“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
– Helen Keller
In light of recent events in Gaza, and the incredible bias of American mainstream media when covering the conflict, and the disturbing ignorance of most Americans regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I couldn’t stand idly by.
Last week I taught six high school classes (!) about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and about the current issues faced by Palestinians today. While I don’t have enough time to detail everything that I taught in my classes, here are some things that you should think about:
– In the recent Gaza conflict, 13 Israelis died. Ten of those killed were soldiers; three were civilians. By contrast, more than 1300 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. Almost all of those killed were civilians. One-third were children.
– This is not new. In the First Intifada, which began as a peaceful Palestinian uprising in 1987, only 12 Israeli soldiers were killed, but more than 706 Palestinians were killed. In the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, there were more than 5,500 Palestinians killed, while Israel suffered about a thousand casualties.
– This conflict, contrary to popular belief, is not about religion. While Jerusalem is a city that is holy to three faiths, the conflict actually stems from 20th century political events. The reason for the conflict isn’t because the Jews and Muslims in Palestine “just can’t get along,” contrary to what is said by your grandmother/relief society president/insert name of ignoramus of your choice here. Jews, Muslims, and Christians co-existed peacefully for centuries: in Spain, in Greece, in Egypt, in modern-day Iraq, in North Africa, and in the Medieval city of Akko. Even today, the conflict divisions are not drawn along religious lines. Many prominent Israeli leaders are secular, not religious, Jews. And many of the Palestinians trapped in the West Bank are Christian, not Muslim. (In fact, although the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, most of the Christians living in the Holy Land today are Palestinian.)
– Every year, the United States gives more money to Israel than to any other nation in the world. Much of that money is used to fund the Israel Defense Forces. Therefore, your taxpayer dollars are used to ghettoize Palestinians and seal them behind separation walls in Gaza and the West Bank. Your money is used to establish checkpoints along every road and at every settlement in the West Bank, making it extremely difficult for the residents there to get to school, to get to work, and to support their families. Your money was used, from 27 December 2008 to 19 January 2009, to kill 1300 Palestinians in Gaza.
– The substance of white phosphorous was declared illegal in the Geneva Conventions, because it burns away flesh to the bone. Because it is so harmful, at the Geneva Conventions it was declared illegal to use even against other militaries during times of war. But during the recent attacks on Gaza, Israel used white phosphorous against a civilian population, including the hundreds of children who were killed and maimed by these weapons.
So why does the United States support this kind of wholesale murder? Unfortunately, the answer comes down to nothing but politics. As the global watchdog and self-proclaimed promoter of democracy, the United States supports Israel because democracy in the Middle East is important to us (although, ironically, when the Palestinians of Gaza elected Hamas by fair democratic process, the U.S. refused to acknowledge or work with the democratically-elected Hamas leaders). There are other political reasons why the U.S. supports Israel. There are many wealthy Jewish American lobbyists, and American politicians have many Jewish constituents to answer to (there are more Jews living in New York than in all the state of Israel).
Another reason for our support of the state of Israel is the Holocaust. After WWII, there was a lot of grief and guilt felt by Americans for not doing enough to prevent this atrocity. So when the war was over, the smoke had cleared, and the new state of Israel was proclaimed, the U.S. began giving money to Israel to the tune of millions (and now billions) of dollars. Israel proceeded to drive Palestinians from their land to establish a “Jewish national home.” But let me ask you an important question: should the Palestinians pay the price for a crime they did not commit–namely, the Holocaust?
And what about security? Do the separation wall and the checkpoints in the West Bank really make Israel safer from “terrorists”? Or do they further radicalize a Palestinian population that is already tired of being deprived of basic human rights? Is security just the trajectory of rockets and the line of fire of bullets? Or does security also have something to do with the basic human dignities afforded to the people that you are governing?
As American voters, as makers of U.S. foreign policy, and as forgers of our own future, we have to accept the responsibility to act ethically in our affairs with other nations, to intervene justly or not at all. There is no room for ignorance or apathy.
And, on a more lighthearted note, Heather, Jana, Evan, Rachelle, Jamie, Adam, Matt, Drew, Eric, Kim, Dave, Kyle, and I took a sweet slot canyon trip to Blue John, where Aron Rolston cut off his arm in 2003. Cool canyoneering photos soon to come!