O’Brien: It’s not a complicated issue

"A country illegally occupies a portion of land, trapping two million people into a prison-city, where they are subjected to an Apartheid system and routinely slaughtered en masse. In retaliation, a terrorist cell unjustly targets civilians and seeks to eradicate said country." - Photo via Adobe Stock

I am not going to use the words “Jewish” or “Muslim” for the rest of this article. Discussion of this topic becomes much less inflammatory when identity isn’t the focus. This is not permission to dismiss these factors, but rather, to keep them in the back of your mind for now. It is easier to keep a clear head this way and I can’t speak on behalf of religions I don’t belong to. 

Whenever the Israel-Palestine conflict heats up, as it did with the horrific tragedy that unfolded over the weekend of Oct. 7, people echo variations of the same refrain: “It’s a complicated issue.” 

I sincerely don’t know how someone could think this. If you apply an honest intellectual effort, it becomes very easy to tell what’s happening, who’s responsible for what, and why we got here. In short:

A country illegally occupies a portion of land, trapping two million people into a prison city, where they are subjected to an Apartheid system and routinely slaughtered en masse. In retaliation, a terrorist cell unjustly targets civilians and seeks to eradicate said country. 

This is not editorializing. Israel’s abuses have been well-documented and publicized. They commit atrocities on purpose, openly, and with full impunity. Hamas is not officially recognized as a terrorist organization, but they very clearly are one. 

The phrase “both sides” has become toxic in modern political discourse, it tends to obfuscate the substance of any given issue. But this is one of the very few situations where you can comfortably oppose both sides. 

Do not misunderstand me: Israel is not responsible for the most recent attack. They did not deserve it. Nothing could ever come close to justifying what we just saw; women sexually assaulted and dragged through the streets, entire families shot dead in their homes, hostages taken from a music festival punished for the crime of having fun. I condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms. The ordinary citizens of this region aren’t exactly blameless, but I reject guilt-by-proximity. No one deserves to be targeted for the actions of their government. I stand with the people of Israel in solidarity. 

And when I urge you to blame both sides, this does not mean equal blame. They’ve both inflicted too much harm to consider one the “good guy” or the “bad guy,” but the dynamic is clear. You can easily tell who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed; the occupier and the occupied. 

I rarely put any stock in what people say online, but I am bewildered by the general public’s reaction. I keep seeing these awkward, mealy-mouthed half-justifications, this idea that Israelis are “settler colonialists,” implying that they’re not civilians. This is a stretch and in this context, it’s meant to dehumanize these people and condone attacking them. A more explicit version of this is the argument that since many Israeli adults have served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at one point, they have directly participated in this crisis. But when military service is mandatory and admittedly justified by a perpetual state of war, it does not make sense to treat inactive reservists as active combatants. 

At the time of this writing, Israel’s counterattack has killed more people than Hamas’ initial assault. This is a routine occurrence. Israel bombs schools, hospitals, and residential areas, and claims it’s necessary because “Hamas was hiding there” or “they were being used as human shields.” They rarely produce evidence for this, we just have to take their word for it. They have flattened an entire city, and it hasn’t worked at all. The solution? More bombing, of course. 

Sometimes they skip the formalities and kill people for no reason. And, again, these people are trapped, they can not leave. They urge people to evacuate, but there’s nowhere to go. It is not a part of Israel, it is an independent city-state that Israel (with the assistance of Egypt) controls and blockades – right now, they are cutting off all food, water, and electricity, in flagrant violation of international law. 

It’s one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. These people can not leave. Sharing a physical space with the enemy does not make you a valid target when there’s nothing you can do about it. 

There’s this notion that if Israel takes a less aggressive posture they’ll be “wiped off the face of the Earth.” Obviously, no reasonable person wants that to happen. But they’re not this defenseless little village in the middle of the desert. It is a heavily militarized state with some of the most advanced surveillance technology in the world. It is a nuclear power and a direct ally to most first-world nations. They did fight several Middle Eastern states in the 20th century, but thankfully, those conflicts were brief. Hamas has been their only immediate enemy for the past twenty years— an enemy that they overpower by several orders of magnitude. 

There is no reason to have separate legal standards for different ethnicities, there is no strategic advantage gained by segregating the roads. Easing the subjugation of Palestinians would not compromise Israel’s security in any meaningful way.

Of the potential ways this could all be resolved, the two-state solution is the only one that makes sense, but I don’t think it will ever happen, because it would require an immediate end to the occupation. 

Israel does not want to do that. They rarely admit as much, but it is plain to see that they want this conflict to last forever. 

Previous, Hamas attacks would kill a few dozen Israelis at a time, maybe a couple hundred at worst. This is unconscionable, but Israel decided it was an acceptable price to pay for the right to occupation and Apartheid. The status quo was worth trading lives for. 

But after this most recent pogrom, they are no longer interested in business as usual. They are planning a ground invasion of Gaza, which will lead to several thousand more deaths on both sides. They could very well claim that land for themselves, making everything that much worse. It is just as likely to fail, as the IDF is more experienced with harassing innocent people than actual warfare. 

I hate writing about this. It’s the worst thing in the world, surreal in its intensity. I can’t stomach any more of it. It’s not a complicated issue, but it is a difficult one, and it feels like there’s nothing anybody can do about it. But there has to be a way for these two groups to live unshackled from one another, if not in true peace, then at the very least in a cold truce. There has to be.

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