Way back when, when I worked at an ad agency in San Francisco and began the first incarnation of what would eventually become this blog, I chose the name Spoonfed because I felt I was part of the huge media machine that spoonfeeds information to the American public, bit by bit. I also felt I was part of the public that hungrily and eagerly ate it all up, no matter what the message. I started writing Spoonfed to encourage people, especially myself, to ask questions and not take everything at face value.
This week, the news is full of yet another escalation in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's been a pretty quiet decade, actually, from the point of view of most Americans. Peace talks start up, they fail, violence flares up, it quiets down, Hamas and the terrorists are always working to destroy Israel. Isn't this the line we've been spoonfed throughout the entire Bush reign?
But this time, it's different. What's happening today in Gaza is different. Morally, this is not a time to stand on the sidelines.
Most Americans have not had the opportunity to visit Israel, much less Palestine, much less the Gaza Strip. We hear the Fox news anchors describe Gaza as a "dump," a terrorist stronghold where the terrorists use the civilians as human shields. We hear Fox tell us that rockets are being fired from Gaza into Israel, sort of like rockets from New Jersey being fired into New York City. Bush says it's all to stop the Hamas terrorists, and the American public eats it up.
But I have had the opportunity to visit Israel, and to live in the West Bank, and to visit Gaza several times, and I can assure you: the Fox reporters have it wrong. Gaza is more than a "dump" -- it's one giant refugee camp, and there is no escape from Gaza. Most importantly, Gaza is full of real people -- people like you and like me -- trying to raise their families in a pretty rotten situation.
Most of the Palestinians living there fled from their homes all over what is now Israel in 1948. They fled to escape the fighting, or to try to get into Egypt, or because they were scared; whatever the reason, once there, they found themselves stuck. They built concrete shelters, close together, because they surely never expected they'd be there 60-some years.
People living in Gaza cannot leave. Not to shop, not to visit family, not to travel. The borders into Israel are heavily guarded. Most people cannot get the permits and papers to allow them to cross into Israel. The border with Egypt is also heavily guarded, and Egypt won't take the Palestinians in. Most of the Gazans who get permits to cross into Israel are men who need jobs in Israel. There aren't a whole lot of jobs available in Gaza. Many women who live in Gaza live their whole lives without leaving -- not by choice.
When I was there in 1994, I visited with a doctor's son, a 17 year old who had been accepted into an American university, on full scholarship. Israel denied his visa application, and so he could not go. He enrolled in the university in Gaza instead.
Back then, Israel still occupied Gaza, as they had since 1967. In Beit Jabalya, I walked tentatively underneath the sniper pits, high in the air, where Israeli soldiers sat, their guns trained on me the entire time.
Under Israeli occupation, they didn't do much to build any kind of infrastructure in Gaza. There were no civil services like trash collection or sewage treatment. In fact, raw sewage frequently ran down the dirt streets. But groups like Hamas built infrastructure. They built schools, and hospitals, and picked up trash, and did things to make life in Gaza a little more bearable. Is it any wonder they won the election?
Then a few weeks ago, Israel closed the borders into Gaza. Not an unusual occurrence -- they do it all the time. But this time, they didn't reopen them. Not to allow people to go to work, not to allow supplies in or out, not for anything. People in Gaza were running out of food and medicine.
And now, with the borders shut and those millions of people with nowhere to go, Israel bombs them from the air, and now sends their soldiers in to "fight" on the ground. Believe me, with the apartment buildings stacked upon each other like they are in Gaza, no "surgical bomb" could avoid killing civilians.
So the next time you flip through the news channels and hear the same old same old lines, "Israel has every right to defend itself," or "the terrorists must be stopped," stop to think about the real people who live in Gaza. They are just like you and me. They have children, and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and they want the same things in life. They want to work, and feed their families, laugh a little.
If you think we Americans are far removed, think again. Our foreign policy is allowing this attack to go on, with not even a whisper of recrimination. As Fox News said last night, most other foreign countries are denouncing Israel strongly, but not America. Not America.
There is a doctrine of just war, and as The Economist says: "In general, a war must pass three tests to be justified. A country must first have exhausted all other means of defending itself. The attack should be proportionate to the objective. And it must stand a reasonable chance of achieving its goal. On all three of these tests Israel is on shakier ground than it cares to admit."
- Read the "Gaza Diary" at London's Guardian
- Read about the doctrine of just war at "Gaza: the rights and wrongs" at The Economist
- Read "Has Israel's Response Exceeded its Right to Defend Itself?" at the SF Chronicle
- Send a letter to your Congress people at Just Foreign Policy