I am not an expert on the Middle East nor do I claim to be. I try not to be overly political or take sides and I believe that my film Everest: A Climb for Peace did a great job at being neutral by letting the people in the film state their experiences and emotions: the film and the people speak for themselves. And so I have been hesitant to comment on the recent crisis in the Middle East…but I just do not feel that I can be silent anymore.
What is so sad and frustrating to see is that humanity once again lets its worst come out. There is no military solution that will fix the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Let me say that again:
THERE IS NO MILITARY SOLUTION.
But tragically we continue seeing the right wing, military people (some may call them the fanatics) on both sides win out on the decision making. And so we have Hamas sending rockets over terrorizing innocent Israelis across the border. This has continued for years. These are terrorist acts and acts of cowardice. Some may say that Israel has the absolute right to defend itself against the continued barrage of rockets that have continued now for years - and certainly if this was happening here in the US, if Mexico was sending rockets into San Diego from Tijuana, I can guarantee you that the US response would be swift; and so I do not necessarily fault a military response from Israel to protect its people.
HOWEVER, (and this is a Big However!) - I truly believe that Israel does not have the right to respond so disproportionately. In the last year 1 Israeli was killed by rocket fire - certainly tragic. But does that give Israel the right to bomb Palestine into oblivion - to destroy offices, schools, and mosques and to invade what should be considered a sovereign nation. The tables are turned - it is the literal David vs. Goliath. With F16 fighter planes and high tech bombs provided by the US - Hamas (and unfortunately, the innocent women and children of Palestine) literally do not have a chance with their low tech pea shooters and their crumbling shelters. With the Palestinian death toll heading towards 1000 (with thousands of injured) and with over 40% of those killed and injured being innocent women and children, one must ask what is Israel really trying to accomplish? Does the Israeli government believe that while trying to destroy Hamas and in doing so killing hundreds of innocent women and children - is this going to solve the problem and stop the rocket attacks and suicide bombings? And will a large military response ever be the solution to stop this continuous back and forth conflict that seems never ending? It is just mind boggling how governments do not understand that when you kill people’s friends and family that it tends to upset them! That killing only inflames an already inflamed population. Neither Hamas or Israel (especially the Israeli government) seem to understand this. Half of the people in Gaza are under 17 years old. And so Israel is just creating an entire new generation of Israeli-hating Palestinians.
I know that if you killed my brother, my sister and most of my friends that this is something that I would remember and hold to my heart for a lifetime. I too would most likely hate those who did the killing. And it would take a lot to change my mind or my thinking.
And in this regard this takes us to perhaps the real issue. For the last several years Israel has had a strangle-hold on Gaza. They have laid siege blocking the air space, the land access, and access via the sea. Gaza has become one the largest prisons in the world and Israel has done little to make this situation better and has recently made it much worse. And this is something that the US press tends to ignore. If you were starving and living under deplorable conditions what would you do and how would you get the world to notice? Well, I do not think that shooting rockets into Israel is the answer - but if years ago Israel changed its policy towards Palestinians in Gaza, if they helped provide an economy - if they let commerce and trade happen, if they ended its siege would Hamas be sending rockets into Israel? And so is it Hamas’ fault for being so stupid as to continue to provoke Israel and causing its own people to suffer from what many saw as Israel’s inevitable (and unfortunately disproportionate and inhumane) response? Or is it Israel’s fault for laying siege to 1.5 million Palestinians, which has caused a horrible humanitarian crisis in Gaza? - I believe it is fair to lay blame on both sides for continuously violating international law and for showing lack of restraint and basic compassion and empathy for human life.
There is no doubt that from the US perspective Hamas is a terrorist organization. There is also no doubt that from Israel’s point of view - and especially those innocent people living in Southern Israel - like in Sderot, that Hamas is a terrorist organization. But what if we were to ask the people of Gaza how they feel about the Israeli Defense Forces? With hundreds killed and thousands injured (almost half being women and children) - and with Israel invading Palestine, isn’t Israel currently wreaking terror to a far greater degree then Hamas has ever done to Israel? And what about the US and Iraq? With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in two wars and millions of innocent Iraqi’s left homeless and destitute because of the most recent senseless and stupid war ever waged - how do you think most Iraqi’s view the US army? Are we liberators or an invading and occupying force that has mostly brought terror and death? And so one country’s freedom fighters are another countries terrorists. It is just a matter of perspective and that is the problem that most people fail to understand. It is an “us” verses “them” world - “Us” great and moral people and “them” - those terrorist, horrible, evil-doers.
The reality is that no country is innocent and blameless; we all have the blood of innocent people on our hands.
Just as the Iraq war and the ridiculous US war on terror has only brought the US more pain, suffering, and death - over 4000 brave US soldiers dead and tens of thousands wounded - and more world-wide terrorism and anti American hatred, the same will go for Israel. Sadly, this latest war in Gaza will most likely only make Israel hated more around the world by Arab nations and will only bring about a new generation of suicide bombers and people ready and willing to launch more rocket attacks on Israel. It seems we never learn. Instead of sending bombs and missiles, Israel should have been building schools and hospitals in the West Bank and in Gaza. If you want to change the way people feel about you the way to do this is not by killing them or their neighbors, friends, and family. It is by winning the hearts and minds of the people. The same goes for the United States. Instead of giving 700 billion dollars to Wall Street - we could have used that money to feed and provide water to the world. We have had so many opportunities to create goodwill, compassion, and kindness to the world - and unfortunately, have more often than not, chosen the wrong path . When 911 occurred we had the world with us in sympathy. Iranians in Iran had candlelight vigils in the streets on our behalf! And now look where we are - look at the horrible legacy Bush has given us. I can only pray that the Obama administration will bring some sanity and stability to the Middle East and bring back the good name that the United States once held in the world.
What is truly sad and tragic is that because of a few - so many suffer. It is fairly easy for people from different countries and faiths to come together and to become friends - especially if they are striving for a common goal. But countries are a different matter because they have leaders and politicians that have certain agendas - leaders that want to get re-elected, politicians that want to continue the “Military-industrial complex” - that make war and death profitable and thus omnipresent. If peace were profitable - I guarantee you there would be a lot more peace in the world! And in this horrible state of war and conflict people learn to hate an entire race or group of people. What a ”country” does and what government leaders do needs to be separated from the people themselves. Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, and indeed the rest of the citizens of the world may have differences in language, culture, and beliefs, but we all share a common humanity. We all want to be happy; we all want to love and to be loved – and we all want to live a life of purpose and meaning. On the deepest human level, we have much more in common than we realize.
Where is the Martin Luther King of Palestine? Where is the Gandhi in Israel? Will either ever have a leader that truly strives for peace and compassion? And in a place where war in conflict is so common would the people ever follow such a leader? And will Barack Obama be the intelligent, compassionate, and diplomatic President that we all hope he can be? Gandhi once said, “If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.” It seems so obvious to me that it is through actions of peace that peace is spread - I just wish that our governments and leaders will one day learn this valuable and important lesson and start committing more actions of peace instead of creating such senseless and destructive actions of war and hatred. Until then…more pain, more suffering and more blindness….