Another beautiful day in the Great Lakes State. Last week I set off on the trail for my run and…nothing. I might as well have been trying to climb Everest. I couldn’t breathe right, couldn’t run more than a few paces. Then, two days ago, I was flying through the woods, my feet hitting the ground softly, even in the failing light. My headlamp illuminated the trail in front of me, but also deer and other things that I couldn’t identify.
The geese and ducks get pretty loud in the evening too, occasionally interrupting the crunch of my shoes in the oak leaves covering the trail. Why is it so easy one time, so hard the next? I’m learning how to avoid injuries, learning how as my breathing gets easier I can focus more on form.
Today, though, my focus may be on the Mideast. In the car today, PalKid asked, “Is Mark OK?” Mark is my nephew in Israel, the closest of my many relatives there. Living in Michigan I also have many Arab friends and colleagues, some of whom are focused on their families in Syria, others on Gaza, the West Bank, or Golan. I would love to say something like, “Can’t we all just get along?” but that’s naive. For decades, Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting, sometimes over land, sometimes over human dignity, sometimes just to fight.
On an individual basis, though, it’s real people suffering. In the south of Israel, children are practically living underground. A rocket launched from Gaza may destroy one apartment killing its residents, and leave the surrounding flats unscathed. The rockets are becoming a bit more sophisticated, now able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Gaza has always been withing striking distance of the IDF. In the crowded streets, families and militants glance at the skies, wondering if an Israeli jet will destroy them before they even hear it.
Hamas, the ruling body of Gaza, does not believe the Israeli state has a right to exist. The Israeli state hasn’t come to grips with a real solution to the decade’s old problem of Palestinian refugees originally from withing the borders of Israel.
None of that should matter.
The facts on the ground are that Israel is surrounded by actors that wish it to disappear. Israel has knocked out nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria, has destroyed suppliers of weapons smuggled to the occupied territories, and has assassinated terrorist leaders. Gazans remain poor, crowded, and apparently democratically ruled by a terrorist organization lobbing explosives at Israel. Israel has a much more sophisticated military, for which they are often chastised. It doesn’t help that they have had two violent, ill-conceived invasions of Lebanon and one of Gaza. But the State of Israel isn’t fighting for a right of return or better conditions for its people. It’s fighting it’s very life.
Perhaps if Israel were surrounded by neighbors interested in peace and interested in helping alleviate the plight of the Palestinians this could all have been over long ago. But there are no local partners for peace, and the Israelis and Palestinians are paying the price. Gaza doesn’t need to bomb Israel to defend its very existence. Its misery is both externally and internally inflicted, and needs real outside partners to help the political process, to help bring peace with a state that Hamas doesn’t even recognize.
The Israelis, under fire from a weaker but determined enemy, and surrounded by more of the same, must fight back. They have been criticized for assassinations and for targeting Hamas buildings, but the alternative is mass bombings or invasion.
The world should not stand by and hypocritically criticize both sides as if this were some sort of schoolyard spat. The Palestinians need borders, peace, and recognition. The Israelis need to feel safe within their own borders, and must be free to defend themselves, even from inferior forces.
To criticize the Israelis for defending themselves based on prior bad acts is a fallacy. Sabra, Shatilla, and daily indignities along border crossings are horrible. The solution is to reach out to the world, encourage the US to help end the settlement movement, realizing it may mean internecine chaos in Israel. At the same time, Israel’s borders, such as they are, must be inviolate and protected. No state can consent to being bombed while the world watches, decrying their defense.