Tragic Questions in the Wind: Who Drew First Blood?

first blood in gazaThey say that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. More than that, perhaps. Today the Boston Globe ran a NY Times report that Israel has marked up a significant victory, in the killing of three senior Hamas military commanders. A picture of these warriors’ funeral procession accompanies the article. A throng of mourners fills the street, as far as the eye can see into the distance. We see fists raised, presumably in defiance, among the throng.

Even in the wake of their victory, senior Israeli military commanders must be looking at this picture through eyes narrowed with serious concern. Senior Israeli military officials have been reported to have considered the recent attacks on Gaza to be very unwise. They have issued public statements that they are bound follow the orders given them by the political authorities, with the heavy implication that they do not think this course is well-considered.

Netanyahu has threatened “massive engagement” against Gaza, seemingly referring to a threatened military occupation, in his bombastic demands that an undefeated enemy should voluntarily surrender and disarm.

Senior Israeli military commanders are not likely encouraged about the prospects for success of such an endeavor when they look at this picture of these masses of people expressing their outpouring of grief for their own warriors. In even a cursory glance at this picture, anyone can see that the spirit of these people is not broken. These people suffered under the brutal and murderous Israeli bombardment, a tragedy that we all had to witness, as large numbers of innocent civilians were killed, including people had fled to shelters seeking sanctuary, after their homes, and whole neighborhoods, had been reduced to rubble. But we can clearly see in this picture that these people are unbowed. They are not cowering in fear. They are not huddling in doors. They are not reduced to inaction. They pour out to support their warriors, as they grieve for these fallen leaders.

This is the tragedy of war; people devoted to the death of others, whom they rightly consider to be threatening death to them. As each side kills its enemies, where is right or wrong?

This is the tragedy of war; people devoted to the death of others, whom they rightly consider to be threatening death to them. As each side kills its enemies, where is right or wrong? To any of us looking on from outside any bonds of tribal loyalty to either side, how are we to know which side, or if either side, has any claim to moral right?

Though it does not ameliorate the tragedy of so much suffering on both sides, the principle of ‘first blood’ is deeply embedded in our perception of moral right. In any fight on any playground, when the teacher separates the combatants, the first question is always “who started it?” Projecting to the tragedy of war, the same question applies, if we undertake the task of knowing if one party or the other has any claim to moral right. Who started the conflict? Who drew first blood?

In a struggle as intractable as this between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, which has continued over the span of generations, the origins of the struggle can become obscure to many. It was nearly 70 years ago that a group of people from Europe used the deadly tactic of terrorism against defenseless civilians in Palestine, causing large numbers of them to flee their homes and land in terror. These people from Europe then claimed that land for their own, and called it ‘Israel’.

The people who had fled for their lives in terror scattered in many directions, and became dispossessed refugees living in the squalor of refugee camps. Many of them fled to Gaza. Most of the people in Gaza are those people who fled in terror, in fear for their lives, from land that is now Israel, or else are the children and grandchildren of those people. These people have lived under the misery of Israel’s military oppression ever since.

Discovering the moral right in the midst of warfare does not remove the tragedy on every side. It does not remove the hardships, to the extent of death, which people on both sides suffer. Many people, on any side, are innocent of any desire to be part of the fighting, and even speak out bravely for peace. But their desire for peace does not indemnify them from danger or death.

But even so, it is deep within our innate moral sense of right and wrong to understand that when one party initiates violence against another, that side bears a moral burden of guilt. Though that ‘teacher’ on the playground may very well, and rightly so, give a scolding to both boys, the boy who ‘started it’ is afforded the greater share of blame. The other boy may be admonished for himself resorting to violence, but a larger degree of human sympathy will always be afforded to him.

ray zwarich
This tragedy goes on another day. One side’s warriors have fallen, and its people grieve. The other celebrates a victory. A great poet once asked us, “How many deaths will it take ’til he knows, that too many people have died?”. The wind still blows. People still die.

Ray Zwarich


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    “This is the tragedy of war; people devoted to the death of others, whom they rightly consider to be threatening death to them.”

    The Gaza situation is NOT a case where Gazans CORRECTLY feel threatened by Israel.

    This article wrongly assigns ‘first blood’ to Israel, and wrongly assigns the origins of conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs to just the birth years of Israel. For over a century, Palestinian Arabs have been incited by their leadership – notably early on by Haj Amin Al Husseini, who during WW2 collaborated with Hitler – to regard Jews in ancient Eretz Yisrael as enemies who must be driven out – not merely confined to a small zone west of the Jordan, but to be expelled from the entirety of greater Palestine, both east and west of the Jordan.

    [All this incitement despite two facts: (1) Following WW1 and the exit of the Ottoman Empire, even western Palestine alone had plenty of room for much larger populations (and peacefully coexisting sovereign states) of both Arabs and Jews; (2) Notwithstanding their post-Ottoman League-of-Nations mandate to enable a Jewish homeland in all or part of greater Palestine, the British early on acted first to make of east Palestine (over 3/4 the total area of greater Palestine) a Palestinian Arab state, now called Jordan.]

    The 1920’s massacres of unarmed Jews, which among other things out the centuries-old Jewish community in the holy ancient city of Hebron, was an early expression of the ‘no matter what, the Jews must go’ attitude. Terror and misdeeds during the 1947-49 Arab-Israel war occurred not merely on one side (as Zwarich implies), but on both: in Kfar Etzion and elsewhere Jews were massacred and expelled.

    The two charters – Palestine Charter of PLO and the later charter of Hamas – are both an expression of that ‘no matter what, Jews must go’ attitude too. Neither actually requires a stable Palestinian Arab government or a separate west-of-Jordan Palestinian state, but rather simply ‘liberation’ of all west-of-Jordan Palestine from Jewish sovereignty. These charters differ mainly in that conceivably Jews (and Christians) could live as second-class citizens under a PLO regime, but will be utterly expelled or exterminated under a Hamas regime. By comparison, Israel’s Declaration of Independence (in effect Israel’s charter) called – and calls – for peaceful coexistence and civil rights for all, and does not exclude a Palestinian Arab state or autonomous zones (or both) west of the Jordan.

    The Jews of Israel correctly feel threatened by Hamas because Hamas is sincerely and implacably pursuing the stated aim of its charter.

    Incited Palestinians of Gaza incorrectly claim to be threatened by Israel apparently because they fantasize that, pursuant to its charter, Hamas has an inherent right to rocket Israel until it disappears, and that Israel has no right to countermeasures which unavoidably inflict collateral damage.

    Twenty years ago (Oslo accords) Israel demonstrated that it has no interest in messing with Gaza; she pulled out altogether in 2005, and looked forward to its peaceful development as part of an in-progress movement toward a peaceful Palestinian Arab state – complete with the much spoken-of seaport and free trade and emigration. However, consistent with its charter, Hamas has had something else in mind – perpetual conflict until Israel disappears.

    And Hamas has no compunction about shedding EITHER Jewish or Gazan blood: even a spokesman for its ally Iran called on Hamas to use its tunnels to shelter civilians rather than deliberately expose them as ‘martyrs’ to Israel’s attacks on rocket-launch and weapons-storage sites. In recent weeks Hamas has in fact engaged in various operations to INTERFERE with Israel’s attempts to continue usual supplies of civilian goods, electric power and even medical aid to Gaza.

  2. Joseph Maizlish says

    The blame extends beyond the personal to the difficulty people have in resisting the tendency to turn hurt and fear into physical escalation. More than a scolding, both children in the example need help — especially since they are enacting a cultural disease.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *