When there’s a mass shooting in the US, many people use it as an opportunity to engage on the issue of whether we need new gun laws. Closing loopholes on background checks. Limiting high-clip magazines. Even banning AK-47-type guns.
US guns rights advocates complain that when people bring up the gun debate right after a tragedy, they’re improperly taking advantage of emotions for political gain.
I don’t write about guns, but isn’t the best time to address an issue when it rears its ugly head? Shouldn’t Americans talk about gun violence precisely when gun violence arises? When the impact is fresh in everyone’s minds?
We all witnessed in real time the worst tragedy in the 75-year-history of the modern state of Israel.
Hamas massacred 1,400 Jews in one day. Kids, young adults, the elderly. Even babies. They murdered 250+ young adults at a concert. The most Jews killed in one day since Adolph Hitler. They kidnapped over 200, including small children. They live-streamed death and destruction on victims’ Facebook pages. There are now reports they even burned people alive.
So let’s be clear.
Hamas is a maniacal terrorist organization dedicated to the total destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they live. Hamas jails and kills Palestinians who disagree with them. They’ve brutalized Christian and gay Palestinians. Arrested people who dared challenge their ways.
Hamas’ motto, “From the river to the sea,” refers to obtaining all land located in Israel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. I.e., no more Israel.
I saw a quote that couldn’t be truer.
“If Hamas put down their weapons, there would be peace. If Israel put down their weapons, there would be no Israel.”
We ought not equivocate on what Hamas is or on Israel’s right to dismantle them, a word President Obama used.
Imagine for a moment if southern California was hit with 7,000 rockets and its citizens massacred. We wouldn’t be telling the US to stand down.
Despite the moral clarity on this issue lacking in parts of the world, we still need to examine how we got to this place and how we can do things to avoid repeating it.
For starters, it should go without saying, but most Palestinians aren’t terrorists. These Palestinians don’t make the news.
I’ve been to Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem and other Palestinian towns and villages multiple times over the past 25 years. Palestinians are overwhelmingly warm and hospitable. Smart. And creative. They in large numbers don’t like Israel, but they don’t believe in terror, murder, and destruction. I’ve shared hugs, cries, and laughter with many of them. I’ve danced in their night clubs and eaten in their homes and restaurants.
Poll after poll demonstrates that Palestinians in the West Bank do not favor war with Israel. Even in Gaza, over half oppose Hamas attacking Israel — and there’s likely way more who are afraid to say the same thing.
But what is daily life like for many Palestinians?
The West Bank is home to 2.5 million Palestinians. Unlike Gaza, which Israel withdrew from in 2005, Israel is still there. There were about 5,000 Israelis in the West Bank in 1979. Today, that number is over 500,000. Biblical religious arguments aside, Israel has confiscated more and more land to build Israeli communities there. Israel has literally divided Palestinian communities in half to make room for its settlements and roads.
This is land that by all calculations would have to be part of a Palestinian State. The Netanyahu government over the past ten years has made expansion a cornerstone of its anti-peace policy.
Every day non-terrorist Palestinians are understandably angry and frustrated by Israel’s incessant expansion in the West Bank.
Even worse than massive land grabs, everyday Palestinians suffer in a variety of ways because of Israeli policy.
Traveling to see family members or to going to work is often a difficult journey for Palestinians. Israeli checkpoints abound, over 25 of them, making it difficult for Palestinians to visit family and painstaking to access medical care.
Children often must walk 2-3 miles to get to schools, requiring them to pass by Israeli settlers who aren’t always friendly to them.
Over 80,000 Palestinians cross into Israel every day to go to work, school or for medical reasons (all promising for peace), but the process can sometimes take hours or, in some cases, an entire day. Many Palestinians start lining up at 3 a.m. just to get to work on time.
Even Palestinian ambulances and medical personnel have trouble making it through checkpoints. Numerous Palestinian women have even had to give birth at checkpoints, and not all survived it.
It’s not just checkpoints. Mounds, gates, trenches and roadblocks built by Israel make certain Palestinian movement incredibly difficult.
Of course, if 500,000 Israelis weren’t scattered across the West Bank, many of these security checkpoints to protect those Israelis wouldn’t be necessary. Israel wouldn’t have to worry about whether an ambulance had guns inside or whether a worker had terrorist intentions.
More than movement restrictions, over-zealous Israeli military personnel regularly treat Palestinians as less than humans. Videos and reports (even by Israeli organizations) show Israeli soldiers yelling at, pushing and detaining civilian Palestinians for hours.
My own peaceful 80-year-old uncle was shoved to the ground by a soldier for protesting Israel’s removal of a new Palestinian village to make way for a military testing area.
Today, more extremist Israeli settlers also harass their Palestinian neighbors. In one village I visited in 2018, Palestinian farmers sadly recalled how neighboring Israeli children would throw rocks while they worked their land. Another farmer explained how settlers burned his olive grove to the ground. Even in October 2023, an extremist settler shot and killed a Palestinian farmer while working.
Some Palestinian communities in the West Bank go months without electrical power.
Over 50% of Palestinians suffer from severe psychological distress.
While some Palestinians work in Israel, the unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the world. Over 30%. And nearly 50% for women. Worse in Gaza. And because the population is very young, this will only worsen without solutions. All while Israel has over 100,000 workers from places like Thailand, the Philippines and Nepal.
Palestinian access to usable farmland also is an enormous problem, although there’s plenty of farmland for Israelis living in the West Bank. That makes Palestinians extra reliant on Israeli produce, which is sometimes available and sometimes isn’t.
I’m not naïve — there are some dangerous people among the Palestinian ranks. There are more than just a few terrorists, and Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens. It would be irresponsible for Israel not to take action to protect its citizens. Or to turn a blind eye. Or to let Hamas survive their October massacre.
But for a country with tremendous innovation, it can protect itself in a manner that is far more cognizant of the dignity of everyday people.
It’s not rocket science to figure out that it’s incredibly difficult to raise children in an environment of suspicion, abuse and restriction (regardless of what percentage of blame you assign to either side). Especially when there’s no economic hope piled on top.
Israel can’t continue to just boast about how the 2 million Palestinians living in Israel have freedom, serve in government, work as lawyers and doctors, all while ignoring the daily life of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
None of this critique of Israel is at the exclusion of Palestinian leadership’s responsibility to start promoting co-existence instead of discord. It doesn’t mean Palestinian leaders should continue to reject peace deals like they have my entire lifetime.
It doesn’t mean Palestinians shouldn’t change their textbooks that feature all of Israel as Palestine and deny the Holocaust. It doesn’t mean that Palestinian and other Arab leaders should continue to use Palestinians as political pawns instead of promoting their livelihood. And above all, it certainly doesn’t mean Palestinians shouldn’t reject terror groups like Hamas.
But Palestinian blame aside, Israel still gets to control what it does going forward. Unless it wants to repeat this sad conflict forever, it needs to drastically change its ways so a new generation of Palestinians grows up knowing a different life.
It’ll take both sides to make massive changes. But since Israel is the stronger of the two, it needs to make stronger moves now to achieve dignity for its Palestinian cousins.