It’s the hot topic on everyone’s minds—the renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas. Instead of getting into fruitless arguments on social media, let me present a few facts and a lot of opinions about the continuing struggle. Disclaimer: I am an atheist from a Jewish family and identify as ethnically Jewish. But I have no respect or patience for arguments that begin and end with mandates from God.
Doing the Deep Dive
The history underpinning the clash goes back a long way—a very long way. About 1000 kilometers away lies the Fertile Crescent, long viewed as the cradle of civilization. After the Sumerians and other civilizations rose and fell, Egypt came to prominence. At various times, they sought to extend their dominions outward, including to the east, into the so-called Biblical Land of Canaan. According to the Israelites article in Wikipedia, Israel was first noted in the Egyptian historical record in about 1200 BCE, which is when they arrived from Egypt. But, if you believe the Bible, they had inhabited the area much earlier, leaving for Egypt generations before due to drought and famine. The Israelites returned from Egypt in approximately 1200 BC, and there has been a continual Jewish presence there ever since, despite repeated invasions by, well, everyone—the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Crusaders—pretty much every nation with imperialistic ambitions passed through.
There has also been a long-term Arab presence there, also—and therein lies the conflict. Two sets of people with very different customs want to occupy the same property. During the Iron Age (1200 BC or so) Israel and Judah controlled much of the area, while the other peoples occupied the southern coast—this info is from the Wikipedia History of Palestine. And here we encounter Palestinians—or the ancestors of modern-day Palestinians, perhaps. The term, “Palestine,” according to Britannica.com, derives from Philistia, a term used by the Greeks to refer to the land of the Philistines, who in the 12th Century BCE lived in an area between modern Tel Aviv and Gaza. The term has not been in continuous use; the Romans revived it in the 2d Century, calling part of the area “Syria Palaestina,” and according to the same source, it’s been in use since the early Islamic era. But after the Romans, the term wasn’t officially used until after WWI.
An interesting aside: Britannica.com notes a connection between “Hyksos,” invaders of Egypt from the east in the 18th Century BC; Habiru, meaning outsiders; and Hebrews, referring to Jews. So it’s possible that the ancestors of today’s Israelis were the Hyksos, which makes their claim even earlier—if that makes a difference. And I’m not sure it does. “We were here first” is only one salient point among many.
The later colonizers were the
British; they captured Palestine from the Ottomans as a consequence of World
War I. The area they dominated, known as the Palestinian Mandate, was much
larger than modern-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza; it included Jordan as
well, but the Brits administered it separately.
Britain issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which favored the
establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. I am not sure
why, given Britain’s lengthy and appalling history of anti-Semitism. In any
event, it was generally recognized that, after the Holocaust, the Jews needed a
place of their own. The British announced that they intended to end their
colonization of the area in 1947. The UN General Assembly recommended
partitioning the area into two separate states, one Arab and the other Jewish.
The Arabs did not accept partition or the lands allocated to them. The Jews
did, declaring independence in May 1948 upon the end of the British mandate. As
for how the Israelis got their land, some was purchased, but unhappily, many Arabs were kicked out of their homes. Some left to escape the carnage, hoping to
return; others were expelled. The “right of return” as well as compensation for
lost property remain live issues.
The Palestinians call this traumatic event “the Nakba.” A useful way to view both parties is to see them as deeply traumatized by their sad histories, acting from rage, pain and sorrow rather from logic.
After partition, the Arabs promptly attacked from all sides. They lost. Other Arab nations tried again, some singly, some with allies, and always lost: 1956, 1967, 1969-70, 1973, 1982, and 2006. The area has also experienced “intifadas,” consisting mostly of violent riots. Peace efforts have been brokered by various countries, most notably by the USA, but none have succeeded except on a piecemeal basis. Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979; Jordan in 1994; the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in 2020.
Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, to create a buffer between itself and the hostile Arab world. That effort has backfired, leading to the current very messy mess.
I’ve skipped over a lot of history, most importantly, the impact of religion on the issues and conflicts. Many people refer to Israel as “the Jewish State,” ignoring the fact that Israel is a multicultural society in which less than 75% of the population is Jewish. 20% of the population is Arab. Since the Knesset’s first sessions, Arabs have sat in Israel’s ruling body and continue to do so to this day.
It is also worth noticing that when discussing these issues, there’s a tendency to talk about the Israelis and the Palestinians as solid, unified blocs. Pretty sure they’re not. There haven’t been elections in Gaza since 2006, so we don’t know what the Gazans think. And before the current outbreak of hostilities, half of Israel hated their current government and wanted to change it.
The Palestinian Actors
The Palestinian Authority has partial civil control over most of the West Bank, led by Mahmoud Abbas. They are generally regarded (okay, this is totally my opinion) as ineffective, or at least, he is. They have been unable or unwilling to pursue peace. Hamas has as a tenet in its charter the destruction of Israel.
The Current Very Messy Mess
So, Israel has been in a bit of a pickle ever since they occupied those territories. As stated, after repeated incursions by the Arabs into Israel over time, Israel decided to take those territories as buffer zones and to create more defensible borders. Fine, but they kind of screwed it up. What they should have done was create borders that were safer for them, put people who preferred not to live in Israel on the other side of that line, and said "welcome to your new country." Something similar did take place in Gaza after Hamas was elected; Israeli withdrew while maintaining tight border control, but Hamas was free to create a vibrant society and to help Gazans live fulfilled lives. Instead, they clung to their ideology of destruction, using billions in foreign aid to continue their futile effort to obliterate Israel.
As things stand, being an occupier for so many years does not sit well with many Israelis…and the rest of the world has taken issue with the occupation, which IMO has at times been, well, very un-Jewish.
An important concept to Jews is the idea of “Tikkun Olam,” roughly translated as “Heal the World.” The occupation doesn’t do that. There’s no solution to the current crisis or its underlying factors that anyone’s discovered, and no viable alternative to occupation that anyone has promulgated.
All sides in this matter have suffered from terrible leadership for nearly two decades. Most are religious fanatics. Netanyahu has been in and out of power since about 2006, and he's a disaster. He's a thief and a Trumpian-style fascist who will do anything he can to hold on to power. The result of his radically right-wing policies, encouraged by the religious crazies, can be viewed as part of the cause of the current crisis. The settlements in the West Bank have gotten out of control, with settlers building unauthorized towns, kicking Palestinians off their property, and sometimes killing them. Netanyahu has destroyed almost all hope for a two-state solution, which was the only viable long-term option. Even in the midst of war, many Israelis are calling for his ouster based on his visible incompetence.
I've already discussed some of Hamas's failures and they've been in power about the same length of time. Abbas is ineffective, and Iran ...
The Role of Iran
The true bad actors in this situation are not even Hamas, because they're just stupid—short-sighted, single-minded religious ideologues. According to Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas is largely funded by Iran—so they’re puppets of the Iranians, who I imagine are backing this incursion to deflect attention from the fact that their Fashion Police beats girls to death for wearing their head gear wrong. Their proxy war in Yemen isn't going particularly well, either. They are deeply threatened by the possibility of Israel normalizing relationships with more of its Arab neighbors, as well as the United States growing closer to the Saudis. (I do agree with them on that--I loathe the Saudis.) The Iranian people are fed up with their poor leadership and want to get rid of them.
Questions to Ponder
Why hasn’t Hamas held elections since 2006?
Probably because they know they'd be thrown out on their sorry asses because they're shitty at governing. They’re extreme misogynists; in fact, a woman can’t travel freely in Gaza without a male by her side. And if you’re queer? Best of luck, and don’t flaunt your sexuality on the street. You’ll get killed. And their founding charter has as a tenet the destruction of Israel, and obviously that is not going to happen. But while they persist in spreading terror instead of seeking peace, and buying rockets instead of building roads etc etc, they will be a failure. They don't know how to govern, and they don't want peace, which would obviously be better for the majority of the Gazans.
Let's look at the situation this way. The United States forcibly seized many hundreds of square miles of property from the Mexicans, almost the entire southwestern United States. If Mexico started lobbing rockets into the United States in an effort to reclaim those lands, what do you think would happen?
Strategically and tactically, is this incursion really going to help Hamas achieve its goals? Is it going to help the Gazan people?
The answer to both of those questions is no. Murdering teenagers and 20-somethings at an all-night rave does nothing but piss people off. Boasting about raping and murdering girls, killing grandmas and little kids exposes Hamas's barbarity and does nothing to further their cause. Frankly these people are so sickening and so stupid I want to slap some sense into them. Totally, totally counterproductive and nothing good is going to come of it.
What Hamas has done is create a predictable overreaction from the Israeli government. One wonders if that was their intent, though some public statements indicate that their leadership planned to force Israel into hostage negotiations.
Is what Israel is doing to Gaza constitute genocide?
No. Unfortunately, genocide is one of those words tossed around by the ignorant to bolster their arguments when facts are not on their side. A true genocide is the utter and complete obliteration of a people, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Hitler’s Final Solution was a plan for genocide of Jews—he planned to kill every Jewish person on Earth, and the Nazis murdered a significant percentage. They also destroyed the strong physical and cultural presence of central European Jewry. The 1915 Armenian Massacre, conducted by the Ottomans, was a genocide; out of an estimated 2.5 million Armenians, over one million were killed, and the carnage, sadly, continues. (These numbers are rough estimates—online sources differ.) During the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda (1994) about 77% of the Tutsis died—nearly one million people.
This conflict is different. Many contend that Palestinians are not a distinct national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Furthermore, Israel does not plan the complete extermination of all people identifying as Palestinian. Given the fact that Israel possesses the military might to reduce the West Bank and Gaza to rubble, and to kill everyone living there, their restraint over the decades has been remarkable.
Let’s compare the conduct of the Israelis over time to the reaction of Americans to 9/11, when a few buildings were destroyed and fewer than five thousand people killed. The USA invaded multiple countries, destabilizing much of west Asia. Millions died or were displaced in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations; the Arab Spring followed. While some of the results were great, as in Tunisia, some were ghastly, i.e., the Syrian civil war.
Is the current Israeli response appropriate?
No. While it’s true that Hamas’s actions are beyond appalling, the Israeli response has been brutal and heartless. Telling over a million people to evacuate north Gaza when few border crossings are available and safe presents Gazans with an impossible dilemma, and squanders the international groundswell of sympathy that Hamas’s initial attacks created.
Israel’s government has stated that it intends to completely obliterate Hamas—an appropriate goal. But to do that, the IDF has to check every building—as well as under them, because Hamas has created a network of tunnels beneath Gaza where they hide and store weapons. The tunnels extend into Israel, and Hamas has been known to launch attacks from them. So, the Israelis may find it necessary to raze every building in Gaza with bunker-buster bombs or some other alternative that will destroy the tunnels.
If my neighbor tells me, “I’m gonna kill you,” and brandishes a knife, I have the right to pull out a pistol and shoot him dead.
But that doesn’t give me the right to hurt my neighbor’s kids.
Yet another dilemma in this big messy mess.
Perhaps I should leave this area blank, as I have nothing helpful to offer.
Nothing good for anyone is going to result from this latest clash.
The Gazans hope to stay alive, and some will. Many won’t. Hamas wants to get some of its imprisoned fighters back, but their ultimate aim is the destruction of Israel. That won’t happen, at least not for the foreseeable future. Israel hopes to eradicate Hamas. Doubtful.
The most unsettling aspect of the current conflict is that fights in this part of the world tend to spread like runny noses in kindergarten. To the north, Hezbollah, also funded by Iran, has launched several missiles into Israel from Lebanon since the Hamas attack took place.
This set of skirmishes could easily explode into regional war.
Taking a broader view:
There is no prospect for a two-state solution. Every peace proposal made has failed. Some were generous to the Palestinians, including options for trains and highways connecting the West Bank and Gaza; locating their capital in Jerusalem; a structured right of return and reparations.
Both sides have wearied of the peace process, which has limped along for over seventy years. The Israeli response to the stalemate has been to build settlements in the disputed West Bank as their population has grown. Palestinians, understandably, are angered by this encroachment.
The violent religious right-wings of both groups have been emboldened and strengthened, with the voices for peace growing weaker.
I invite anyone who reads this blog to comment with helpful, thoughtful suggestions. Statements like “Justice for Palestine!” and “Hamas are terrorists!” are unhelpful and will be deleted. There’s enough conflict in the world.
Let’s try to create constructive solutions.