It’s clear Israel will never be the world’s darling. In the aftermath of the most heinous terror attack in our nation’s history, we enjoyed a brief outpouring of support. But soon enough, the demands and pressures return, keeping Israel on the perpetual back foot. This pressure to not defend ourselves is not new, but it is all the more jarring now given the state of national grief the country is in. We must not sacrifice ourselves in the pursuit of world acceptance – it will never come.
Back in the 1990s, during my time as a Politics undergraduate in the UK, I vividly recall the global and academic chorus urging Israel to engage in a peace process with the PLO. It was as if this path held the key to our acceptance among the family of nations. At the time, Israel had just witnessed a significant boost to its geopolitical and military standing with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been a major sponsor of some of Israel’s most formidable adversaries. Despite this advantageous position, Israel took the bold step of initiating the Oslo Peace Accords, a decision that carried substantial national risk when it arguably didn’t need to. Strangely, Israel was still accused of not genuinely desiring peace.
The tragic assassination of Yitzchak Rabin in 1995, a consequence of the tremendous pressures and divisions generated by the Oslo Accords, should have been a moment for reflection and healing. True friends would have recommended a pause for national recuperation. Instead, the world insisted that Israel press on regardless. “We must…redouble our efforts and reaffirm our obligation to continue the sacred mission,” echoed Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak at Rabin’s funeral. “Stay the righteous course,” chimed in Bill Clinton. In essence, the message was clear: Continue sacrificing yourselves to gain acceptance among the family of nations.
Subsequently, in 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak presented PLO leader Yasser Arafat with an unprecedented land deal, including the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Arafat’s response was to simply walk away and trigger a second Intifada, resulting in the loss of over 1,000 Israeli lives from a series of suicide attacks and bus bombings. The UK’s Guardian newspaper’s response was to publish the accusatory headline: “Barak rushes to blame Arafat.” Once again, the world’s sympathy was short-lived, as they demanded that Israel return to its role as the perpetual sacrificial lamb for the sake of global acceptance.
Exhausted by this cycle, and perhaps in the hope that self-sacrifice would finally earn us some favor, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The evacuation of 21 Jewish communities tore the country apart, a decision that placed civilian farming communities in the path of Hamas instead of trained and armed IDF soldiers. In hindsight, it will go down as a desperate act of strategic folly.
Meanwhile, the world decided to ignore all that and pretend we hadn’t left Gaza at all. According to the UN, Amnesty International, and even the US government, Israel still occupies Gaza. Why? In a recent article for the International & Comparative Law Review, Saafa Sadi Jaber and Ilias Bantekas explain their primary legal argument as to why Israel still occupies Gaza this way: “The relatively small size of Gaza in connection with the technological superiority of the Israeli air force allows Israeli boots to be present in Gaza within a reasonable response time.” According to this questionable logic then, the way to truly end the occupation would be for Israel to become smaller and weaker while making Gaza bigger and stronger. Of course, this risks the very existence of Israel. But isn’t that their entire point? The more we sacrifice ourselves, the more likely we are to receive a eulogy rather than acceptance.
Hamas assumed control of Gaza in 2006 and immediately launched attacks against Israel, culminating in the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel ultimately secured his release in exchange for over 1,000 hardened terrorists from Israeli jails, including the bloodthirsty leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yihaya Sinwar. And they continued to attack. Again in 2008, in 2012 and in 2014. Each time, Hamas fired greater numbers of missiles and demonstrated growing military sophistication, strategic planning and confidence.
In response, Israel came up with a new PR campaign. “How would you feel if your home was targeted by rockets” asked our government spokespeople of the stony-faced anchors at CNN and the BBC. But let’s face it. Who really wants to empathize with the Jews? “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” we may as well have cried out to them with outstretched arms. Sacrifice yourselves some more if you really want to be accepted, the world told us. And so we did. Free electricity. Free water. Cement. Steel. Heavy digging equipment. Enough to build a couple hundred miles of fortified tunnels under Gaza and Rafah.
And the cycle continued.
Each successive clash has resulted in more deaths and more injuries. And it has now culminated in this unspeakable base evil and butchery. The world mourned with us for a few days, while some taunted and laughed at our attempts to grieve. Now, the world appears to be returning to the status quo, effectively tying our hands so we can never put an end to this. President Biden and the EU have demanded aid to Gaza, and our government has already yielded. Water and electricity may be next, continuing a pattern that allows Hamas to persist and plan further atrocities.
Despite the confident words of our leaders, these events take a toll on our national spirit. There’s a limit to how much pain and loss a nation can bear while maintaining the optimism and civil cooperation needed for a thriving society. We must ask ourselves if we can afford to discover where Israel’s breaking point lies.
The sad truth is that Israel cannot simultaneously be a prosperous, sovereign nation within its borders and maintain its global acceptance. Unfortunately, these two aspirations appear almost mutually exclusive. We face two fateful choices then: Remain the righteous victim, albeit always brief and fleeting, or become the reviled victor, yet secure in our safety and freedom. For the last two millennia, we’ve lived the first option in Europe and the Middle East.
But if we decide to be the victors, then we need leaders with nerves of steel, ice-cold resolve, with a strength and courage and cunning to see this through without blinking, and without giving an inch to the hypocrisy of a world that seeks to drive us to our knees. The choice is clear.