Another explanation, more sympathetic to the Arab world, is that so many Arab tribes were denied their own self-determination in the days of Ottoman and British imperialism, then arbitrarily thrown together in countries where the borders were drawn by the British to reward rich Arabs who collaborated with them with kingdoms. Even so, Arabs were able to determine their own destiny without the interference of imperial rulers, and yet they had to accept a non-Arab country of people who resemble Westerners, existing within their midst in a state with the greatest military on earth. Even if Israel is not an imperial threat to the vast majority of Arabs, it has a superficial resemblance to an imperial threat and certainly seems that way in a vast plurality of Arab minds.
But Israel’s territory is literally 0.1 percent of the Middle East’s landmass. It’s just one country in the Middle East among 23. Even when Israel was at its largest between 1967 and 1979 (really 1982), it was barely 0.3 percent, and if the Arab populations stopped radicalizing against Israel with violence, Israel would probably elect more liberal leaders who would significantly demilitarize the country. It absolves the average Arab for having a vastly disproportionate reaction to Israel’s existence, obsessively holding a paleonationalist humiliation over opportunities for peace and prosperity.Still another, more biased to the Palestinians, is that though the empires have fallen, the world is still controlled by white people as an imperial vestige. White people view people of color as expendable, their concerns and opportunities immaterial. Gazan Palestinians exist in a state worse than segregation, they live in a ghetto as packed as any Jewish ghetto in Venice, stripped of precisely the opportunities Israelis take for granted.
Whether there was a Palestinian peoplehood in 1948 or a collection of disparate peoples forced off their lands, there is very much one now, forged in a cauldron of poverty and squalor. Whether they were ejected from their land by Jews or ejected by rich Arab overlords looking to make money by selling the land to Zionists, they were ejected from their land and have every right to believe their land was stolen from them. From 1948 onward, there were most definitely atrocities committed against them by Jews and perhaps mass atrocities by any standard. Entire generations live and die trapped in the very medieval ghettos that define Jewish history, and somehow most Jews are blind to how they’ve become the oppressors they finally cast off.
Palestinians are expected to accept their circumstances as the price for living a dispensable life. Palestinians are told that their independence is not a right, but a reward for an impossible standard of good behavior. Their entire religion is dismissed as a disgrace to civilization. The few of them lucky enough to emigrate are often treated by their new countries as an existential threat. The few of them lucky enough to work in Israel are often fired due to baseless suspicions, and merely to work in Israel must subject themselves to humiliating searches, suspicions, questioning, and sometimes assaults. Most importantly, a full half of today’s Gazans are under 18: children told to resign their entire life story to a land of desolation. The world expects them to accept these humiliations without resorting to terror, without wanting vengeance, without viewing those who fight their occupiers as heroes, and to accept circumstances unabideable in a thousand ways without resorting to precisely the self-defensive violence that allowed for the State of Israel. There is no less a mountain of evidence for this view as for the Jewish view of the pornographic interest in Jews’ moral failings, and anyone on the pro-Israel side who does not see some validity in these arguments is out of touch with reality. The vast majority of Israel’s supporters willfully repress these notions wherever they encounter them, in themselves, in each other, and in worldwide discourse. One plurality of Jews reacts to these points with sanctimonious crocodile tears as a means of dismissing these points. Another Jewish plurality reacts to their mere suggestion with a contemptuous rage that is terrifying to behold.
Yet what that argument doesn’t take into account is that while innocent children deserve no oppression, their parents voted themselves into a totalitarian state, and when parents abdicate their responsibility to their children, the parents’ enemies should be the last people expected to take responsibility for children taught to kill particularly them. It ignores that until this conflict, the Jordanian Civil War had a higher Palestinian death toll than anything in Gaza or the West Bank (Lebanon is another story): Jordan is 70% Palestinian, and yet nobody refers to what goes on in their country as apartheid.
When the Israeli borders were first drawn up, it included the entirety of Jordan, so it’s arguable that Jordan, 4 times Israel’s size, is the true Palestinian homeland. It ignores that Hamas, and Islam itself, has violent injunctions against Jews written into their founding documents. It ignores that hundreds of millions of Muslims around the entire world are oppressed similarly by Muslim dictators in Muslim countries and massacred in far more lethal numbers – and somehow Jews particularly are blamed for what majority Islam countries do so often to themselves much more brutally. Even now, as terrible as it is, the average person has a much better chance for a long life as a Gazan under Israeli occupation than they would as an Iraqi under Saddam, a Syrian under Assad, a Lebanese during their civil war, an Afghan at any period between 1979 and 2002, an Armenian or Anatolian under Ismail Enver, and literally dozens of other Islamic regimes. It ignores that just as the Palestinians experienced a Naqba of exile, so too did a virtually equivalent number of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, forced by their countries leave for Israel. It neglects that there was a second Naqba of Palestinians from Kuwait, 270,000 of which were ejected in 1991. And again, it ignores that many Muslim dictators find the oppressive circumstances of the Palestinians extremely useful: endowing their propaganda filled newspapers with a nation of infidels ready made to hate that distracts people from their immediate oppressors – a nation of people who’ve been hated unremittingly for 3000 years. Jews were oppressed by white people more than 2000 years before most people of color knew what a white person was, and even after people of color encountered the white man’s rage, Jews still were white people’s favorite scapegoat at home. The crocodile tears of the pro-Palestine side is just as sanctimonious, and, from my view, the rage quite a bit more terrifying. The pro-Palestine crowd raises ignoring the context of Israel’s situation to an artform, and those who excuse Palestinian acts of violence raise anticolonialism to an authoritarianism that would excuse the bloodiest butcheries of leftist totalitarians like Stalin and Mao.
And then there’s the explanation that people are lazy, and it’s easier to believe the narrative of one or the other rather than do the work of understanding things.
That is true but it doesn’t help much.
Here is the explanation I believe:
Israel/Palestine is the literal meeting point of every debate the world has. It involves all the crucial questions of liberalism, imperialism, totalitarianism, democracy, economics, terrorism, militarism, weaponry, and international law. Because it involves so many existential world questions, Israel/Palestine is like a rorschach test of every person’s ideology on earth, and therefore anybody who cares about the world’s future has an opinion about this tiny region, which serves as a laboratory whose resolution would definitively prove everybody’s notions correct or incorrect.
This is particularly unfortunate for Jews, because Jews are involved in these existential questions wherever a lot of them end up, and eventually end up seen as the opponents to whichever country a large number live in. Throughout history, if you have an ideology, particularly a simple one, you always run into problems with Jews. If you’re sufficiently an old-school Christian you hold Jews responsible for killing Christ. If you’re sufficiently atheist, you hold Jews responsible for creating monotheism. If your ideology is sufficiently nationalist, you see Jews as a fifth column. If your ideology is sufficiently communist or intersectional, you see a disproportionate number of Jews as capitalist collaborators. And if your ideology is sufficiently Muslim, you remember that the Quran calls Jews enemies, infidels, unbelievers, evildoers, cursed, corrupt, distorters and falsifiers of sacred texts, and you remember that Mohammed was one of history’s many great men who massacred whole towns of Jews.
And yet just because Jews have this history does not invalidate the grievances of Palestinians, which are not in history but now, and actionable, and far more oppressive than the current living conditions of Israelis.
Israel/Palestine is a region that is literally the center of the earth’s largest landmass: at the meeting point of Europe, Asia and Africa, and therefore it is precisely where Western concepts of democracy and liberalism meet southern concepts of anti-colonialism and revolutionary independence, where Western concepts of history meet with Eastern concepts of continuity and eternity. It is therefore a conflict with maximal tension between the three. To examine this region is to lay open the hypocrisies of them all: the imperial delusions within liberal democracy and the totalitarian delusions in anticolonialism. The manichean delusions in conservatism and the pie in the sky delusions in progressivism. Nobody wants to admit the weak spots of what they believe, but they’re always there, and until the world comes up with a worldview that takes all its contradictions into account, the fascination with this tiny central sliver of the world will continue: probably to its detriment.