus! “Both sides share the blame.”
This comment is as unhelpful as “it’s all your fault,” even if it seems less extreme. It just lacks any nuance or helpful content. It’s often used like a bat to swipe away criticism of a particular person or organization. As in: “Hey, I think the UN should look into potential human rights violations by Israel against the Palestinians…” “That’s not fair, both sides share the blame.”