Evan Tucker

Why Do People Care About Israel/Palestine?: Day 9

Like clockwork, fickle sympathy turns. For less than a week sympathy was Israel’s, now it’s for the Palestinians. I won’t say that either sentiment is wrong, just that it’s disingenuous in both cases. A good person has balance between resilience and compassion. If your heart melts too much, the more easily it can turn to stone. The way to save lives is to accept that this situation is exactly as grim as it looks, and that any way out involves accepting that life is of a complexity well beyond what most people are prepared to accept from it.

When two people are locked in a fight for survival, the moral concerns of who’s more right doesn’t matter, what matters is the hard facts of how to save life, and how to prevent the fight from killing people not involved in the conflict. In this war, what matters most is preventing the war from spreading. We’ll talk about how to prevent the war from spreading another day, but within the war itself, there is no progress until two objectives are met.

1. There is no progress until Hamas dies out: it’s a mixture of a totalitarian dictatorship and a mafia that deliberately maximizes casualties on its own side and converts foreign aid (concrete and metal) into weaponry and tunnels into Israel. If Hamas continues to kill, there is no way Israel’s support of Likud won’t grow.

2. There is no progress until Likud’s stranglehold on Israel goes to jail. Israel has swallowed the intellectual poison that you can simply throw humiliation at the Palestinian territories then expect that they won’t continue to support revolutionary movements whose main promise is to bring revenge to the other side.
Obviously, being me, I think Hamas is priority one. They constantly try to maximize casualties. Israel generally tries to minimize them. One can, by hard facts, make the opposite argument, since Israel has, so far, killed many more people, but one also has to take into account that if Israel allows Palestine more leeway while Hamas is in power, Hamas will use that leeway to kill many more thousands.
I don’t know if there is a way to make both sides see the light unless there is a true war between the two sides in which hundreds of thousands die: at least hundreds of thousands. Only then would both sides realize the price of the status quo. One thing that people don’t realize about Israel/Palestine is that for all the attention it attracts, the casualties so far are quite minimal by world standards of war. In every war there’s rarely more than a few thousand casualties in a world where many wars cost millions, and yet the attention and ink of Israel/Palestine is so disproportionate to the world destruction it wrought so far.
So why then does Israel/Palestine get so much attention?
One explanation, perhaps the most facile one, is to say that people can’t get enough of the moral failings of Jews. Historically, there’s a mountain of evidence for that. Jews always end up on the fault lines of history, accused of committing a moral abomination in a hundred different ways. You’d have to be an idiot not to see a pattern here.
But that does not explain the specifics of this conflict. It reduces the conflict to a simple pathology and assumes that everybody who criticizes Israel is just an antisemite. That’s stupid, and it allows a grotesque double standard where everybody who complains of being painted as a racist for comments that may betray unconscious racism (generally conservatives) hold others (generally liberals) to that standard for the same behavior against Jews.
Another explanation, slightly less facile but still biased to Israel, is that the Palestinian cause lays bare the hypocrisies of the Arab world, where Egypt could have taken Gaza, Jordan could have taken the West Bank (and both were offered multiple times), and Palestine could be their problem instead. But it’s useful to keep the Palestinians in squalor, and by forcing the problem on Israel, it gave Arab nationalist dictatorships a different villain for its populace to hate.
But that absolves imperialism of its role. It absolves the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years of cruel imperial violence against Arabs, it absolves the British Empire for creating arbitrary borders so they could install kings and dictators in every country who would continue to funnel money and oil to the British, and it absolves the Americans for their hypocrisy of lecturing Arab states for their human rights while still being dependent on Saudi oil. If any two Middle Eastern countries have leaders (dictators) who do the best they can to operate with Israel in good faith, it’s Jordan and Egypt. In both countries, potential radical Muslim political movements nip at the heels of the rulers, movements who could easily turn the these far more powerful countries into equivalent of a Hamas dictatorship.
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.
About the Author
Evan Tucker, alias A C Charlap, is a writer and musician residing in Baltimore. He is currently composing music for all 150 Biblical Tehillim. A Jewish Music Apollo Project - because "They have Messiah, we have I Have a Little Dreidel." He is currently on #17. Evan also has a podcast called 'It's Not Even Past - A History of the Distant Present' which is a way of relating current events to history and history to current events. Most importantly, he is also currently working on a podcast called Tales from the Old New Land, fictional stories from the whole of Jewish History. The podcast is currently being retooled, but it will return.
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