Some helpful background for talking with folks who support Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza.

On Friday, commenter Jane mentioned that she’s been getting email from a beloved (and generally pretty groovy!) family member asking her to “Join my cause: Israel Has a Right to Protect Itself,” and that while she understands the point, she would like to help dial down the tone a little and “have an actual discussion about what the occupation and the settlements are doing to real, live human beings” (which desire, it should be noted, Jane acknowledged as being “like the unicorn of Israel/Palestine politics”…!)

I thought I’d front page the question and my response, because I know that people frequently come here looking for just that kind of help!

With a few small edits, this is what I said:

I try to take a two-pronged approach.

One prong is purely practical: Whatever one thinks about the ethics of Israel’s policies, have they worked? Israel has been talking about chopping Hamas to pieces (literally) for 25 years — are Israel’s citizens safe now? Did that work? You could send her this, about how futile Israel’s anti-Hamas efforts have been which, among other things, points out that

“In other words, a policy with the stated goal of weakening Hamas in Gaza has not only had the effect of strengthening its rule there but also resulted in the proliferation of tunnels through which terrorist groups have been able to obtain weapons.”

And if she counters with “We tried peace” (which is what people often counter with), you can say that during the years of the Oslo Accords, during which time Palestinians were nominally supposed to start building their state, settler numbers doubled (and the settler population has since more than doubled again) — which is to say: The number of people living on land that everyone in the world including Israel thinks is Palestinian doubled at precisely the time that Israel said that it had committed to establishing a Palestinian state on that land.

And if she counters with “But Israel withdrew from Gaza” (ditto), you can say that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas *begged* Israel to negotiate that withdrawal, or to at least negotiate security arrangements, and the Sharon government refused — meaning that the minute Israel left (though it remains surrounding Gaza, determining who and what goes in and out), Hamas was free to claim victory for the withdrawal, and thus, there have never been any arrangements with the Palestinian government to deal with security breaches. Five months after the withdrawal (January 2006), Hamas narrowly won legislative elections, in part because of the impression that their terrorist campaigns ran Israel out of town.

The second prong is: This is a war. When people are in the middle of a war, they react defensively, they prepare for battle, they become enraged when their homes are destroyed and children killed, and sometimes they do terrible things, whether on purpose or by error. This is how it always is and always has been — you’re right that Israel has a right to defend itself, but it simply makes no sense to expect that Palestinians won’t react to their suffering, too.

My Atlantic piece might also be helpful — it’s meant to demonstrate just how much each side has been firing away at each other all along + causality numbers. I don’t editorialize in it, I just present the facts, but the facts paint something of a picture. You might send her that, as well.



  1. Emily

     /  November 19, 2012

    Thank you for being a knowledgeable and trustworthy source on this now. We need those.

  2. Thank you for this. I’m sharing it widely.

  3. Since when does entire control of airspace, borders, territorial waters, imports, exports, and movement considered a “withdrawal”? Ugh. In addition, the withdrawal from Gaza by Israel can also be seen as a very strategic move, with the focus of settler/settlement expansion moving to the West Bank by Sharon’s government. Meh.

    • Just know that the question I most often get is “Israel left and Hamas is in control on the ground – how can you call that an occupation?”

      • Yes! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard variations of that exact question. Even with certain undisputable facts (which you have named in this piece), they still don’t understand. I realize that your piece is about countering quesitons with great responses…and direction on where to find answers, but sometimes I find myself talking to brick walls. Do I just cut my losses and drop it? Do you have any suggestions with dealing with people so turned off with any ideas different than their own or unwillingness to enter into civil dialogue?