Commentary

Conflict and agony in the Middle East

November 14, 2023 5:00 am
Milwaukee residents gather to stand in solidarity with Palestinian residents, as the Israeli government conducts an assault on Gaza. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Milwaukee residents gather for a rally to support Palestinians in Gaza | Photo by Isiah Holmes

If you are progressive and conflicted about the Israeli-Hamas war, be comforted.

Your discomfort could be a sign that you have not consigned yourself to a black-and-white, knee-jerk mindset for a problem with multiple layers of complexity.

If you’ve been paying attention to the backlash that virtually any response to the conflict generates, you know that expressing sympathy for either Israel’s right to exist or Palestinian innocents’ right to life can invite denunciation. According to the denouncers, you are either supporting terrorists targeting Jews  or the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian children.

But there is no conflict in acknowledging that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate grievances and both sides have bad actors who undermine these claims.

You can recognize that there is no possible justification for Hamas indiscriminately murdering and torturing men, women and children. And you can recognize that broadly bombing Gazans also kills innocents, as does depriving them  of essential services. 

You can recognize that Hamas’ strategy of using the people it purports to defend as human shields is meant to limit Israel’s response to bloody massacre and to damage its international standing when it does respond. And you can still recognize that limits are necessary.

If your enemy places no moral limits on themselves you still have the responsibility to impose such limits on yourself. If you say your strikes are “targeted” to minimize civilian casualties but the number of these non-combatant casualties now dwarfs the number killed in the massacre that triggered the response, issues of morality are inescapable.

You can recognize that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s isolation of Gazans and support for Jewish settlement in Palestinian territory represented an abandonment of a two-state solution. And you can recognize that Hamas’ entire ethos is no Israeli state at all, a goal that it uses to justify murder.

You can recognize all these complexities and it does not diminish the demands for you to pick a side. Each side insists on it.

Pick life.

And then hold both sides to this principle.

Recognize that no war is absent collateral civilian damage but that the best warriors try to limit this. And then feel free to question whether Israel’s response is the right one. You can do this even if you are grasping for what that correct response is.

It is clear that Hamas has no respect for this principle – either when it involves the lives of its enemies or the lives of the people in whose buildings and under whose homes they entrench themselves in tunnels, daring the other side to strike. 

Israel does understand the principle but uses the other side’s barbarism as a justification to violate it.

The raging debate on this war has people reaching back to Israel’s founding and before. Boiled down, the arguments are about who makes the best historical case for their ancestral homeland. But this diminishes current reality. 

Those realities are: Gaza and the West Bank exist and they are now the closest thing to a Palestinian homeland. Israel exists and though the dispossession of Palestinians from places in Israel they once called home is real, it’s more complicated than who was there first. 

If it is that simple then America owes Native Americans, well, America.

Then comes the argument that Palestinians have brought this carnage on themselves. But ask yourself whether a child dead and buried under rubble ever had a say in who controls Gaza. The answer is no, no more than massacred Jewish children had any say in Israeli policies that radicalize Palestinians.

They’ve been calling the 10/7 attack Israel’s 9/11. Those who invoke that event glide over what we now know about the U.S. response. It was uninformed, unnecessarily deadly and plunged regions into what threatened to become forever wars. 

Heck, maybe they are forever.

Here we are. Another Mideast war in which the combatants’ actions inflame passions.

There has to be a real reckoning with the anguish of both Palestinians and Israelis, and a path out of this awful conflict. That has to involve more than bullets, bombs and killing innocents.

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O. Ricardo Pimentel
O. Ricardo Pimentel

O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the managing editor at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, was editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.

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