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Separate the People of Gaza from the Problem

07/25/2014 01:06 EDT | Updated 09/24/2014 05:59 EDT

This past week, in Calgary, a large pro-Palestinian rally turned ugly when demonstrators verbally and then physically assaulted a small group of Israeli supporters. According to eye witness reports, several supporters of Israel were attacked, including a woman who was punched in the face, a man who suffered a broken nose, and another who reported that he was dragged with an Israeli flag around his neck. It's a deep embarrassment for a city that prides itself on both its friendliness and its freedom of expression -- a city that The Economistproclaimed one of the top five cities in the world to live. While the organizers of the Calgary pro-Palestinian demonstration have since publicly apologized for the violence, reports of anti-Semitic slogans and racist chants are not so easily forgivable.

What is forgivable -- and even expected in decent society -- are the emotional tensions that arise from seeing the many images of human suffering borne of this current crisis. Who among us is not moved by pictures and videos of children being terrified, injured, or killed? Whether it's a mother in Israel shielding her toddler with her body under the sounds of sirens or images of families killed in Gaza, our hearts strain when we imagine ourselves living in their horrifying realities.

Such suffering conjures deep emotional sentiments that can quickly turn to feelings of anger and of retribution. And yet all too often this anger is channeled incorrectly. It's a mistake to think that pro-Palestinian is the antithesis of pro-Israeli. Would the Israelis not wish for a stable, prosperous, and free Gaza territory? Of course they would, because it would bring about a concomitant level of security for both Israel and the people of Gaza. Let's not confuse pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian with anti-Hamas.

Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization. By definition, it targets and kills civilians and like many terrorist organizations is politically motivated and ideologically fuelled -- pretending to defend a community while actively demonstrating their expendability. As a division of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas favoured the brief period in time during which the Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt after the so-called Arab Spring. With the eviction of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country and the subsequent drying of their river of support, Hamas has been struggling to make ends meet in the tiny Gaza strip.

While food and medicine -- and yes, building supplies -- are continuously trucked to Gaza, the people of Gaza rarely see the benefits. Hamas's energies, goods, and resources are set aside for the purpose of destroying Israel and not for building a more humane Gaza. Moreover, Hamas benefits from conflict as it enables it to reinforce its role as the main fighting force -- and hence, protector -- of Gaza's civilians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas hides its arsenal in schools and hospitals and tells civilians to ignore Israel's pre-strike warnings, which are meant to avoid casualties. The use of human shields is a war crime. This is not an ideologically romanticized version of Mahatma Gandhi standing up against British bullets; this is a world-recognized terrorist organization destroying innocent lives for political gain.

Yes, Palestinians are victims; so too are Israelis. Let's separate the people from the real problem: Hamas. When some talk of Gaza being the world's largest outdoor prison let's credit Hamas, not Israel, which is forced to build barriers to limit Hamas's terrorism, not to limit the Palestinians' futures.

Unfortunately, in this game of strategy it's real people that suffer -- real families -- not pieces on a chess board. No one, save Hamas, wants to see civilians harmed. Yes, it's a complex conflict but let's be very careful not to fuel it by reinforcing the view that it's Israel versus the Palestinians, when that narrative serves only to support those, like Hamas, who benefit from its perpetuity.

Unfortunately, this narrative once again played out in the streets of Calgary. Both sides certainly went away saddened, angered, and maybe even somewhat surprised by the violent confrontation. This despite the fact that nearly everyone at that demonstration -- despite what side of the street they stood on -- would surely favour a stop to the suffering, of rocket attacks against Israel, of more freedom and prosperity for Palestinians. Next time, let's remember the real problem.

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