At a meeting in Malacañang last Thursday, the murderous attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israeli communities a week ago was on the agenda. The first concern was to ascertain if any Filipinos were killed or injured, and whether they needed to be evacuated. The second item was to determine how this massive Palestinian assault and the retaliatory response it is expected to unleash might affect our economy and political relations.
It is a selfish and parochial view. But it’s understandable in the light of our pressing domestic problems. The wildly fluctuating price of oil has been uppermost in the minds of our economic managers. We are dependent on Middle East oil. If the conflict engulfs the whole region, it will compound our economic troubles in more ways than one. But the impact has so far been negligible, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan assured reporters.
Philippine exposure to Israel and Palestine in the form of labor, trade, and investment is “very little,” he said. Israel hosts around 30,000 Filipinos working mainly as caregivers, and even Hamas-run Gaza, now facing a total Israeli siege, has 131 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its employ. I guess that’s “little” compared to the more than one million in the rest of the Middle East. But it gives us an idea of the scale and breadth of the OFW phenomenon, and how it implicates the Filipino nation in nearly every major calamity or catastrophe that hits any place beyond our shores.
For this reason alone—that the Filipino diaspora has intimately threaded our lives into those of other nations—we must care, over and above our narrow concerns, about what is happening today in Israel and Palestine. To care is to understand the complex history of this conflict—the colonial forces and motives that were at work at its inception, the powerful quest for a homeland, and the tangled past that has led generations of Israelis and Palestinians to where they are today.
To care is also to learn to recognize ourselves in the lives and experiences of other peoples that were similarly subjugated by colonialism, in the hope that we may understand ourselves better. To care is to go beyond the language of war and help find realistic paths to peace. To care is to offer meaningful assistance and solidarity to the unfortunate victims on both sides of this conflict, especially the innocent civilians who are usually the first to bear the deadly consequences of their leaders’ miscalculations.
Beyond the popular movies (e.g., “Lawrence of Arabia”) and TV shows (e.g., “Fauda”) that have been made of the events and characters in this conflict, there are many excellent documentaries on the internet that try to shed light on the background events leading to the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse. Two of the recent ones I have watched, for example, are on YouTube. “Whose land is it? Palestine or Israel?” was made by Amram Nowak and presented by David Hoffman. As gripping and as informative is “Palestine 1920: The Other Side of the Palestinian Story,” a documentary by Ashraf Mashharawi and featured by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-owned media organization.
As might be expected, none of these documentaries can claim to be free of bias. It is best to view them with a set of questions in mind and to crosscheck intriguing statements against other sources. That is how one learns the truth and its many representations.
“Early yesterday morning Roi was murdered. The quiet of the spring morning dazzled him and he did not see those waiting in ambush for him at the edge of the furrow. Let us not cast the blame on the murderers today … We will make our reckoning with ourselves today; we are a generation that settles the land, and, without the steel helmet and the cannon’s maw, we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home … This is the fate of our generation. This is our life’s choice—to be prepared and armed, strong and determined, lest the sword be stricken from our fist and our lives cut down.” (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/moshe-dayan-s-eulogy-for-roi-rutenberg-april-19-1956)
To read this pithy funeral oration hand in hand with the declarations of the 1988 Hamas Covenant or its revised 2017 version—is to begin to understand the opposing raw emotions that drive this conflict, and why finding the way to peace is both extremely difficult and urgent (https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hamas-2017-document-full). The recurrent themes of the Hamas document include the following: 1. The State of Israel is illegal, and dismantling it is a basic condition for Palestinian liberation. 2. Armed resistance is the only way to protect the rights of the Palestinian people. 3. All previous negotiated political settlements, including the Oslo Accords, contravene international law and are to be rejected.
Amid this gloom, there are Israelis and Arabs who are capable of viewing this conflict with the eyes of the other, and it is they who may be able to tell the world where to find that elusive middle ground.