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The Middle East Crisis: Polarization only serves to perpetuate the conflict

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
January 2024
The Middle East Crisis: Polarization only serves to perpetuate the conflict

October 7, 2023, will go down as another day of infamy in the seemingly never-ending sad saga of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The carnage of the murder of a massive number of civilians is bound to elicit raw emotions. While that is understandable, what is regrettable is how so much of the conversation surrounding this conundrum seems polarizing. It’s as if there is an unsaid rule that one must take a position and choose a side.

Such oversimplification falls flat in the face of a conflict that is endlessly multilayered. History, geography, religion, politics, and so much more exert an influence on this, perhaps the most convoluted conflict of our times. Under such a complex and fluid set of ground realities, to rally on the streets holding banners in support of one side or another is to lack the humility to bow down to the endlessly multifaceted nature of this quagmire. Worse, being so trigger-happy with pithy prescriptions for or against either side is an act of violence—the violence of pouring fuel into the fire of polarization.

For nuance, neutrality, objectivity, and fairness to have a chance, it is essential that neither side is shielded from criticism. That’s why the growing bandwagon in some elite circles of immunizing Israel from criticism by denying moral equivalency to both sides is the antithesis of constructive solutions. Such a self- serving proclamation of righteousness by any side of a conflict is precisely the cause of its perpetuity. To Israel’s claim of the moral high ground, a Palestinian would argue that it is Israel that is the original culprit that ignited this conflict decades ago when, supported by colonial powers, it forcefully drove out Palestinians from their ancestral lands. And that it is Israel that continues to occupy their land illegally and oppressively.

And herein lies the mistake of making sweeping generalizations. Based on my prior statements, many would jump to label me as pro-Palestine and anti-Israel. Such a knee-jerk judgment from those who can only see through the lens of polarization would be wrong. I am fully cognizant that Hamas is a terrorist organization. At the same time, I’m not blind to the state-sponsored atrocities and oppression committed by Israel, an occupying power.

Whether one calls it moral equivalency or not, it becomes important to acknowledge that both sides have a right to exist, that both sides have legitimate claims and complaints, and that both sides have, many a time through the decades, committed ghastly crimes against humanity. While the terrorist attacks of Hezbollah and Hamas are easy to peg as cruel due to their crudeness, Israel’s muscling of a people into submission on their own ancestral land, its illegal military occupation, its defiance of the United Nations, its flouting of Geneva Conventions, its imprisonment of Palestinian youngsters on dubious grounds, and its converting the entire city of Gaza into an open-air prison are no less insidious.

Objective assessment of the situation also requires one to be cognizant of the fact that Israel has been successful in using the mammoth power differential between the two sides in molding opinion and support in its favor. Geopolitically, it is a significantly larger trading partner, making it more attractive to side with. Governments are swayed far more by trade and commerce than by scruples and morals. As with military and economic power, Israel also enjoys more soft power than Palestine. Global opinion often tilts to the side of Israel because culturally and socially, it is the more modern and liberal of the two. But throwing Palestine under the bus on account of it being comparatively “backward” would be akin to convicting a defendant for murder just because he may be a lying, cheating, womanizing drunkard. I am, of course, not associating these adjectives with Palestine, but simply pointing out the fallacy of denying Palestinians their territorial rights because, for example, there is insufficient gender equality in their society.

What makes this conflict further murky is Hamas! The hijacking of Palestinian interest and voice by this terrorist organization has made the situation quite hopeless. It is a sad irony that Hamas, the very entity that thinks it champions the cause of Palestine, continues to be the very impediment to peace in Palestine. If not for Hamas on one side and Israeli extremists on the other, it is conceivable that a two-state solution would have already evolved. Instead, we have a situation where Israel uses the misdeeds of Hamas as license to retaliate with almost the same level of ugliness and dysfunctionality—guarantying a neverending cycle of violence.

“Israelis and Palestinians alike have been in the grip of a religious minority for decades. On both sides, the intractable positions of a small group have dragged us into violence. It doesn’t matter who is more cruel or more ruthless. The ideologies of both have fueled this conflict, leading to the deaths of too many innocent civilians,” writes Nir Avishai Cohen, a major in the reserves of the Israel Defense Forces, in The New York Times.

Ultimately, neither side is singularly the victim, just as neither side is singularly the villain. And so, neither side should be immune to criticism. Polarizing the debate in favor of one side will only serve to continue the conflict.

Parthiv N. Parekh is the Editor-in-Chief of Khabar magazine. We welcome letters in response to this article.

Please write to letters@khabar.com

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