The three-day ceasefire is over and attacks have once again resumed between Israel and Gaza. It seems as if there’s no end in sight to this bloody war, with casualties rising on both sides.
A few weeks ago, if you asked me to explain the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. I live in South Florida, where our biggest problem is LeBron having just left for Cleveland.
I certainly had no appreciation for what it meant to be on the ground in a war zone, or what it meant to have to deal with the potential loss of loved ones each day.
Thankfully, I have two friends who are informed about the issues. One is Israeli and is currently on the ground overseas. Let’s call her Tal. The other is Palestinian and has family in the Gaza area, as well as all throughout Palestine. Let’s call him Amir.
I reached out to my friend Tal after seeing the media attention Israel was getting on the news because I wanted to make sure she was safe. Nothing could have prepared me for the response I received.
She was grateful I reached out to her, but shocked so many Americans remained unaware about the gravity of the situation and displayed no sense of urgency to get involved.
She sent me an impassioned letter detailing her experience on the ground. Truthfully, I felt ashamed to have been worrying about such trivial things when I had a friend, 20-something just like me, in the middle of scenarios I’d only seen in doomsday movies.
After reading her letter, I wanted to learn more. I knew that the media had previously been accused of bias toward one side or another, so I approached my friend Amir to learn his perspective and response to the issues Tal raised in her letter.
I consider both Amir and Tal to be intelligent, successful, young and well-traveled. I hold them in the highest regard and thank them both for sharing their personal stories and experiences.
If there is one thing I learned while writing this piece, it is that this conflict is extremely personal, with both sides convinced of the merit in their arguments.
As a neutral party who has no dog in the fight, I sought to learn the basics. So, I compiled a list of seven key questions about the conflict, as answered by a Palestinian and an Israeli.
1. What is the cause of the conflict?
Tal says: The current conflict is Gaza, a strip of land between Israel, the sea and Egypt.
Israel left Gaza in 2005 so that the Gazians could live on their own. In return, Israel asked to be left alone. When Hamas took over Gaza, they initiated a series of attacks on Israel, the latest and most highly-publicized being the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
The situation escalated from that point, with Israeli soldiers entering Gaza for the first time since 2005. Gaza is a free city, but Israel controls what goes in and out.
Additionally, Israel supplies Gaza with water, gas and electricity and builds their hospitals. When the Israeli soldiers arrived in Gaza, they discovered terror tunnels into Israeli cities, prompting the current crisis.
Amir says: Gaza has no access to the outside world. The borders are locked, the port is closed and everything is under siege. The tunnels are how people get things in and out of Gaza.
Some tunnels go to Israel, but the vast majority go to Egypt, where people broker the sale of medicines, groceries and other dry goods that they need.
This conflict did not start because of three kidnapped teens; it started because Gaza has been under literal siege since 2000 -- 14 years, every day.
No communication, no import or export, no one comes in, no one goes out. Civilians can see tanks in the distance and there are constant water, food, medicine and fuel shortages.
2. Is Hamas a terrorist organization?
Tal says: Hamas is a terrorist group -- there’s no question about it. They are responsible for having shot rockets to southern cities in Israel for the last 14 years.
They are responsible for terrorist attacks, bombs in buses and cars, kidnapping and murder. Hamas' agenda is the destruction of the state of Israel and nothing else.
Amir says: Hamas won a free election in 2006. Instead of being supported as the popular government of choice, they were cut off by the international community, causing them to re-harden their approach to Israel and diplomacy.
The Palestinian population may see Hamas as an incompetent source of leadership, but they don't place blame for the massacres that have transpired these past few weeks on Hamas.
The current casualties are a continuation of more than 60 years of systematic oppression and land theft by the Israeli government.
3. Are Palestinians refugees?
Tal says: Yes. Today, there are more than 5 million Palestinian refugees, as recognized by the UN. Israel is the only state in the region that affords Palestinian refugees equal rights within their borders, with Arabs even serving for the Israeli government.
Amir says: No. They are just people who live in a country that is not defined or fully recognized.
4. Is Hamas using civilians as human shields?
Tal says: Hamas uses human shields and makes its people stay in locations known to be the targets for pending attacks in an attempt to paint Israel as evil in the media.
Amir says: Gaza is an extremely small place, among the most densely populated in the world, so it is impossible for Hamas members to be in Gaza and not be among civilians.
The human shields argument is simply a propaganda tool. “Rockets in schools” is an Israeli claim without evidence to back it up, which is a convenient smokescreen.
5. What is the end game?
Tal says: We want Hamas to disarm from all weapons. That’s it. Just leave us alone.
Amir says: What we need is a new government and a cessation of all settlement building. Only then will we be able to reach a lasting agreement. If the settlement building continues and we aren't allowed to elect our own leaders, Palestinians will fight to the last man.
6. Why is peace not an option?
Tal says: International authorities keep advocating for a ceasefire. Okay, but then what? In a few years, the Palestinians would find another reason to start a conflict.
Today, it’s terror tunnels and tomorrow, it’s chemical weapons. I feel sorry for all of the innocent civilians in Gaza who are being terrorized. I feel sorry because they chose Hamas for their government.
But, I will not feel sorry that we are defending ourselves. We value life for a cause, not death for a cause.
Amir says: Palestinians want our own state, but the Israelis would never do a one-state solution, so they want to secure as much land through illegal settlements as possible.
That way, when they are finally forced to make a deal, they will come from the ultimate place of power, where their "concessions" are settlements they had no right to in the first place.
7. Why should Americans care?
Tal says: Because Israel is the only democracy left in the Middle East. Because by doing business with Qatar and Iran, the US is effectively funding terrorist organizations that could very well target them next.
Amir says: 1800 Palestinians are dead, 80 percent of those are civilian casualties. It shouldn’t even be a discussion as to who is feeling the pain in this exchange. The Palestinian people are surrounded by broken homes, infrastructure destruction and death.
By continuing to support the Palestinian Authority, the US is reinforcing a leadership that was not elected, had no oversight on how humanitarian aid was spent and has no popular election planned for the near future.
Once again, I’d like to thank my friends for their valuable input. While there are two sides to every story, one point is painfully clear in these discussions: Both sides are suffering and it doesn’t appear as though we'll reach a resolution anytime soon.
I pray for the safety of all those on the ground who, like you and me, are just regular 20-somethings trying to make it through another day but have to deal with the added uncertainty, panic, pain and death of war.
Top Photo Credit: Getty Images