On an ever more crowded, contentious planet, “Goodwill toward mankind” seems a wise mutual survival strategy.
Regrettably, we’re scoring poorly on goodwill this Christmas. Ironically, nowhere is this more wretchedly true than in the homeland of Jesus Christ, the Jewish troublemaker who counseled us to love those who revile us.
There, victims have turned into victimizers — on both sides.
Each party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has horrific, legitimate grievances. Each harbors understandable rage. Each resorts to heedless violence against civilians; both have lost moral stature, sympathy and support as a result. Neither wants its suffering to be equated with that of the other, as I am doing here.
Yet staying this bloody course guarantees one thing only: unending tragedy. Ultimately, “An eye for an eye” really does render both sides blind.
Of the two wars we’re underwriting this Christmas season, the one in the ancient Holy Land is the more morally complex and troublesome.
That’s because we have a deeply troublesome ally, the implacably right-wing Likud government of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. And he has a deeply troublesome enemy in Hamas, the U.S.- designated terrorist group that rules Gaza. The rest of Palestine is run by the unpopular Palestinian Authority.
The stated goal of Hamas is to eradicate the State of Israel. That’s just plain dumb. But it’s not hard to see why it’s come to this.
Israel was born 75 years ago. The leader of Hamas, Yehiya Sinwar, was born 61 years ago in a Gaza refugee camp and spent 22 years in Israeli prisons. Thirty years ago, the Oslo Accords granted the Palestinians “the right to self-determination” but not a homeland. A “two-state solution” was to be negotiated.
Now Sinwar is credited with masterminding a barbaric murder of 1,200 Israelis, mostly women and children, and abduction of 240 hostages. Unsurprisingly, Sinwar is said to have “a very deep hate.”
Sinwar set a trap for Netanyahu, rightly counting on him to disgrace Israel with an enraged, reckless response to Hamas savagery. Now — surprise! — Israel vows to eradicate Hamas.
Hamas fighters broke through the supposedly impregnable 37-mile long wall along the Gaza-Israeli border behind which Netanyahu imagined that — rather than let Palestinians have a homeland — he could pen up 2.2 million Gazans inside a 139-square-mile “open air prison.”
Netanyahu has flattened much of Gaza and cut off civilian access to water, food, fuel and medical services, triggering what the United Nations says is a massive humanitarian catastrophe.
He was in serious trouble with voters even before his personal humiliation of failing to protect his nation. He’d tried to seize political power over the judiciary after being accused of fraud and bribery. He’s defied international law by expanding Israeli settlements onto Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu knows that when this war ends, he’s likely toast. It’s not clear, therefore, that it’s in his interest to end it — though nearly 19,000 dead Palestinians against 1,200 dead Israelis ought to count for something by way of settling scores.
President Biden supports Israel’s right to defend itself, and in the United Nations the U.S controversially even voted “no” to a ceasefire. But Biden warned Netanyahu to not repeat the vengeance-driven mistakes we made after 9/11. That fell on deaf ears.
Then Biden warned Netanyahu that international support for Israel is fading because of its “indiscriminate” warfare on civilians: 45% of the 29,000 air-to-ground munitions Israel has dropped on Gaza since Oct. 7 are “dumb bombs.”
Netanyahu’s defense is that Palestinian civilians are dying because Hamas hides behind them. They do. Hamas clearly does not care if Palestinian civilians die. It has demonstrated — with continuous ineffectual, self-sabotaging shelling of Israel — that Hamas has nothing on offer for Palestinians except blind violence that begets only more misery.
Hitler’s murder of six million Jews during World War II created the moral imperative for establishing Israel over protests of Arab nations. Some, particularly Iran, still hover at the edges of this incendiary quarrel, feeding a fire that may become a conflagration that suits their own geo-political designs. Which is why Joe Biden so quickly showed up in Tel Aviv.
Western goodwill rightly coalesced behind the creation of Israel after the Holocaust. But did anyone spare a thought for the Palestinians? Hello?
Palestinians were living, under British rule, on lands now occupied by Israel when they were summarily displaced from much of it to make room for the Jewish “safe harbor” nation. The Roman Empire displaced Jews from this land 2,000 years ago.
When Biden told Israel that it must not be the post-war occupying force in Gaza, Netanyahu countered that Israel will be the occupier.
Biden and some Arab nations support establishment of an independent Palestine next door to Israel. But Netanyahu announced last week: “I will not allow it.”
So Joe Biden has a problem: Netanyahu “is taking his guns but not his advice”, as the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour so painfully put it.
The first prime minister born in Israel, Netanyahu, in my view, has led his nation off its moral high ground. He’d doubtless complain that Israel is being unfairly held to a higher standard of moral conduct than others.
If so, take it as a compliment.
Bottom line? Israelis and Palestinians both deserve smarter leaders. This suicidal conflict won’t end until Hamas, Likud and Netanyahu are gone.
Solveig Torvik lives near Winthrop.