What the Israel-Palestine Conflict Can Teach Us About National Health

What the Israel-Palestine Conflict Can Teach Us About National Health

What the Israel-Palestine Conflict Can Teach Us About National Health

The goings-on in Gaza are big news right now. But the current flare-up is symptomatic of the perpetual unhealthiness—physical, psychological, and moral—that plagues the region.

     
What the Israel-Palestine Conflict Can Teach Us About National Health
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Of the many harrowing conflicts going on in the world, the one that most consistently captures the attention of Americans is that between Israelis and Palestinians. Whatever the reasons—because there's a large and strong Jewish community in the United States, because the conflict has been relatively consistent over the last few decades, because many of the central issues are relatively easy to grasp, because the U.S. is Israel's central ally—when the conflict flares up, it seems our whole nation takes note.

Although peace in the Mifdle East may not be simple, here are seven lessons we can draw from the situation and apply toward improving the health of any society.

Lesson #1: Suffering begets unrest.

Even prior to the current conflict, the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip was around 40%. Nearly 60% of households were defined as food insecure, with 80% of the population relying on international food aid. Because of a limited and contaminated water supply, 80% of Gazans were forced to spend as much as one-third of their household income to buy water. Conflict with Israel had led to 98% of Gaza's industry to be shut down, and Israel's naval blockade of Gaza had stifled the improvement of Gaza's infrastructure, for starters. Despite Israel's so-called disengagement from Gaza in 2005, over time Israel has, in the words of Oxford Emeritus Professor of International Relations Avi Shlaim (who served in the Israeli military), "brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe," while Palestinians have no political representation in the government that claims their land as its own.

Now Gaza has been decimated by Israel's reaction to Hamas's recent rocket attacks, with roughly 75% of Palestinian casualties being civilians. Needless to say, there is great suffering among the Palestinian population as a whole. And no-one is content to suffer idly. It's one of the principles in play when we find U.S. crime rates so much higher in poverty-stricken areas than is wealthy areas. People who are suffering are more likely to act out destructively. This is not a justification for all acts perpetrated by sufferers, but it is a partial explanation of their origin. If you want to increase the peace, reducing suffering is a good first step. Increasing it is a move in the wrong direction.

Lesson #2: Inequity begets unrest.

Israel took the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (among other territorial gains) in the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel rebuffed a military offensive by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in stunning fashion. Israel did not set out to conquer this territory, and no-one can justly blame any country for beating back an attack. Israel was forced to fight, and it won. Part of its victory was this land.

But the spoils of war sometimes come at a price. The price was responsibility for the people calling this land home—almost all of whom were civilians. It's not that Israel wanted all of this responsibility (for example, Israel immediately offered much of the West Bank back to Jordan in exchange for peace, an overture that was summarily rejected), but there was no avoiding the reality: a million people were newly under their control.

Instead of genuinely attempting to assimilate these people into Israeli society, Israel's answer has been to rule over these people without giving them the basic rights afforded to the rest of the population over which the Israeli government has dominion. This basic inequity has become even more pronounced over time, as Israel has, for example, continued to take land away from the Palestinians in the West Bank, replacing them with settlers on land that even the Israeli Supreme Court deemed does not belong to Israel.

Whatever the reasons for Israel's actions, the bottom line is that the Israeli government rules over two sets of people, clearly favoring one over the other. No group of people is content to find itself institutionally disfavored. No group ever will be.

 Lesson #3: Bad apples can spoil the bunch.

Say what you will about the conditions that Israel has created in the Palestinian territories, but there's no denying that Hamas, the dominant power in Gaza, targets Israeli civilians for death. And not just Israelis. According to Human Rights Watch, Hamas practices torture and murder. Even if some of Hamas's gripes are legitimate, you have to justify some pretty terrible behavior not view Hamas as some pretty bad apples. That's certainly the opinion of not just parties partisan to Israel but absolutely any neutral party you care to name.

During the current conflict, Hamas has shot nearly 3,000 rockets into Israel willy-nilly. The staging area for these attacks is generally from within Palestinian population centers. The United Nations, for example, while condemning Israel's indiscriminate killing of civilians, has confirmed that Hamas rockets have been found in some U.N. schools in Gaza. Such practices put Israel in something of an impossible situation. And so while Israel could certainly show more precision and restraint, the reality is that Hamas is helping to spoil life for the people it claims to represent, while at the same time doing everything it can to inflame hatred for Israel among the Palestinian population. In the United States we often see neighborhoods ruined at least partly by street gangs. In the Palestinian Territories, there's Hamas.

Lesson #4: Gandhi was on to something.

Some of the strongest criticism of Mohandas K. Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent response to even the most brutal aggression was in relation to his statements concerning how the world should respond to Nazi Germany. "I want you to fight Nazism without arms, or, if I am to retain the military terminology, with non-violent arms," he wrote in 1940 in an open letter "[t]o every Briton." "I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered […]."

The basic argument was that, while ahimsa might be have proven to be effective tactic to end the British occupation of India, Nazi Germany was a uniquely brutal kettle of fish, one that could be stopped only by way of brute force.

Even if Gandhi was wrong when it came to the best way to answer Nazi aggression, whatever criticism Israel might justly deserve, 21st-century Israel is not comparable to Nazi Germany, but rather to apartheid South Africa. And while it's easy for me to sit in sunny Southern California and say the Palestinians might do well to take more of a Gandhian line, it's hard to see how indiscriminately firing rockets at the Israeli population is helping. As it is world opinion is pretty much lined up against Israel's actions—but it's also lined up against Hamas's. Were Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation more along the lines of that practiced by followers of Gandhi—and, later, of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa—world opinion of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories would likely be stronger than it is, perhaps leading the U.S. to impose sanctions against Israel, which is perhaps the only thing that will ever bring about a two-state solution.

Lesson #5: When world opinion is lined up against you, maybe they're right.

The United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Médecins Sans Frontières, B'Tselem, and almost every country in the world condemns Israel for its tactics during this conflict and for its general treatment of the Palestinians. Condemnation of Hamas's tactics is less universal only because there is enough hatred for Israel among some Arab nations—largely fueled by anti-Jewish sentiments—that some people rationalize the targeting of innocent persons as legitimate resistance.

What neither the Knesset nor Hamas ever stops to consider is that perhaps the rest of the world is right. If they took heed of world opinion, Israel would be out of the West Bank, life in all of the Palestinian Territories would be less restrictive, and Israeli citizens would not live under threat of being randomly targeted. From there, the dream of two separate peoples living in peace next to each other—which is what almost all of the people on both sides really want—would be within reach. But by pigheadedly persisting in the belief that their way is the right way, peace may never have been more unreachable.

Lesson #6: Poisoning hearts and minds will not win the future.

Hamas is forcing Israeli citizens to live in fear for their lives, while the Israeli Defense Force is killing mostly civilians. What sort of feeling does that foster on each side about the other? Both sides might do well to heed a sentiment expressed by Ed Wood in his Plan 9 from Outer Space:  "We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives."

Lesson #7: The present and future are more important than the past.

Are you sick to death of little Internet videos with titles like "The TRUE History of Palestine" and "Everything You Need to Know about the Middle East in 90 Seconds"? You should be. But even detailed, neutral, scholarly analyses of the history of the region and its peoples are beside the point. What really matters is now, how to make now better—which, in turn, will lead to a better future than the poor souls caught up in or born into this conflict are going to get otherwise.

In 2014 a place called Israel exists, and around 8 million people calling themselves Israelis live there. Abutting Israel are the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with around 4 million people calling themselves Palestinians live there. Most all of them simply want what we Americans call "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"—or, at the very least, not to be made to suffer needlessly. Facilitating such a humble desire always should be the primary goal, not just in the region but everywhere in the world. Absolutely any concerns or actions conflicting with that goal should be abandoned.

 

Photo By: Gigi Ibrahim


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com

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Last Updated : Sunday, February 15, 2015