July 20, 2014

July 17th was a bad day, to say the least. Malaysian Airline flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine and after 10 days of rockets and airstrikes between Gaza and Israel, Israel began a ground invasion into Gaza. A lot of people have died. Many more have had their lives turned upside down.

There will be lots of continuing media coverage and lots of debates about what happened and who’s at fault. People will express their opinions and regardless as to the availability of information, people rarely change their pre-existing viewpoints. So at the very least, we can attempt to understand the motivations behind what’s currently going on in the world. Here’s a quick look:


In February I was in Ukraine when demonstrations against the government were heating up. The issue: Will Ukraine stay in lockstep with Russia or will they move towards the European Union? The protesters were in favor of freedom to determine their own future and to enter into a closer relationship with Europe. Since my visit, things have only gotten worse and if people weren’t paying attention before, with the shooting down of a passenger plane and the death of almost 300 people, what’s happening between Ukraine and Russia is now definitely in the “awareness zone” of most people.

Russia’s Motivation:

I’m pretty sure that the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane was not intentional. That would have served no one’s interests. It was most likely a horrible miscalculation with unimaginable, horrific consequences. It is yet to be determined how involved Russia was in the shooting down of MH17, but it’s pretty clear that Russia is involved in stirring up and aiding pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine.

The reason – as you will find with almost all international conflict – is the protection of national rights or interests. Russia does not want the buffer zone of Ukraine – their safety zone between Russia and NATO nations – to be erased. They want regional influence and intend to expand it. Russia doesn’t want Ukraine leaning towards Europe and NATO any more than the US likes the idea of Russia reinstating intelligence facilities in Cuba.

Ukraine’s Motivation: 

Ukraine, on the other hand, wants the freedom to move towards the European Union and doesn’t want Russia interfering in their country, limiting their future opportunities or inciting unrest in the more Russia-leaning eastern part of the country. At the moment, Ukraine has lost Crimea, and is in danger of having their country split in two.


And then there is the continuing conflict between Gaza and Israel. I have been to Israel many times, as well as to the West Bank (or Palestinian Territory). I have also been to the border between Israel and Gaza and have interviewed a top Hamas official in his Damascus office. Here are the basic worldviews of each group:

Gaza’s Motivation:

This is not necessarily the view of all Palestinian people, at least not the ones I have spoken to. This is really Hamas’ worldview, the current government of Gaza and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas firmly believes that Israel has no right to exist, that they have stolen the land from the Palestinian people and that they continue to oppress, imprison and kill Palestinians. Israelis are the terrorists and the aggressors. Hamas’ primary motivation is to destroy Israel and reclaim what they feel is rightfully theirs.

They want the release of political prisoners and end of blockades. They are not necessarily interested in peace or in negotiating. They recently refused the cease fire agreement that Egypt helped negotiate and that Israelis accepted.  But that is consistent with Hamas’ worldview. They view themselves as freedom fighters. Even in my interview several years ago with Talal Nasser, spokesman for Hamas in their former Damascus office, I was told that Hamas will do whatever it takes to wipe Israel off the map and will not give up on that goal.

Unfortunately, because of this worldview, many innocent Palestinians have died. Even Egypt’s foreign minister (not usually a fan of Israel) blamed Hamas for more Palestinian deaths because of their refusal to accept the ceasefire agreement.

Israel’s Motivation:

Israel’s motivation is national survival and security for its citizens. They believe that they have the right to exist and have the right to defend her borders. Hundreds of rockets were fired into Israel before Israel responded to Gaza. Israel’s goal is to strike Hamas weapons stockpiles and rocket capabilities – and it would be nice if Hamas didn’t use civilians as human shields. Israel notifies Palestinian civilians before they make airstrikes so they can evacuate the specific targeted area. And while Israel feels that she is held to a higher standard than other nations, it doesn’t change the fact that innocent people are killed during the airstrikes – intentionally or not.

While Israel accepted Egypt’s ceasefire agreement, they resumed attacks when Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel. When 13 Hamas militants emerged from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the border, Israel decided it was time for a ground invasion with the stated goals of destroying Hamas’ tunnels and its ability to strike Israel with missiles.

Thinking it Through:

There is much more that can be said on each side of all viewpoints. There are facts, there are biases, there are core beliefs, there is willful denial – much more than can be written about in a simple blog. Firmly held beliefs are not likely to change – and people tend to look for and absorb information that supports what they already believe. 

How you feel about Russia and the Ukraine or your views on Israel and Gaza may or may not change with time and information. But if you find yourself unable to articulate the “other guy’s” viewpoint or motivation, then you should reevaluate your thinking skills and seek additional perspectives and comprehensive information. Admitting that we might not have all the facts or all the answers is a good step in beginning to understand complex global situations.

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