Posted by: Mark | January 15, 2009

Unchecked Aggression: Gaza and Oakland

Two news stories have really captured my attention over the last few weeks. The first is local. On January 1st, a 22 yr old black male named Oscar Grant was shot and killed in a BART station in the East Bay, which has subsequently triggered intense protests and anger throughout Oakland. In the second story, Israel has been hammering Gaza in an attack on Hamas after Hamas decided (rather foolishly, it now seems) to end a shaky ceasefire with Israel.

I have been cautious in wading too deep into my thoughts on both of these issues, for they are extremely heated and tend to be polarizing. I have been teaching the Israel/Palestine conflict for 5 years now, and my feelings about the matter have become increasingly complex over the years. Meanwhile, what is being reported as a racial incident of BART police brutality in Oakland, the home of the Black Panthers, in the lead-up to MLK Day and Obama’s inauguration, is equally explosive. As such, I didn’t want to voice anger at anyone too early, without fully reasoning through my thoughts.

But I’m ready now.

courtesy nytimes.com

courtesy nytimes.com

Today’s news brings two points. First off, Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who shot Grant while he was fully constrained and lying face-down on the pavement (as caught by multiple witnesses on cell phone video and posted all over the web), has been arrested and charged with murder. I think that this is justice being served, and I think that the evidence available due to technology (most importantly, the video documentation) will inevitably lead to Mehserle’s conviction and a prison sentence, and I think this is the right thing. Mehserle’s actions, in my book, were absolutely unnecessary and were a case of unchecked aggression, and it is reassuring to know that in our society we will not let that stand.

The situation in Israel seems to be headed in that same direction. Since this war started a few weeks ago, the casualty count is almost comically out of balance. Almost comical, but not quite: over 1,000 Palestinians dead, with 13 Israelis. And Israel’s targets are starting to resemble the heinous attempts of Hamas to maximize civilian casualties. Israel first hit a UN school, and just today it is being reported that they also hit a UN relief compound where refugees were taking shelter. (Thankfully the death toll from this most recent strike is currently at zero, with three reported injuries.) It seems to me that we have another case of unchecked aggression here.

Oscar Grant was probably up to no good on the BART and was rightfully being reprimanded by the police. However, whatever fighting he was doing absolutely does not merit an on-the-spot execution by a BART police officer.

Likewise, Hamas is clearly not filled with innocent individuals. They deliberately launch rockets into civilian areas. However, I do not see how Israel’s land invasion, siege, and countless air strikes in Gaza is an appropriate response to an end of a ceasefire. Their response, like Mehserle’s, is over the top.

Which leads to what I am afraid of, and what I don’t think Israel is fully calculating. Justice is being served to Mehserle, or at least it seems that it will be in the coming trial and likely jail sentence. However, “justice” for countries is a much more difficult thing to serve, and often times “justice” means that the previously crushed enemies will ultimately rise up in a much more violent and destructive way. That is not real justice, but it seems to be the route that defeated groups like Hamas will be likely to take, especially after the strengthening ties with other groups who are angered by Israel’s actions, which seems likely.

Unchecked aggression doesn’t win. It’s a short-term solution with long-term disasters. This short-sightedness is at the core of so many global problems today: short-sighted emphasis in investment banking led to the credit crisis, short-sighted industrialization has us in a carbon overload, and short-sighted efforts to subdue a dangerous threat leads to continued struggles and suffering.

I don’t want Hamas to rise up violently and tear down Israel. But I want Israel to stop and realize that dropping bombs doesn’t win friends, and with each additional well-documented Palestinian civilian they kill, they seem to be losing more friends and gaining more enemies. Please Israel, stop before your aggression only further exacerbates things.

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