War in the Middle East

I had a whole different post planned for today. I was going to recommend a couple of books I recently read and loved. I’ll do that one, too, later on. But I can’t just ignore what’s going on in Israel and in Gaza.

It’s monumentally horrific. The pundits say it’s going to get worse. They also say other things: that this was a massive failure of Israeli and US intelligence — it was — and a massive miscalculation on the part of Hamas. Was it? I’m not sure. It depends on the goal.

I don’t know what the goal was. Hamas can’t have expected to win a war against Israel. Were they flexing their muscles, showing their power, making the point they need to be included in any talks, any decision-making? Were they proving to the Iranians and maybe even Putin that they’re worth continuing to finance, if only to keep things destabilized?

I’m a writer; I can come up with dozens of scenarios. I have no idea whether any of them are true. I’m a Jew; my grandparents and parents were Zionists. I don’t question either practically or theoretically the right of Israel to exist. But the creation of the state of Israel can be seen — must be seen, I think — as an exercise in British and American guilt and privilege. Guilt, of course, for refusing to accept Jewish refugees in the 1930’s, which some argue created the Holocaust: once Hitler saw that no country would offer the Jews anywhere to go and no country seemed to care what happened to those forced to stay, he realized he could annihilate the European Jewish population with impunity. Privilege because after the war, with Jews demanding a homeland and the British conveniently occupying Palestine — occupying, ruling a land of people who were there when the British came — it was easy to give “the Holy Land” over to the Jews, who were, after all, white Europeans. Not quite as white as Christians, but whiter than the indigenous people of Palestine.

The moral high ground the founding generation of Israelis stood on has long since eroded down to a bleak plain of entitlement. Feeling entitled also makes people feel invulnerable; everything will be ours because it should be.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, were everyone’s pawns from the beginning. Whenever “peace in the middle east” was discussed, they were the afterthought. The Arab nations wouldn’t absorb them; why should they, when they could be used as a stick to beat Israel with? Israel, through all its various governments, could never find a way to extend a hand. Mostly, it didn’t look for one.

And now this is the result. A hopeless generation of Palestinian young people given a goal, given an ability to take some kind of action. What did they have to lose? Yes, killing civilians and taking hostages is horrible, it’s contrary to international law. The Israelis have done it before. The Palestinians are doing it now. And there will be retaliation, and retribution for the retaliation, and punishment for the retribution, until finally there’s an exhauted, restless peace. Then what? A recharging of energy for renewed hostility? Or a looking each other in the eye and realizing there was never any success to be had down that road?

I’m hoping for the latter. But I’m not holding my breath.



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