Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Blaming Israel: Unspoken assumptions

The Washington Post published a tendentious article on December 12, 2023, entitled, “Israel’s Gaza War Raises Fears of a Palestinian Exodus Into Egypt.”

Where to begin to unpack all the embedded bias in it, starting with the title?

Note: it is not, “Gaza War,” but “Israel’s” Gaza War. As in, did Israel initiate this war? One is invited to forget October 7.

Then there is the cute play on Egypt and Exodus; nothing like appropriating and flipping Jewish core narratives and experience (“Holocaust” is ever-useful), in the service of tarring Jews/ Israel.

But to challenge its main point:

Why shouldn’t Egyptian Sinai offer temporary refuge to Gazans, under international auspices and funding?

Gaza was Egyptian until 1967. I have never understood why, though Sadat insisted that “every inch!” of Egyptian territory Israel captured in the Six Day War be returned to Egypt in the peace deal of 1979, Gaza somehow was omitted – stupidly, endlessly stupidly, with Israel’s active agreement.

Why is it clear that Europe, and Turkey, must offer permanent refuge to tens of millions of Muslims, people with no cultural, linguistic, or religious similarity to any European country or (in the first two categories), to Turkey – people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, North African, and African countries – but that no Arab state must be willing to admit Gazans, fellow Muslims, Arabic speakers, now, even under the conditions stated above?

Why this remarkable, utter pass? Why is it self-evident that Egypt not admit Gazans?

This refusal means that Israel is left to bear the entire “humanitarian” responsibility for Gaza and Gazans – the ultimate colonialist claim– for which of course, Israel is also be blamed. Israel, even its several hundred citizens kidnapped brutally on October 7 and held still by Hamas, is never included in “humanitarian” concerns; another curious exemption.

The pass given to Egypt, and the international community, is also just another way of saying that Israel should not exist, because, of course, if Israel didn’t exist, all would be fine, there would be no problem in Gaza, or at all, just peace and joy to the world. Similar reasoning would have it that, if Jews had not existed, there would have been no Shoah.

This is sheer manipulation, with that unspoken but clear message the more insidious for being unarticulated. And this, “Israel’s Gaza War,” and heaven forefend, that Egypt admit Gazans next door to Sinai – is not challenged, but on the contrary, is propagated as if it were self-evident truth.

Why should Egypt not take in Gazans – and the Gulf states do so, as well – the vast majority of whose residents are non-Muslim slave laborers from Asia, exploited to death, often literally, with no rights whatever. Qatar could end – and should long ago have ended the hostage obscenity – with the simple announcement: all of them, now, or not another cent. Why do we hear nothing of this? This, while Israeli soldiers found two more bodies of Israeli hostages and returned them to Israel yesterday, and the lives of those still held are in immediate risk.

Note well the implied but screaming to heaven assumption behind making no demands whatever on Arab states and putting it all on Israel.

We are not the lords of Gaza, and Gazans are not our wards. To say that, implicitly or explicitly, is to say that Israel is entirely to blame, that 1948 was a catastrophe that must be undone. That, of course, is Hamas’ position.

Israel is one of a number of entities that have to be part of a workable solution so that this horrific cycle ends and something rational and tenable for all concerned begins. Israel is one of these entities, with its own security its foremost concern, exactly as would be the case for any other country in Israel’s position. But it is not “the” one entity responsible. Any reasoning or policy that posits, however implicitly, that Israel is responsible for all the horror  has to be outted for what it is and solid policy that does not perpetuate the grounds for the conflict but offers real solutions, substituted.

Hearing uncritiqued assertions from spokesmen for the Jordanian regime, when that government has denied the systematic atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7, and certainly, has not condemned them, and with no mention of Jordan’s bias and interests in all this, is at best, sloppy journalism, advocacy masquerading as reporting. Jordan, of course, does not want any more Palestinians, not that that is on the agenda. But that is Jordan’s clear connection to “protecting” Egyptian Sinai from serving as a temporary refuge for Gazans. Israel’s population, of course, is 23% Palestinian, a fact, somehow, completely overlooked in conversations about all this. Here, too, omission serves bias.

It is entirely tenable to say that admitting Gazans to Egyptian Sinai under international auspices in order to get them out of harm’s way and provide tenable living conditions, is:

a) temporary and in no way to become permanent; and

b) will be funded internationally. No one is asking dysfunctional Egypt (or any other dysfunctional Arab state), to take this on.

Let the UN do something useful for a change in this clear, and to me, terribly obvious proposal. And if UNWRA continues to be an arm of Hamas, as it has long been known to be but the evidence now is overwhelming, including UNWRA employees holding Israeli hostages in their homes, never mind UNWRA schools awash in guns, rockets, grenades, and ammunition – let that, too, be an international problem, finally, to fix.

A concerted international effort, a kind of Marshall Plan, with heavy participation of Arab regimes, in particular, those of the Gulf, and of Palestinians focused on the future, not undoing the past or the present, makes the pronouncements of extremist Israeli think tanks and politicians irrelevant. Those pronouncements are thrown into this article as dust in the eye. Even Netanyahu says, no reoccupation, no renewed Israeli settlements there. He is a known liar but there is zero political ballast behind reoccupying, resettling, or depopulating Gaza. To present that otherwise is either to be totally ignorant of realities here or to be in the service of deliberate distortion.

Let what is stated, above, be part of a broad-scope international resolution of Gaza, in which Israel has a part, but only a part.

Because anything else is globalizing not just the intifada, but “the Nakba” narrative.

Which is why we are in this mess to begin with.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.