Never has the chasm between political debate and military reality been so wide. The ease with which one can whip an entire polity into war fever has grown past the point of humanitarian realism.
“Stop the rockets, start the peace,” read the signs as I walked through the Toronto for Israel rally in Dundas Square last Sunday. I was there to support a friend of mine, who delivered an outstanding introduction to kick off the event.
Across the street was a small counter-rally organized by Independent Jewish Voices, a Jewish group highly critical of Israel’s policies, whose mantra is “Not in Our Name—Jews Against Zionism.” I overheard some resentful comments while leaving the rally, people charging them as “self-hating Jews,” but for the most part, there were no serious clashes.
Despite the fact that I stood out like a sore thumb—an Arab at a pro-Israel rally—nobody harassed me. In fact, most of the protesters were friendly, and greeted me with more respect than I would expect a Zionist to receive at a pro-Palestine rally.
The event’s theme was “peace.” The speakers impressed upon the crowd an image of a courageous Israel, supported by the international community for fighting the good fight while being the only democratic state in the area, struggling to coexist in harmony with its pugnacious neighbours. What the demonstrators failed to see was that Israel has made a pariah of itself through its condemnable actions in Gaza and the West Bank.
It’s this kind of detachment from reality that makes it hard for someone of my background to comprehend the motive behind anything Israel does. Having lived in an Arab country that has been the target of terrorist attacks, I’ve grown to detest terrorism, and I’m not alone. The majority of Arabs are no fans of fundamentalist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Muslim Brotherhood. These are rogue terrorist organizations whose unmeasured actions put civilians at risk of reprisal.
But the retaliation exercised by Israel borders insanity. After 60 years, countless attempts at peace, and no less than 50 massacres, Israel should realize that answering violence with violence doesn’t solve the problem: it exacerbates it, and creates a vicious cycle of aggression. At the rally, I was truly disappointed that nobody mentioned how fundamental the peace process is to ending terrorism. Savaging a besieged Gaza does the opposite.
Halfway through the protest, the organizers delivered their bombshell: the evocative 15 Seconds in Sderot video, which sent a chill down my spine. The clip shows a girl, presumably playing hide-and-seek, counting down from fifteen while children run for cover before a rocket lands in the middle of Sderot. While I could find much more horrific images at pro-Palestinian rallies, I can’t deny that the horror of living in constant fear of rocket attacks struck a chord in me. But only for a few minutes.
As the crescendo of praise for Israel climaxed and the keynote speakers whipped the crowd into a frenzy, I wondered how the attendees would react if someone displayed a picture of a Gazan child maimed by a cluster bomb, or civilians charred to the bone by white phosphorus. WP is a highly controversial weapon, which burns everything in its vicinity, including human flesh. While it’s true that WP isn’t internationally banned, its use in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth is troubling.
To make matters worse, two medics with the Norwegian aid agency NORWAC have recently charged Israel with using Gaza as a “test laboratory” for new “extremely nasty” chemical weapons such as Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), which have a carcinogenic effect on people within its blast radius. This is precisely where the self-defence argument falls apart.
A good portion of the people at the rally, including an Indian speaker of questionable credentials, probably weren’t aware of any of these facts. They were too busy extolling Israel’s efforts to battle “terrorism.” They probably didn’t consider the words of Israeli founding father David-Ben Gurion, who said: “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country […] There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”
Pro-Israel activists need to be made aware of Palestine’s raw deal. They’re already living in extreme poverty, under a virtual occupation. The illusion that Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan has effectively ended the occupation needs to be cast aside, as does the deep-rooted desire on the Palestinian side to “wipe [Israel] off the Earth.” To cut things short, the borders of hostility must be broken down before peace can arise.
Future generations will judge us, not by how many people we killed to take revenge on our enemies, but by our endeavours to set our differences aside. Some time in the distant future, when these nations can once again live in peace with one another, they will look back on this point in time and decry our legacy if we don’t start making reconciliations soon.