A letter I received last year rebuked me for calling George Bush’s explanation of 9/11 – They hate us for our freedoms – "doltish." Its writer said leaders must speak concisely and simply. "What would you say?" he challenged. I’ve chewed on this and chosen: "They hate us for our bombs." It came to me during the bombing of Gaza this week. I use "hate" to parallel the Bush usage. "Consider us their enemies," would be better.
This is so in Kandahar, where Canadians keep dying, and "they," or some of them, don’t hate us for our good intentions, but for the bombs that land on wedding parties. It’s so in Gaza, where people often show bomb remnants marked "Made in U.S.A." That’s why they see "us" as enemies, like Israel. That, plus "our" support for Israel’s bombing. George Bush said it was fine with him. "No comment," said Barack Obama, squandering some of the goodwill toward him. "First and foremost, those rocket attacks must stop," said Canada’s Foreign Minister. It’s the "first and foremost" that invited rage. Most people, including Palestinians, know that rocketing others is bad – but so is being bombed. This is about understanding how people think, not debating it.
Or consider this. Gaza is roughly half the area of Toronto, with a population closing in on 60 per cent of Toronto’s. To get comparable deaths for the current assault, you’d somewhat less than double: 450 there would be like 750 here, etc. In the first hour of bombing last Saturday, the morgues ran out of room. Then a university, mosques and a TV station were bombed.
The ratios between Palestinian and Israeli dead run between 100 and 150 to one, and have since Israel "withdrew" in 2005. That huge disparity is the difference between bombs and far less damaging rockets. It’s what happens when you leave a place, surround it, close it off like a prison and bomb it at will.
Context also matters, and how the bombed see the motives of the bombers.
In a 2006 election that everyone agrees was fair, Palestinians chose a Hamas government. "We" immediately withheld aid to show disapproval.
Israel illegally withheld revenues like customs. The U.S. built up anti-Hamas forces. A virtual Palestinian civil war ensued, and Hamas took over Gaza, not exactly first prize. Israel tightened its existing Gaza blockade on most goods and all exports with the explicit purpose, repeated this week by its Prime Minister to explain the bombing, of pressuring Gazans to turn on Hamas. This amounts to punishing innocent people for political ends, which is pretty close to the conventional definition of terrorism.
Let me add, quick as a bunny, that I find "those rockets" sent by Hamas into Israeli kindergartens and bus stops just as odious as those bombs smashing Gaza. Terror is terror, it always sucks. Ordinary people deserve to live their lives unterrorized. Plus, in the case of Palestinians, mass non-violent protest would be far more effective than puny rockets. There is room for peaceful compromise on every side – it’s all on the record – but the leaders choose to go other routes and "we" – the West – are likely the only ones who could apply the necessary pressure but we won’t, or haven’t. So in a way, "our" hands are bloodiest of all, since we have so little to lose.
Osama bin Laden says he sat in Beirut in 1982 watching U.S. bombs smash the "towers of Lebanon" and decided "they" would only stop doing it when it was done back to them. And an Israeli minister said last February that Hamas’s rockets would bring upon Gaza a "holocaust." Of course, both were wrong, factually and morally. But it seems utterly typical of human beings to want to do unto others as was done to them. It makes you realize how radical, and even unnatural, is that rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I used to think it was trite, and obvious.