Reading the Maroon-News this weekend was one of the most upsetting things I have done since I arrived at Colgate in August. Samuel Spitz’s article “Under The Boot: America Remains a Stumbling Block for Palestinian Liberation” was saturated with misinformation and offensive language. Spitz perpetuates the polarity which often characterizes unproductive discussions between otherwise peace seeking individuals. Having served as a combat soldier in the Israeli Army between my high school graduation and matriculation to Colgate, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been central to my life.
I lived in both Israel and the West Bank during the Second Intifada, and volunteered with elite forces during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
I was also enlisted during Operation Cast Lead, and I fought in other serious conflicts. I have many friends and family across the political spectrum, loved ones who consider themselves pacifists, religious, secular, conscientious objectors, ardent Zionists and more.
I have actively and passionately protested the Israeli government for decisions, judicial rulings and operations with which I vehemently disagree. I do not see the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as right versus wrong or good versus evil. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict involves human beings on both sides who do not fit into the polarized categories many of us try to fit them into. Palestinian suffering is a reality, and I have no intention of ignoring their voice. I hope to advocate peace by recognizing narratives on both sides. I am heavily involved in promoting dialogue, and I am deeply invested in its outcome.
I both understand and disagree with the arguments behind Samuel Spitz’ article. While I read commentaries I disagree with almost every day, I am responding to Spitz’s article because the rhetoric, tone and perceived purpose of “Under The Boot” deeply alarmed me.
Spitz’s article was not a call for peace, but rather about ending the conversation to which I have dedicated my life. It was a polarized account of good versus evil, which has been articulated by decades of politicians seeking to fulfill personal agendas on an international stage.
While the arguments behind Spitz’s commentary are absolutely pertinent to the conversation, articles such as “Under The Boot” serve only those partisans interested in presenting personal biases to anyone who will listen.
As is inevitable when issues are seen in black and white, Spitz makes statements in his article which are misleading and/or false. Spitz claims that “chocolate, cattle, chicks, cumin, jam, ginger, sage, vinegar, nutmeg, fruit preserves, potato chips, gas for soft drinks, dried fruit, fresh meat, coriander and fishing rods” are currently banned from Gaza.
The human rights group Gisha, an organization that promotes Palestinian freedom of movement in Gaza and the West Bank, brought the issue of banned goods to the Israeli court system in January 2010. According to Gisha, all of the goods that Spitz claims are currently banned from Gaza – except for cattle, chicks, fishing rods and fresh meat (although frozen meat is allowed) – have been permitted since the summer of 2010. Even goods that are still restricted from Gaza, such as fresh meat, are periodically allowed in (such sources as Ma’an – a Palestinian publication – corroborate this).
In “Under The Boot”, Spitz mentions the Gaza-bound flotilla Mavi Marmara incident from May 2010. Spitz states that “nine unarmed peace activists were slaughtered.” Publicly available footage taken by both activists on the Mavi Marmara and the Israeli military, which readers can access on web sites such as YouTube, clearly shows that Israeli soldiers were violently assaulted with weapons such as metal pipes and knives as they boarded the ship.
One soldier was even thrown head- first from the upper deck. Seven Israeli commandos were hospitalized, and several are in critical condition.
In June 2010, the United Nations and its affiliated human rights groups accepted the task of distributing the aid from the six flotilla ships throughout Gaza. On the five other ships that sailed with the Mavi Marmara – on which activists did not resort to violence – no serious injuries were inflicted on soldiers or activists.
Spitz’s article calls into question Israel’s status as a democracy by implying that the Arab minority does not enjoy representative rights. While there are issues of social inequality in Israel (as there are everywhere) this does not negate Israel’s democratic character.
Again, the facts speak for themselves: Arab citizens hold equal voting rights with Jewish Israelis, there have been Arabs in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) since 1949 and they continue to serve in both Arab and non-Arab political parties.
Such parties currently represented in the eighteenth Knesset include Balad, United Arab List and the Jewish-Arab joint socialist party Hadash. Salim Joubran, an Arab citizen, is a permanent Supreme Court Judge. Additionally, Arab citizens serve in the Prime Minister’s cabinet.
Misleading information is one aspect of Spitz’s article that only serves to falsely represent the intricate nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The use of violent language provokes an emotional reaction that neither educates nor informs. Analogies comparing IDF operations to gang rape do not encourage open conversation or promote peace. Such language intimidates and puts people on the defensive.
In “Under The Boot”, Spitz implies a comparison between the policies of Nazi Germany and those of Israel. It should be noted that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” falls under the European Union’s definition of contemporary anti-Semitism; this definition is endorsed by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
To be absolutely clear, I am in no way asserting that Spitz is an anti-semite, but his allusions do resonate disturbingly closely to the EU’s definition.
In Spitz’s earlier Maroon-News commentary, “Birthright: A Half Truth”, he states that, “closed-mindedness creates misunderstanding, which in turn breeds the hatred that nurtures violence.” Yet his recent article “Under The Boot” displays the closed-mindedness he warns will perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Those who define themselves as peace activists take on the obligation of sympathizing with multiple narratives in a conflict. Those who do not accept this responsibility are partisans, not peace activists. “Under The Boot” does not further peace; it perpetuates hatred and ends progressive conversation. I do not understand how Spitz’s intemperate use of language and his misinformation further meaningful dialogue. Having witnessed the suffering of war, it is my fervent hope that this year the words of the Passover song will come true: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they suffer war anymore.”