Monday, 16 November 2009

Facebook and the conflict in Gaza

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 1:38pm

It’s bizarre. All over the Facebook pages of many of my friends, in their groups, in status updates and in the notes they’ve posted up, among the photos of late night escapades and embarrassing childhood snaps, is... the conflict in Gaza.

Take this facebook status for example:

“X thinks it ironic that the BBC is showing a film about the Jews being attacked in a ghetto while in real life the Jews are attacking a ghetto !! Funny old world.”

Hmmm. I fall under the category of ‘the Jews’ and (to the best of my knowledge) I’m not attacking any ghetto. Many Jews are indifferent to Israel, and, as for Israel itself, more than a fifth of Israel’s population is not Jewish, and its army includes many non-Jews, such as its Arab Druze soldiers. Simply put, Israel is not ‘the Jews’. It would be wrong to define ‘the Muslims’ by the actions of one Muslim state; why subsume the Jews and the Israeli army into one entity?

I also resent the subtle implication that there’s something wrong (‘ironic’) about showing a film about the holocaust while Israel is attacking Gaza. What happened in the holocaust and what’s going on in Gaza are two different things. The Jewish ghetto was not a hotbed for religious extremism, steered by a leadership that openly advocated the slaughter of another people’s civilians. There’s your difference between Gaza and the ghettoes. (For more info see the Hamas charter, article 7, and read

The analogy between Gaza and the Jewish ghettoes in Europe seems to me to be motivated chiefly by a desire to invoke the rhetorical power of the holocaust. After all, ghettos are defined (by the dictionary) as a part of a city where a minority group are forced to live; Gaza is not a City, so its description as a ‘ghetto’ – while I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitic – is certainly anti-semantic.

Turning back to Facebook, many of my more Zionist friends have focused on the number of Qassam rockets fired, ‘donating’ their status to Qassam count. ( Others have linked to an Aish sponsored video, called ‘15 seconds’, that highlights how short a time the residents of Sderot have to find shelter when Qassam rockets are headed their way.

I’ve been bothered by both.

When confronted with the gross disparity in numbers killed and weaponry available to each side of the conflict, the typical response you hear from Zionists – as was given, for example, by Israeli Ambassador Ron Prossor only last week at Limmud – is to dismiss the ‘numbers game’ as being an unhelpful distraction from the real issues. Prosser is right to stress that numbers, in terms of casualties incurred or weapons fired, are not the only morally relevant factors in a conflict. Intentions matter too, as do ‘long term’ considerations (i.e – numbers in the long term). But numbers retain their importance– and the fact that so many of Israel’s supporters have donated their status to ‘Qassam count’ suggests that actually, they agree.

What troubles me is that Israel supporters want it both ways. They want to stress the numbers of Qassam rockets fired, or the number of seconds those in Sderot have to find shelter before being hit by a rocket, while at the same time neglecting to acknowledge the undeniable fact that – if we are to play the numbers game – Israel’s has inflicted far more damage on Gaza than the other way around, and that Gazans have far less than 15 seconds to find shelter, since they have no missile warning system (as far as I can tell from searching through the internet). And for all the noise Israel makes about the rockets Hamas have launched into southern Israel prior to the conflict, the fact is that in the three years following the (disastrous) unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, only 11 Israeli civilians were killed by rocket attacks, while between 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

And I know, I know – there’s no moral equivalence between the intentional killing of civilians (what Hamas does) and the unintentional collateral damage caused by Israel’s targeting of the military infrastructure of Hamas. But for the civilians themselves, killed or else condemned to live with fear, whether Israeli or Palestinian, the differing intentions of those on their opposing side are of no comfort. And the short of it is that in this conflict, many more Gazans are experiencing that suffering.

For all the fighting taking place by proxy on Facebook, in the form of status updates and groups etc, one group offers a glimmer of hope. It’s called ‘Arguing on Facebook is the only way to solve the Israel / Palestine problem’. Well, lets hope its not the only way...

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