The latest conflict between Israel and Palestine seemed to be distinctly black and white for the majority of Icelanders.
It was striking to see the significantly biased responses through social media platforms such as Facebook where people expressed their solidarity with Hamas by posting, reposting, commenting and liking a variety of statuses, drawings, boycott threats, slogans and photos on Facebook. My own wall saw great amount of hatred towards Israel, with terms such as Nazi state and concentration camps being flung around by supposedly enlightened Facebook peace activists.
But it wasn’t just on Facebook. While world leaders like Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon, Tony Blair spent days and nights trying to find a way to resolve the escalating situation with an organisation that refuses to negotiate, Iceland’s Minister of Interior Ögmundur Jónasson hurried to condemn Israel, using words such as “genocide” and “monstrous violence.”
There was no mention of the fact that Israel filed three different cease-fire proposals, which were all rejected by Hamas. Nor was there consideration for the lives of civilians such as my 82-year-old grandma (a Holocaust survivor) who had to run to bomb shelters five times a day during the conflict. It is certainly easier to pick a side when complex reality is replaced by passionate rhetoric.
In addition to the hateful names targeted at Israel, there was the numbers game. Whenever someone mentioned rockets fired on Israel from Gaza, the ruined houses and injured Israelis, the overwhelming response was “but it’s more on the Palestinian side.”
This is true, but there are tragic reasons behind it. While the Israeli government puts millions into protecting its civil population, Hamas uses its peaceful population as human shields to protect their bases and weapon storage. And it’s not that they lack resources to take care of their people; Hamas is a well-sponsored organised regime, which receives millions from Russia, Iran and Syria. The millions, however, are spent on weapons and attacks on Israel instead of on the welfare of its population. Hamas’ stated goal is the destruction of Israel, and they openly declare that they are doing everything in their power to cause hurt where they can.
Ultimately it’s not about which number is highest; it’s about the terror inflicted on a population. Imagine for a moment how it feels to be 15 years old and finding yourself in the middle of a terror attack on a bus, or losing a friend in war at the age of 18, or spending your whole life dreading for your family’s life each time a rocket streaks across the sky (more than 8,000 rockets have been shot into Israel for the past 12 years). Can’t imagine the feeling? Unfortunately for my friends, family, and me, this is reality, and of course none of us were involved in killing innocent Palestinians. So what makes Icelanders so heatedly throw their support towards Hamas’s regime, while completely ignoring or even justifying the suffering of civilians in Israel? Does it always have to be about choosing sides?
I don’t blindly support the Israeli government. I encourage people to understand that grasping the complexity of the situation from both sides is incredibly difficult, and that there is no simplistic black-and-white version. It’s not shameful to admit that you don’t know something; it’s shameful to stick to hateful/false/provocative messages or photos, often taken from terrorist propaganda websites to support your argument for tolerance.
If you are really passionate about the matter, you should realise that showing your humanitarian involvement by “liking” Facebook posts and spreading photos from unreliable sources will promote only even more ignorance. I encourage those who are really interested to read the history and the evolution of the conflict, seek out reliable and objective sources, talk to people who’ve experienced life on each side, and to go see for yourself. Doing so will bring weight to your opinion and allow us to have respectful discussion.
I grew up in a democratic country, with freedom of speech and respect for different opinions. Discussions based on relevant facts, reasonable statements and informed arguments are enjoyable, and provide opportunities to learn from differing opinions. We may still end up disagreeing, but with respect for each other’s point of view.
If I can leave you with just one thing, it would be the awareness that these are not funny cat videos that you have been spreading. There is real human suffering behind every story and if you don’t bother to familiarise yourself with those lives then you should not get superficially involved by reflex-clicking that share button.
Julia is an Israeli living and studying in Iceland for the past three years.