Ever since Israel began its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, both the press and social media have been abuzz with opinions about the conflict. While the opinions of professional journalists have been somewhat balanced, the rhetoric on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms has been anything but, devolving into one-sided rants and conveniently picked news items that support a particular narrative.
The problem is that the conflict in the Middle East is not just a military one but a political and cultural one as well, and the latter is easily inflamed by rhetoric and public opinion. What the millions of people on social media are doing, in effect, is adding fuel to an already raging fire and making it harder for Israelis and Palestinians to hold a real dialogue about their disagreements.
While the bloodshed in the region is certainly tragic and must stop, it is disturbing that those who deplore it refuse to recognize that there are still two sides to this conflict. Israel is being depicted as a sole aggressor but the reality is that Hamas, the terrorist group that muscled its way into Palestinian politics after 2005 and which has sidelined more moderate Palestinian factions, is just as responsible for the carnage taking place today.
Whatever some people might like to imagine and propagate, Israel is not genocidal. The Israeli army, unlike Hamas, does not kill for the sake of killing. Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel indiscriminately for many years and digging tunnels under Gaza to create terror. Any nation dealing with a group like Hamas would eventually be forced to take action against it.
What makes this situation even more difficult, however, is that Hamas has cunningly placed its military apparatus near civilian centers, and dug tunnels under schools, mosques, and other places which are filled with innocent people. That does not mean that Israel does not have a humanitarian obligation to take this into account, but the fact that Hamas is using its own people as human shields is truly deplorable.
And yet, Palestinian sympathizers are so mired in their own form of willful blindness that they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this. The danger is not simply that their views inflame the anger between the two sides further but that the problem between Israel and Palestine cannot be solved until both sides back down completely. There is no doubt that Israel needs to reconsider its occupation of Gaza and without that there cannot be a lasting peace in the region, but neither can there be détente when Hamas keeps firing rockets into Israel. Whether those rockets fall in open or congested areas is irrelevant -- they are an act of violence and precipitate war.
What I personally find most frightening is that otherwise levelheaded people lose their minds when addressing this topic and rush headlong into supporting one side solely on the basis of cherished prejudices as opposed to looking at the larger picture. They also conveniently forget that all humans, regardless of their history, religion or culture, have the right to defend themselves when consistently attacked.
I realize this applies to both sides but then that's exactly my point.
As long as there is a narrative out there that demonizes one side and does not even acknowledge the other's wrongdoing, the crisis in the Middle East can never be solved. The hysteria over the Israel-Gaza conflict right now is a perfect example of such myopic and one-sided thinking. Loss of human life is a tragedy no matter who dies, but when people choose to criticize one side while conveniently ignoring the crimes of the other, they are not helping to stop the tragedy but simply deepening the line in the sand between already inimical parties.
That is not standing up for what's right -- that is at best self-indulgent and at worst destructive.
Sanjay Sanghoee is a political and business commentator and the author of two novels (available below). Follow him @sanghoee.