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Middle East

Aug 14, 2014

Middle ground on both sides blown away in Gaza conflict

Another big casualty from Gaza conflict is the growing loss of "the middle" -- moderates willing to engage with each other to resolve the greater Palestine-Israel conflict, writes Palestinian-based freelance writer Raffaele Piccolo.

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Conflict is expensive. In purely economic terms it is estimated that the conflict in Gaza will cost upwards of almost US$3 billion or 1.2 % of total economic output (for Israel). Moreover, there are the costs associated with the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza — homes, schools, hospitals and Gaza’s one and only power station have not been exempted from attack. The destruction of infrastructure in Gaza is estimated to amount to US$5 billion. Then there is the loss of life. In purely numerical terms, approximately 1400 Palestinian lives have been lost. Of the lives lost, 80% were civilians, and 20% of those were children. Three Israeli civilians and a Thai national have been killed along, with 56 Israeli soldiers. There is no doubt that this loss of life will leave a scar that will take some time to heal.

However, another big casualty from this conflict, a casualty that has often been overlooked, is the loss of “the middle”. It may also be aptly described as the centre, moderates, or those willing to engage so as to bring about a resolution of the greater Israel-Palestinian conflict. This is not to say that that the middle has been completely deserted. Rather, it is evident that there is a growing polarisation in attitudes among Palestinians and Israelis towards one another.

Signs that the willingness of Palestinians and Israelis to engage with one another is weakening are abundant. They can be seen in the lack of humanity and empathy that people are able to express. In Sderot, an Israeli town that borders the Gaza Strip, local Israelis have made a habit of coming together to witness the attack on Gaza. For them it is a spectacle, a social outing. There is seating, drinks and snacks, and people bring binoculars and take “selfies”, all the while cheering on the Israeli Defense Forces’ offensive.

Then there is the fear that has recently arisen in many Palestinians who habitually reside in Jerusalem. They fear harassment, physical intimidation and violence from Israeli Jews as a result of the conflict in Gaza. This violence is promoted through the community via Facebook pages that call for “death to Arabs”. Palestinians in Jerusalem are blamed for the conflict in Gaza and rockets targeted at Israeli cities. Some posts include pictures of IDF soldiers posing with similar “death to Arabs” slogans drawn across their bodies while holding guns. The number of “likes” numbers in the thousands.

The lack of empathy, growing polarisation, and the promotion and popularity of violence is not limited to Israelis. Similar sentiments can be found among Palestinians. Signs abound comparing the State of Israel with Nazi Germany. There appears to be an abundance of toy guns clutched by children running along the streets (which could be a coincidence). Children are dressed up and painted with fake wounds and blood, to symbolise the children killed during the conflict. They are carried through rallies that clog the streets at night. Then there is the music that features among it all. Popular at rallies is a song that promotes the bombing of Tel Aviv. The song can also be heard blaring from car stereos. More alarming is hearing the song played at a children’s centre while the children sing along to it.

The propagation and rise in popularity of views that support violence is worrying, but it is somewhat understandable. Palestinians are undoubtedly tired of having been told to be patient, to wait and to compromise all in the name of a Palestinian state that has been forthcoming for over 60 years yet still remains out of reach. Israelis, particularly those on the border with the Gaza Strip, fear for their lives. Many have taken to the roads, travelling away from their homes in search of refuge. But however tempting it is to resort to violence, or at least espouse beliefs that advocate the resort to violence, this temptation must not be allowed to take hold.

For Palestinians, resorting to violence will only provide greater grounds for Israel to delay resolution of the greater conflict and the denial of a Palestinian state. For Israelis, violence will give greater credence to those groups that espouse violence as the only means to securing a Palestinian state. It will do nothing to bring about lasting peace or security. It remains in the interests of each to see and empathise with the other and to come back to the middle. Coming to the middle does not guarantee that the greater conflict will be resolved overnight. But failure to come back to the middle guarantees that this conflict will not be resolved at all.

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