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The First Victim of War is the Truth

“If we were to ask, ‘Who is the first victim of war?’ I believe the most accurate answer would be ‘the truth,’ even before the casualties, the destruction of buildings, and the obliteration of cities.”

In wars, where multiple parties ruthlessly kill each other, where systematic killing is considered legitimate, and where the ugliest side of human nature is exposed, one of the battlefields is to dominate the truth and control people’s perception of reality. Every war has two sides, automatically leading to the coexistence of two different truths – perceptions of reality.

Public opinions in countries outside the conflict zone are subjected to disinformation, manipulation, and propaganda. To make a healthy assessment of what is happening, we first need objective information. It becomes challenging to discern what is true and what is false when there are conflicting accounts of the same events. Especially in professions directly related to knowledge, such as the media, press, and academia, it is essential to maintain a patient and meticulous evaluation filter against the “information” that emerges from a war environment.

We all have certain values, beliefs, and right-wrong scales because we are human. Therefore, our biases are among the characteristics that stem from our socialization processes. The society in which we are born, raised, and continue to live equips us with beliefs, knowledge, values, convictions, and perspectives that are accepted and approved by broad segments of society. Consequently, especially in a zero-sum reality, these subjective filters, filters, and glasses play a decisive role when making decisions among the information flowing to us.

However, facts are singular. There cannot be several contradictory facts. On the other hand, facts sometimes emerge after extensive research, a meticulous “archaeological” process, by patiently putting the pieces of the puzzle together, in other words, through reconstruction.

People, on the other hand, are impatient. They want to react to events as they happen. After an event occurs, they determine their position on that event. This may be related to our evolution. In nature, you often do not have the luxury of waiting in the face of events that occur. You must react quickly. A delayed reaction is a security risk. A person cannot stop and analyze the situation when facing a wild animal attacking them. Or, if you hear a wolf howling near your campsite at night, assuming that the howl came from a pack of wolves could save your life. If the sound is not a howl but the sound of the wind, you might not need to be alarmed. However, taking that risk would not be rational.

However, in modern social relationships, the need to make such instant decisions is much lower than in ancient times. In addition to the signs and information I mentioned above, disinformation pieces manufactured consciously and skillfully inserted between them, especially in exceptional cases in war and conflict environments.

The Middle East crisis that erupted after the Hamas attacks resulted in the deaths and injuries of thousands of innocent Israeli civilians. These attacks triggered a large-scale Israeli air raid. Gaza, under the Hamas government, has been subjected to heavy bombing by the Israeli army for days. Just like in horrific wars and conflicts in other parts of the world, there is a price to pay for this war, and it is high. Comparing numbers would not be ethical. No civilian, whether Jewish or Muslim, secular or religious, Arab or Hebrew, deserves to die. Period! In an ideal world, these deceased people could have lived together as brothers and sisters. The deceased children could have been friends. They could have played sports together, gone to the cinema or theater, studied in the same school, married each other, been neighbors or colleagues. However, unfortunately, the Middle East is not an ideal world. People who look at each other with prejudices, perceive each other according to certain templates, and where ideological and theological indoctrination is in full swing, is a region where evil, not good, continuously expands its territory. Therefore, before the Hamas attacks, this environment was there, and the same environment will exist after the response from Israel. Perhaps this atmosphere of hatred will become even more solidified.

Yesterday (October 17, 2023), we were shaken by very bad news from Gaza. A massive explosion at one of the region’s hospitals resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. According to the information received from the Gaza Ministry of Health, controlled by Hamas, news channels reported that the hospital was destroyed by an Israeli air raid, resulting in the deaths of around 500 people. Israeli authorities, despite conflicting statements from a few officials at the outset, stated that the attack was not carried out by Israel but occurred when a rocket fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hamas terrorist organization at Israel hit the hospital. Initially, global media organizations that reported Israel’s attack on the hospital adjusted their statements. There were two sides, and both accused each other.

Now the question that needs to be asked is what the attitude of the world public should be. People outside Israel and Gaza watching this conflict are not part of the conflict. We are observing the war. Graphic videos containing scenes of violence, like an action movie, are constantly appearing on social media. People are suffering, children and babies are dying, pregnant women cannot find drinking water. Hospitals are being bombed! In this emotionally charged atmosphere, just like everyone else, I, and you as well, are trying to understand what is happening and make sense of it. At this point, I reiterate that even in an ideal world, I am sure that sensible and good people would prefer an Israel-Palestine relationship in which civilians do not die, and peace is achieved. However, I emphasize again that the world is far from ideal. Especially in the Middle East.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza is not a simple regional or ethnic dispute. Israelis are, for the most part, Jewish, and Gazans under Hamas’s rule are, for the most part, Muslims. People observing this conflict in the world, if they have a Judeo-Christian or Muslim heritage or identity, will approach this conflict with a heavy baggage. And that’s exactly what’s happening. We are in a world that has split into two camps: the Western world and the Islamic world. This polarization is similar to the atmosphere that emerged after the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization’s 9/11 attacks, and it has even created a more pathological and toxic environment. The vast majority of Muslims have a position that completely questions the existence of Israel, and in some cases, categorically rejects it. Unfortunately, “Jewish hatred” or, to put it more mildly, “a high level of Jewish bias,” or even nearly the most vicious form of antisemitism, is quite common among Muslims. Similarly, due to the influence of Palestine-based (Egypt and Iran-influenced) jihadist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and other Islamic jihadist organizations with a jihadist agenda that largely determines the image of Muslims in the world, Muslims also have to deal with significant biases. The Israeli state takes advantage of this perception. In this foggy atmosphere, gentle and well-meaning Palestinian civilians are not taken into account. One side is not better than the other! Both sides are being used by their handlers. Innocents suffer. The terror of Islamist jihadist organizations is burning both the other side and their own people.

Moreover, this environment is poisoning the world. In Israel, the rising populist right, just like its counterparts in other countries, is hardening its policies through the existing Islamic image, and Islamist jihadist terrorist organizations are pushing their societies into poverty, misery, radicalization, and unhappiness, destabilizing the world. In the Israel-Hamas war, I observe extreme examples of the situation I tried to summarize.

The truth is the first and most important victim of this war. We all interpret the reality crumbs we have gathered according to our perceptions. Often, as I tried to explain above, we act hastily in our interpretations and reactions. Especially individuals with Judeo-Christian and Muslim roots constitute the most easily triggered groups of people in this disinformation environment. More often than not, the spirit of partisanship overshadows our common human identity. Those who want to distance themselves and approach information crumbs with skepticism are judged mercilessly, accused, and lynched. Seeing the victims of both sides as equal results in your ruthless exclusion by the group you belong to. Many sail into the safe waters of partisanship. This does not serve the end of the cycle of violence but, on the contrary, fans the flames.

I know this article will not make the readers happy. Nevertheless, I write because I believe that looking at whether the civilians who lost their lives were Jewish or Muslim is wrong. It may take a long time, and it may be a painful process, but like me, thousands of people may be accused of treason, of being cryptos, of taking sides, or of being agents or operatives. It doesn’t matter. My position is clear, and I have no intention of changing it to please anyone. I long for an ideal world where Jews and Arabs can live together in peace and harmony in those lands.

However utopian it may seem, I am confident that one day, humanity as a whole will achieve this.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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