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Yonah Lieberman: Facebook and the Gaza conflict

By Yonah Lieberman, Opinion Columnist
Published November 15, 2012

Miles and miles away, bombs are falling on the border that runs between the Gaza Strip and the state of Israel. Not on just one side of that border, but on both sides.

But you might never know that violence is happening on both sides. Starting early in the afternoon, my Facebook newsfeed was full of posts supporting Israel’s barrage of the Gaza Strip. Granted, I went to a Jewish day school my entire life, so a sizable number of my friends on Facebook are part of the Jewish community, meaning the vast majority of the posts on my feed were pro-Israel. But for others who grew up with different backgrounds, I know many of their feeds were pro-Palestine. Clearly, support for only one side is an issue that pervades both sides of the political spectrum.

On Wednesday, a precisely aimed missile from Israel killed Ahmed al-Jabari. He was the military commander of Hamas, the militant organization that controls the Gaza Strip. Israelis claim he has played a crucial role in supporting terrorist attacks and capturing famous prisoner of war, Gilad Shalit. Others including Aluf Benn, editor in chief of Haaretz — an Israeli Daily newspaper — note that Jabari was a crucial contact within the Hamas establishment who helped maintain cease-fires between the two.

Since the assassination, more than 240 low-tech rockets have been sent toward southern Israel (of which 145 have been intercepted by the Iron Dome System) and more than 100 different sites in the Gaza Strip have been targeted. Three Israeli citizens have been killed and another three Israeli soldiers have been injured. On the other side, more than 16 Palestinians have been killed and more than 115 injured.

As I scrolled down and read status after status, my issue was not the support for Israel — my issue was the blatant one-sidedness of each post. Let me provide the oft-repeated post:

“When you hear the news later today about Israel attacking Gaza and killing the head terrorist please keep in mind that 12,000 rockets were launched at civilian towns from Gaza since Israel withdrew from Gaza Strip a few years ago, about 1,000 this year, and over 130 in the last 3 days. You will not see that on TV... Please share.”

Those facts are all true. And the plight of the nearly 1 million people in southern Israel who are under threat from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip is real. I’ve been to those towns. I’ve met those people ready to hide in bomb shelters at a moment’s notice.

I’ve never been to the Gaza Strip. I’ve never met the people who’ve been affected by the nearly 20 separate air strikes. I’ve never been to the land that the 16 dead and more than 150 wounded called home. But just because I’ve never been there doesn’t mean that the suffering in Gaza does not exist. It doesn’t mean I can’t empathize with the families who’ve lost loved ones or the 1.7 million Gazans living in fear of being the next one targeted by the Israeli Air Force.

Another Facebook status that is reposted in times like these: “Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel.” This, even more so than the previous post, is frustrating. It’s empty of content and accusatory to all those who don’t post it, as if I’m not pro-Israel unless I post it as well.

What’s most infuriating about those one-sided and simplistic posts is that they don’t actually create anything except a narrative of blame. I understand the desperate urge to take action, yet I fear negative action is worse than no action at all. I fear that perpetuating the narrative that only one side is to blame will only draw out this conflict even longer.

Maybe we, in America, can afford a never-ending conflict. We’re miles and miles away from the bombs exploding in the Middle East right now. We’ve never felt the way the Israelis and Palestinians feel right now. Not knowing if another major escalation is at hand. Not having to deal with the consequences firsthand.

As a community of smart, active leaders on this campus, we have a responsibility to be better than this. We should break the cycle of blame and enter one of hope. Just as innocent Israelis are suffering, innocent Gazans are suffering. So, instead of simply supporting one side or the other, let us come together and support two states for two peoples. That will make a real and lasting change. That will ensure that the people we care about are safe.

Yonah Lieberman can be reached at yonahl@umich.edu.


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