The Raq Rega E-Mail Project Issue 8

Talking About Israel.  Sometimes the Facts Are Not Enough


Friends of Israel find the necessity and propriety of Israel’s current defense against the missiles launched by Hamas and other militants/terrorists from Gaza self-evident. And so do I. However friends of Israel know Israel’s actions nevertheless have to be defended before those who are not in possession of the facts and are thus undecided about, or in some cases opposed to, Israel’s actions.

Most typically these defenses are crafted explicitly or implicitly in reaction to actual or anticipated criticisms of Israel relating to the effects of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Israeli shelling and bombing in Gaza and Israeli ground actions in Gaza, including the current actions. And they center around, if not confine themselves to, facts that:

Hamas and other militants/terrorists have intentionally fired thousands of missiles and mortars at Israeli civilians and civilian institutions such as playgrounds, hospitals, and schools, over a number of years;

Hamas and other militant/terrorist intentionally place their own civilians in harm’s way by placing military installations and storage facilities in their midst (often inside of hospitals, schools and mosques), by firing missiles mortars from civilian locations; and by using their civilian populations as human shields; and

Hamas and other militants/terrorists create potential humanitarian disasters in Gaza by refusing to distribute supplies delivered through Israel, by attacking crossings through which supplies are delivered, which attacks require the closing of those crossings, and by other acts.

Friends of Israel will also point out that Hamas and other militants/terrorists propagandists have the TV cameras ready to transmit every inflammatory image they can find to distort the effects of Israeli actions; and will exaggerate the number of civilians who are unintentionally (if inevitably) killed by Israel’s defensive actions by, for example, including as "children" Hamas fighters who are 16 or 17 years old and by including as "women" female terrorists (i.e., by passing off combatant casualties as civilian casualties).

Friends of Israel are surprised when their defenses as often as not prove ineffective with respect to the two audiences of concern: the undecided and the foes of Israel. They are ineffective because, even though they may be truthful and factual, they are perceived as coming from apologists for Israel and are read as mere propaganda and thus rejected as self-serving, biased and, at best, misleading . Among the reasons for these reactions are two facts.

The first is that the defenses offered by friends of Israel typically do not address the real sufferings of non-combatant Palestinian civilians that are unintentionally, though predictably, caused by Israel’s more than justified reactions to the harms inflicted upon Israel’s civilian population.

The second is that by ignoring the sufferings of non-combatant Palestinian civilians, these defenses carry the implicit messages, or are at least heard to carry the messages, that “Israel is totally in the right in everything it does and the Palestinians are totally in the wrong,” and/or “we are good and they are evil.”

Not only do these facts render defenses of Israel effective but, perhaps worse, they will ultimately have a corrosive effect on the ethical and moral life of those who offer them, as they lead to dehumanizing the other side. A failure to be compassionate, and to express that compassion, even to the enemy, is not reflective of Jewish or Christian ethics that look with disfavor on victors that revel in, or ignore, the sufferings of the vanquished.

Friends of Israel must come to understand that it does no disservice to Israel’s position, or their love for Israel, to acknowledge and empathize with the sufferings of non-combatant Palestinian civilians and to acknowledge the agency of Israel in causing the sufferings even while emphasizing the propriety and justice of Israel’s defensive actions. And it would serve Israel well if its friends were to stress that all joy in Israel’s success in its defensive efforts will be significantly dampened by the sorrow felt for the suffering it has caused, however justified Israel’s actions were.

Friends of Israel must come to understand all this both for the sake of Israel (i.e., to make defenses of Israel effective with the undecided and even some of the opposed) and for the sake of their souls (i.e., to forget to keep our souls nourished with compassion risks losing much of that which makes us human, Jewish and Christian).

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