In last week’s Phoenix, eight Swarthmore faculty (henceforth “the authors”) criticized President Smith’s letter to the community of Oct. 10th entitled “Violence in the Middle East.” At first, I thought they objected to the fact that President Smith mentioned “the horrific attacks by Hamas against the people of Israel,” but the authors have convinced me that I was wrong and that what they were asking for was context and balance. So, I would like to make a few remarks about context and balance.
Context in the Middle East goes back over 3,000 years, and to adequately address it would require volumes. It simply is not feasible to do that in a short statement. As important, there are two types of context: context that explains and context that excuses. To take a current example, at some point, we may have an explanation as to why the mass shooter in Maine did what he did. That would be the context that explains, but it would not excuse what he did.
“Balance,” however, only comes from context that excuses. Context that explains is neutral –- it does not necessarily counterbalance the initial bad action. Context that explains would include the bad things that Israel has done, but not only those bad things. It would also include the fact that Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It would have been helpful if the authors had stated whether they believe that the context that they cited provides a sufficient excuse for the Hamas attack because, clearly, some of our students do.
What would be a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why has the conflict lasted so long and gotten even more deadly? In what ways are the Palestinians and Israelis similar? I believe there is one fundamental similarity: each side would rather fight the other side than suppress the extremists in its own ranks. Until this changes, there is no hope for a lasting peace.
Finally, events are moving so fast that the above discussion of a letter from three weeks ago seems like ancient history. But two things have become abundantly clear: one, if Hamas really cared about Palestinian lives, it would never have launched its barbarous attack. The Israeli response to this attack that we are witnessing now was 100% certain to occur. And two, the giddy response to the attack in some circles illustrates a kind of revolutionary fantastical thinking that is completely lethal.