Boats and Biases in the Middle East

by Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM — Oh what a difference one night can make. Waking up on the 31st and seeing the news about the attack on the flotilla was overwhelming in a way I rarely experience the news. The day was a bustle of international law, constant news updates, and blurry videos from the ship, and since then, I have been thinking critically about what I typically trust. While I have my qualms about working for a pro-Israel organization, hearing the complete Israeli side to the tragedy turned the incident into a whole new shade of grey. When I read the New York Times article, which came out right after the incident and depicted the event so one-dimensionally (against Israel), I realized that if I was home, that probably would have been the only side I listened to. This incident drives home how complex the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, and I can’t say that I truly support either side in the flotilla event, but because five ships went back peacefully in the flotilla, and a handful of others have in the past, it does not make sense to me that the Israeli soldiers would whimsically decide to massacre this group, and the videos support the fact that there was resistance aboard the boat.

Existential questions aside, Israel’s future appears a lonely battle. Israeli army generals at a security conference I attended the other day constantly emphasized how Israel can only rely on itself, and has to assume it will not have any external help. I sympathize with this precarious position, but given the hundreds of tunnels importing goods and weapons to Gaza from Egypt, the current set up of the Gaza blockade appears to hurt the Palestinian people instead of Hamas.  Through the tunnels, Hamas can limit goods such as books that would undermine its message, tax the goods it allows (including cars!), and have access to weapons. Support for Hamas has only gone down 6-10% since the blockade, and that could be due to many other factors.

I also recognize Israel’s security concerns in the flotilla incident, especially in light of the fears provoked by arms found on a ship heading from Iran to Syria last November, but I think it would be detrimental to Israel to do anything else but change policy in some way towards Gaza. It will be interesting to see how Israel copes with international pressure to lift the blockade, especially if the United States pressures Israel. As I learned at that same conference, Israeli security puts the government in a constant tug of war between concern for Palestinians and protection of its people. My mind has never been open enough to consider the extent of this difficulty because of my fierce reaction against the current conditions in Gaza. Hearing the perspective of the people who constantly make those decisions humanized Israel’s position, even if some of my convictions towards it remain.

One main reason I wanted to come here is the disillusionment and anger I felt during the Gaza War in winter of 2008-2009. After being dismissive of the Israeli viewpoint, I am glad to be in the process of understanding it. This has made me realize in a dramatic way just how important it is to try to take into account both sides. In recent days I have been on Palestinian group websites, as well as sifting through Israeli Defense Force statements, and it has definitely changed my idea of “facts,” if such a thing can even exist, especially in a conflict so loaded with emotion from the loss of loved ones on both sides, religious zeal, and claims to history. As one of our Jerusalemite friends says so truthfully, referring to the ongoing disputes over who owns what land, “everyone is right,” and as I attempt to understand with an open mind both sides of the conflict, I have to continually remind myself of this notion to get away from the often dehumanizing rhetoric in the media.

The initial scramble for information also ignited zeal in me to write. Biases run so deeply, and as I’ve said, that became true in a very immediate way during this conflict for me. In the race for facts given our boundless access to information, something is lost. We saw in the build-up to the Iraq war and talk of WMDs how the media does not always play its role as a “watchdog,” and I have seen it in this conflict on both sides in the unwillingness to simultaneously present two valid points of view. Doing so creates a complicated narrative, and provides few answers. I knew all of this before, but being here makes it personal, and I hope to continue to carry this burning desire to provide accurate information home.

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Filed under conflict, media, Overseas Bureau, religion, violence

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