Soldiers of war are not psychopathic killers – they are victims of robbery, the robbery of a human quality called empathy.
With certain external forces, we have the ability to lose this basic emotion.
Analyzing the Israel and Gaza conflict, I realized that the loss of empathy is the underlying cause of the controversy. My objective in this column is not to prove which side is the victim or aggressor, but to share some of my thoughts on why I think there is such a polarization of opinions in the first place.
I believe the Israel and Gaza debate is being approached incorrectly. Supporters on each side of the argument try throwing facts at each other, as if facts alone will make apparent which side is right. The controversy, however, is fundamentally a case of moral ambiguity. This is why I think a more philosophical approach is appropriate.
But first, I must delineate several assumptions that, in my opinion, aren’t far-fetched to make: 1) Hamas is a terrorist organization in that it intentionally targets civilians. 2) Israel and Gaza have a right to defend their citizens. 3) There are innocent civilians in Israel and Gaza.
Now that the assumptions are out of the way, let‘s scrutinize the situation further. Hamas would not stop firing rockets towards Israel even after Israel’s threat of an attack. Since Israel has the right to defend itself, Israel is allowed to take some measure to deter the rockets. Israel chose to target Hamas and its resources with an airstrike.
These targets were close to innocent civilians, partly because Hamas made that so and partly because Gaza is a densely populated area. The airstrike has not deterred Palestinian fighters from shooting more rockets toward Israel. To date, this battle has led to 900 Palestinian deaths with 45 percent being civilians and 13 Israeli soldier deaths with 3 being civilians according to Reuters.
Polls show that over 80 percent of Israelis are in favor of Israel’s airstrikes. On the other hand, most of the rest of the world believes the attacks were disproportionate. Specifically, the Arab population has been most outspoken about its disagreement. Interestingly, many different populations can be exposed to the same information yet arrive at opposite conclusions.
The reason this happens is because a mixture of nationalism, dogmatism, ideologies and propaganda disconnects each side from empathizing with one another. With different degrees of empathy, people interpret and filter facts differently; conflicting conclusions are bound to be made.
The clearest example of lack of empathy is Hamas and its terrorist tactics. It targets innocent Israeli lives and treats its own civilians like hostages in order to accomplish its objective. This is not to say it isn’t justified in defending its citizens, it is its methods that aren’t justified. Israel also commits a lack of empathy, but in my opinion, in a less obvious manner.
Unlike Hamas, Israel does not specifically target civilians with the intention of killing civilians. However, it does accept that civilian casualties are collateral damage, another cost of war, and a suitable means towards defending its citizens. Collateral damage is an ambiguous moral concept, but throughout the past and present it seems like some dose of collateral damage is accepted.
Most Israelis believe that the airstrikes had the appropriate amount of damage or i.e. the appropriate amount of collateral damage. There does become a point, however, when the collateral damage is too high and is not justified by the outcome. Most of the rest of the world believes the attacks were disproportionate. To me, this means that Israelis care less about Palestinian civilians then does the rest of the world and therefore can tolerate a higher degree of collateral damage. Or, I could say, the rest of the world cares about Palestinians more than they do Israelis and don’t tolerate Israel’s collateral damage.
Maybe both Israelis and Palestinians are just ethnocentric and only care about their own people! I don’t know whether this is good or not, but I believe all three cases are true and that neither side admits it.
We need to overcome our biases and restore empathy back in the human relationship. I don’t believe empathy alone will end the war, but that it‘s necessary in order to formulate an unbiased opinion.
Bringing back empathy is one important step towards reaching an agreement and, hopefully, a solution.
LIOR GOTESMAN wants people to stop filtering information that contradicts their prejudice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.