Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Disaster's Recipe: More Enmity, Less Sympathy

As the Israeli army continues to obliterate most of Lebanon, while Hezbollah lobs rockets deeper into Israel, it looks as though the world’s heading toward apocalypse. Will peace ever be a possibility? Who knows.

One thing I do know, though, is that it is impossible to understand Israel’s motives without attempting to view the current conflict, as many Jewish people do, through the prism of the Holocaust. This perspective, which looks at each battle as a final battle for survival, is a justifiable one: the Holocaust’s horrific significance will forever ripple through history, continually influencing the way warfare, nationalism and demagoguery are perceived.

So, to that end, the vehemence with which the Israeli army recently responded to Hezbollah rocket attacks makes sense. Similarly, when Israelis and their Jewish brethren in the US see people on TV chanting “death to Israel,” it's only natural that they want to display their resolve: they want to announce to the world—via their military actions—that the days of Jewish persecution are long over.

But by reacting to Hezbollah or the Palestinians with such with such a heavy hand, the Israelis are sending the wrong message. Worse yet, the Israeli desire to root out all enemies seems guided more by tunnel vision than logic. In the end, what the world sees is an Israeli population growing more and more estranged from one of the things that truly makes humankind great, which is its capacity for sympathy.

And therein lies the problem.

Sympathy and charity, after all, are cornerstones of the Jewish religion. But lately, it seems like these principles are being obscured by Israel’s desire to defend itself.

Yes, one should be concerned with the nurturing and preservation of one’s own people, especially when considering Jewish history. But this desire to see one’s own group thrive should not preclude all chances for peace or feelings of sympathy for other human beings. Once this point is reached, terror ensues.

Still, it is important to make something clear, the act of blowing oneself up in a cafĂ©—an action toward which many young, Palestinian males show a proclivity—is morally repugnant. Ditto for Hezbollah fighters firing rockets at Israel, all the while using their countrymen (innocent Lebanese) as camouflage.

But despite all these immoral actions carried out by Israel's sworn enemies, there is an aphorism that gives insight into why Israel sill did not have the moral high ground this summer:

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

While Hezbollah and Hamas are in the wrong, so, too, is Israel. Especially, that is, when Israel's air force obliterates a whole building full of civilians—meaningfully or not—just to get to a few Hezbollah fighters in the cellar. It’s an egregious disregard for human life.

"But Israel has the right to do so," some may say. "Look at its peoples’ history: it's do or die." A fair rebuttal. But one can hearken back to a singular, albeit monumentally tragic, event for so long.

Today, things have changed, and this prism-of-the-Holocaust perspective skews the opinions and feelings of many Jewish people, typically known for being quite rational. No one—be it a Muslim, Christian or Jew— should ever shrug off the death of a child with the argument, “Hey, Hezbollah shouldn’t have started it (an opinion I incidentally overheard while riding the subway). It’s horror on all sides. This lack of sympathy—spurred on by prejudices, deep-seated fears and religious dogma—is corrupting.

And a dearth of sympathy usually indicates a lack of understanding.

Many Jewish people fail to try and understand the Palestinians, seeing them instead as inferior, war mongers. Likewise, many Palestinians, Shiites and Arabs fail to consider the Jewish people’s past, disregarding their sensitivities and fears. Many Shiites, for instance, don't care how the Holocaust has over time affected the Jewish psyche. (Just think about the outrageous and incendiary remarks Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made several months ago.)

Until the Palestinians, Shiites and Arabs begin trying to understand Israel and Jewish history, and until the Israelis realize that they cannot punish their enemies with impunity just because of their tragic history, the serpent of Middle-East violence will forever be chasing its tail.