Discover more from Bully Pulpit
Whose Fault Is the Israel-Hamas War?
Just read to the end — that's where the answer is.
All over the world, once again, brutality in the Middle East has triggered horror, rage and, most of all, blame. Whose fault is this latest chapter in the neverending violence? Everyone has an answer. Nobody expresses ambiguity or doubt. Because they just know. Plain as the nose on your face.
All of these accusations are grounded in truth. All of them are also ultimately wrong. Because, as always and forever more, the fundamental blame is misplaced.
But let’s first focus on the truth of the past 75 years. Since its declaration of statehood in 1948 and before, the State of Israel has been subjected to violence at the hands of the Palestinians and the Arab countries on every border. I’ll begin (for the moment) in 1948, when the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria joined Palestinians to invade the new nation. Israel prevailed. In 1967 came the Six Day War, in which Egypt, Jordan, and Syria — with military support from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria — again invaded Israel. Again, Israel prevailed and in so doing occupied 1) the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, 2) the Golan Heights from Syria, and 3) the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt. In 1972 came the Yom Kippur War, a surprise attack on Judaism’s most holy day, as Egypt and Syria attempted to regain the territories lost in 1967. They failed.
What followed was constant insurgency and uprisings — such as the first and second Intifadas — and grotesque terrorist attacks around the world, most infamously the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics by the Palestinian Black September organization, but also civilian bloodbaths in Austria, Argentina, Italy, Spain, France, Rome and elsewhere. There have been 86 suicide bombings within Israel itself, claiming hundreds of lives, and dozens of massacres perpetrated by such terror groups as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PLO, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and various lone wolves killing 838 civilians. In short, an ongoing siege and an existential threat from an adversary dedicated to territorial justice, often defined as wiping Israel off the map.
None of those facts is, on its face, disputed. But neither are these: In the name of preserving its very existence, Israel quickly became a security state, and an occupier, and an oppressor, consigning its own Arab citizens to second-class status in the image of South African apartheid, and the populations of the West Bank into vassals. They are granted limited autonomy at the expense of economic and human rights, being denied access to basic resources and employment, freedom of movement, self-defense and dignity itself.
In Gaza, it is much worse. Arabs there are essentially confined to a small, dense territory that is starved of opportunity and the very basics of life. They are, meantime, periodically terrorized by security operations of the Israel Defense Forces, and thus largely hostages not only to the Israeli security state but to Hamas itself, a “government” and a political movement that is also a mafia and a brutal militia.
And now, once again, irrespective of political sympathies or ambitions, the civilian population is the victim of collective punishment from Israel over the conduct of the militias. They look backwards and see something akin to slavery. They look forward and see only destruction. It is the ones without the AK-47s and rocket launchers who are the most vulnerable to the endless cycle of violence, at this moment isolated without water, fuel, electricity or internet as Israeli missiles and bombs flatten their shambles of a homeland. The Israeli defense minister declared that “Gaza will never return to what it was.” And “what it was” was already a hellhole.
Reprisals to Hamas’s weekend atrocities may exact vengeance, and temporarily assuage a sense of impotency, but they will only exacerbate suffering and redouble loathing. This is the cycle of violence that will never, ever end.
But here’s the thing: This chapter of history did not begin in 1948. You could argue it began with pogroms against Jews in Europe throughout the 17th century, or throughout the Middle Ages, or with the genocidal inquisitions in the 15th century, or with the first-century massacres in the Roman Empire or with the enslavement of Israelites by Egypt in 650 BCE. The Jewish people has been oppressed since antiquity, and no safe haven has ever remained safe indefinitely. Of that history was born the Zionist Movement, which — in the midst of bloody 19th-century Cossack pogroms in imperial Russia — imagined a final return for Jews to their ancestral homeland biblically known as Israel.
Or maybe to somewhere else. Alternative refuges considered, odd as it may now seem, were Uganda and Argentina. But the focus was on Palestine for two reasons: It was largely barren, and it seemed to fulfill an elegant, poetic, even prophetic vision of Jewish destiny and status as the People of Israel.
As Zionism’s founder Theodor Herzl proclaimed in 1896, “Let them give us sovereignty over a piece of the Earth’s surface, just sufficient for the needs of our people, then we will do the rest!” Behind this notion a movement quickly grew, funded by the affluent Jewish diaspora and widely supported internationally. The only problem was this: Poetic or not, it was a manifestly stupid and historically tragic idea. Of course the tortured and oppressed Jewish people deserved to live in peace. But to import an entire diaspora to territory unknown to them for 100 generations meant displacing the people whose home it had been for thousands of years.
Are you familiar with the Castle Doctrine? It is the legal principle, dating back to earliest English common law, that if you try to enter my home against my will, I may shoot you dead. Yet in 1917, the British Government promulgated the Balfour Declaration endorsing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which at the time was already a homeland to Palestinians.
The pretext was historical justice, the actual motive perhaps less noble. At the time, the Allied Powers urgently needed the United States to enter World War I against Germany. It was a tough sell to an isolationist USA, and even more complicated because politically influential American Jews hated Imperial Russia. Pogrom victims don’t easily join sides with the government that terrorized them, and Britain’s enemy Germany (ironically, in retrospect) had caused them no such injury.
In other words, this was Realpolitik, which historically has embraced horrendous alliances, amoral or immoral conduct, and often unspeakable violence in the pursuit of some supposed Greater Good. So the British Empire threw a bone to the Jewish diaspora, a bone called Palestine. (Bonus for Europe: getting rid of the Jews!) After the Armistice, the Balfour Declaration was quickly ratified by the League of Nations.
Consensus goeth before the fall. When the so-called Great Powers get in the act of redrawing the map of the world, nothing good ever comes of it.
The Zionist movement grew for the next 30 years, and the Holocaust made the fate of the Jewish people even more pressing. If the intervening time had given the world an opportunity to think through the consequences of evicting the Palestinian people, the murder of 6 million Jews ended any further discussion. Of course the world had to save them (save us, by the way, since I’m a Jew). What we have seen ever since, though, is the flesh-and-blood reality of the Castle Doctrine. Or, if you prefer another metaphor, after the transplant of a foreign body, the autoimmune system of the Palestinian body politic instantaneously rejected the new tissue. The violence began long before Israeli statehood, and it will never end.
Are terrorist massacres masquerading as noble militancy barbaric and loathsome? Yes. Are they immediately self-defeating? Yes. Are the victims, on both sides, mainly innocent? Yes. Was it entirely predictable, as has been reprisal-upon-reprisal by both sides for 75 years? Of course it was. The whole cycle of violence was, or should have been, a foregone conclusion. But imperial powers gotta empire. They gotta dictate. They gotta impose. They gotta Messiah. And again and again, they fuck up the human race — beginning with the most abject and vulnerable.
You want to know who’s to blame for this week’s cruelty? A bunch of long-dead aristocratic imperialists, infected with naive noblesse oblige, hubris and blind expediency. Those are the authors of the carnage. They did this. Fuck them, safe for eternity in their marble mausoleums.
If only, from the abattoirs of Kfar Aza and Gaza, they could hear the screams.
You’ve just read quintessential Bully Pulpit. Thanks for your attention. Please consider supporting our work with a new PAID subscription. As a thank you, we’ll send you an author-signed edition of The Big Truth: Dissecting and Debunking the 9 Most Destructive Lies of the Political Right.
Gift subscriptions? Yes! Do that, too. And after you subscribe, please send an email with your postal address to email@example.com. Then we’ll have a place to send both the book and the signed bookplate. And do please, please alert your world to our stubborn, irate existence. Facebook. Insta. Twitter. Mastodon. Threads. Office bulletin board. It matters.