Rethinking Israel

Today is Nakba Day, the day of “catastrophe.” Today is the day Palestinian refugees—some 7 million of them—remember their displacement from their land, caused by the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and made worse by the subsequent Six-Day War in 1967, in which Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, territories populated overwhelmingly by Palestinians and which are still under Israeli control today.

Not quite four years ago I wrote a piece (“We Are All Living In Israel“) that mostly defended the moral standing of the Israelis, even as they were prosecuting a bloody response to Hamas and the Palestinians at the time. I went back and read, several times, what I wrote. And based on the events of the last several days—culminating in that embarrassing and peace-killing ceremony celebrating Tr-mp and the move of our embassy to Jerusalem—I can say I would not write the same piece today.

It is important to understand that the context for my post in 2014 was the very real threat that Hamas and other extremist groups posed to Israeli civilians through the firing of imprecise rockets (almost 5,000 of them) and mortars (some 1,700) into Israel, many of them striking residential areas. In fact, as the BBC reported the following year, Amnesty International claimed that “Hamas rocket attacks amounted to war crimes.” The BBC article also noted:

Amnesty’s report also detailed other violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian groups during the conflict, such as storing rockets and other munitions in civilian buildings, including UN schools, and cases where armed groups launched attacks or stored munitions very near locations where hundreds of civilians were sheltering.

Amnesty International, which had previously accused Israel’s government of killing Palestinian civilians and the unjustified destruction of property in Gaza, did not let the Israelis off the hook for their behavior in that 2014 conflict. It said some of the Israeli attacks in response to the shelling “also amounted to war crimes,” the BBC reported. But clearly most of the blame was placed on Hamas and the extremists on that side of the deadly exchange, with Amnesty saying,

The devastating impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians during the conflict is undeniable, but violations by one side in a conflict can never justify violations by their opponents.

Again, my original focus on defending Israel four years ago was on the relative morality involved. I wrote:

Sure, there are bad actors in Israel. Sure, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defense Forces have much to answer for. Sure, any solution to the problem between Jews and Arabs is not enhanced by killing civilians in Gaza. I have several times criticized Israeli actions regarding their dealings with Palestinians. But in terms of a larger moral equivalency, there is no comparison between Israel and Hamas, or between Israel and other even more radical Muslim groups.

Today I’m afraid I don’t have the same certainty I had then.

Palestine Mourns Civilians Killed By Israel In GazaWith the approval of an uncompromising and unreasonable and increasingly uncivilized leader—Benjamin Netanyahu—Israeli troops killed almost 60 protesting Palestinians yesterday and wounded hundreds of others. Not much, if any, of the killing and maiming can be justified. Add to that the fact that there is widespread support for the embassy move among Jewish Israelis (Arab citizens are 20% of the population), an ill-timed move that can only mean that too many Israeli Jews have given up on a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and are willing to allow the Palestinians to languish interminably in what essentially are concentration camps in Gaza and the West Bank.

Further add that a whopping 59% of Israeli Jews have a favorable opinion of Tr-mp (he even has a 45-30 favorable mark among secular Jews there), and that, unbelievably, the mayor of Jerusalem is naming a parcel of land near the new embassy the “United States Square in honor of President Donald Tr-mp.” In a Facebook post, the mayor exclaimed: “Jerusalem returns the love to Tr-mp!” What does a sensible American say to that? Try this, written by Michelle Goldberg:

Tr-mp has empowered what’s worst in Israel, and as long as he is president, it may be that Israel can kill Palestinians, demolish their homes and appropriate their land with impunity. But some day, Tr-mp will be gone. With hope for a two-state solution nearly dead, current trends suggest that a Jewish minority will come to rule over a largely disenfranchised Muslim majority in all the land under Israel’s control. A rising generation of Americans may see an apartheid state with a Tr-mp Square in its capital and wonder why it’s supposed to be our friend.

Clearly, an apartheid state is not a moral state. Most of the defense of Israel up to this point has been that it is the region’s only thriving democracy, founded to welcome Jewish immigrants and exiles and, according to its declaration of independence, it had high hopes:

it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Seven million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank are essentially prisoners, subject to Israeli military law. In Gaza, the living conditions are unacceptable. In the West Bank, Palestinians have watched Jewish settlers—who retain full rights as citizens—move into their territory, most of the settlements authorized and encouraged by Israeli’s right-wing government (which has been “emboldened by Tr-mp”).

It is obviously true that not all the fault for the protracted problems between Palestinians and Israelis belongs to the Israelis. Palestinian leaders have been wedded to the ridiculous and counter-productive notion that they will never recognize Israel’s right to exist as a nation-state. Palestinian extremists have resorted to terrorism time and again, and are teaching each new generation that violence against Jews is their only option, Allah’s will.

But if the Israelis want to be the good guys, they have to be good. As the days pass, as they embrace, with violence, the actions of an American fool who happens to have the power to move an embassy, as they seem to be closing off each avenue for peace, they seem headed into a permanent apartheid state, one that simply cannot be defended on moral grounds.


  1. thgeneralist

     /  May 16, 2018

    This may seem to run counter to most of my replies, but let’s face it: Israel’s history — its ENTIRE history — has always been a matter of apartheid. Israel’s PR team has been pitching the notion “they are God’s chosen people” since Moses’ days. And now the faux Jesusers want a piece of that action — and, to an extent — have wanted a slice of that since the run-up to 1948 bait and switch. They have treated the rest of the world with arrogant disdain. They have a different set of rules than the rest of us. It’s bullshit squared.
    Jews have been battered and beaten throughout history. And if any of the Old Testament can be believed (allegorical or literal), they have given as good as they got. But that’s the problem with generalizing a people or a culture or a nation or a race. Lots of great Jews throughout history — and lots of assholes. Lots of great Scandinavians throughout history and a bunch of assholes, as well. Lincoln was an admirable Republican. Trump is a spineless dick.
    The days of mollycoddling Israel should have been over for decades. They have not been honest brokers in a very, very long time. I hope the World Court comes down on this latest atrocity like Donald Trump’s fat ass on a patch of black ice.
    The madness that is modern Israel is little different than the madness that is Trumplandia.
    Stupid fundamentalist Christians have bought into both cons because they ceased their critical thinking long ago. And there are way too many of them — protected by freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
    My lesser self would round them all up (fundamentalist Jews, Christians, Muslims and any other exclusivist takers) and fence (75 feet tall, electrified) them into the Sonoran Desert and let ’em play Exodus Games (no sunscreen allowed) until they fried and disappeared. I’m sick and tired of trying to make excuses for their miserable selfishness and stupidity. They need to g-o-a-w-a-y! They are screwing up the world for everyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does sound somewhat counter to many of your responses, by the way.

      In any case, the Holocaust was an event that demanded some kind of reparative justice, in terms of humanitarianism. Since the idea had been floating around, it made sense to set apart a homeland for exiles and those who wanted to live in a common space out of a sense of identity and, well, safety.  That was the moral dimension. Then came the strategic one.

      I will note that U.S. policy toward Israel evolved from humanitarian empathy to a careful, arms-length alliance to a solid Cold War alliance to, today, almost where you can’t tell the difference between our interests and theirs. Part of this involved historical forces, obviously, but we can’t ignore the Israeli lobby, which did its job in looking out for Israel’s long-term interests by making Israel practically an extension of our “democratic values” and, uh, power. Job well done by them, even though at the heart of the Jewish homeland idea is a glaring democratic contradiction, which time is revealing.

      And, probably more important today, we can’t ignore the folks you call out, namely those “faux Jesusers.” It’s no accident that our almost blind loyalty to Israel (a loyalty even Obama honored in words, if not in every deed, and for which he never received credit from the Jesusers) corresponds with the influence the Religious Right has had in this country, particularly in the GOP, which it now owns. 

      And I’m all for your Exodus Games. In fact, if I were a screenwriter, I’d set upon a project of developing a plot for a fantastic movie, featuring your electric fence, a big Bible, and lots and lots of AR-15s. 


      Liked by 1 person

  2. ansonburlingame

     /  May 17, 2018

    You two are engaging in a 70,000 year old argument or discussion. How should humans interact with one another. During my physical rehab I have been reading a great book, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind. What is going on between Jews (Israel) and Arabs (Palestinians) went on 70,000 years ago and has continued since then once other “humans” were eliminated except the ones that were homo sapiens (about 30,000 years ago).

    “The presumption to rule the entire world for the benefit of all inhabitants was startling (beginning about 70,000 years ago). Evolution has made homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘we’ and ‘they'” Of course that “human” view happened only after all other “homo” species were driven into extinction.

    After homo sapiens eliminated the threat of “homo neanderthal, homo ‘hobbits’, homo ‘etc.'” they then classified “them” as different cultures, religions, etc. Since about 10,000 years ago homo sapien tribes have disputed territory, economics, religions, etc. and “we” (humans) have yet to figure out how to treat, much less live with, one another.

    You are both trying to decide which side to support based on “humanitarian” principles, something that goes against even the evolved brain of homo sapiens; thus far evolution has not eliminated the (instinctive) xenophobia and despite our best efforts “culture” (“law”?) has failed to overcome it.

    Good luck trying to make up your minds who to support. But remember when you so decide, consider the humanitarian conditions that will result on the losing side.



    • Anson. Hope your recovery is proceeding apace. I had some surgery (my first ever — and I hope my last) last summer. My rehab was not as significant as yours, but I sure don’t want to do it again. Sapiens is an interesting book. I had a hard time putting down, but now I find I need to re-read it. It has a lot to say.
      It’s my hope that my comment is not interpreted as anti-semitic. I’d prefer to think of myself as anti-bully. Washington and Jerusalem seem to be dominated by bullies these days — but not for the first time.


      • Butting in here, I want to say I didn’t find your comment to be anti-Semitic. But I understand in these matters why one second guesses oneself. There is a lot of sensitivity, much of it totally understandable, surrounding any discussion of Israel. But you clearly were expressing, as you say, your dislike for “bullies.”



    • Anson,

      Good to hear from you again. Hope all is going well.

      I haven’t read that book but need to. It sounds interesting and a little Jared Diamondish. Does it end with the end of us? 

      As far as whom to support in the matter, don’t you think it is at least worth considering? Isn’t it what “the evolved brain” should do in disputes like this, especially a dispute involving so much “intersubjective” poison? And I have considered the “humanitarian conditions” should one side or the other prevail. That seems to be the fool’s gold here, though. With entrenched positions rooted in ancient and recent history, it is not really a fight to the bitter end with one side coming out on top. There just seems to be no possibility of an end at all, nothing but misery on one side and a distrustful, militarized angst on the other. Many places in the world have seen improvements in international relations, but the stalemate in the Palestinian-Israel conflict seems permanent.

      So, in that sense, I suppose it’s not so much which side one supports in this conflict because one feels a certain amount of pity for both sides, as the apparently interminable thing goes on and on, not only with no end in sight, but with no hope of an end in sight. 


      Liked by 1 person

  3. ansonburlingame

     /  May 18, 2018


    I will admit that on first read I thought your comments were “anti-Jewish”. (Both Jews and Arabs are semitic, thus it makes little sense to me to being called anti-semitic if one supports Arabs over Jews, etc.) However, I respect your claim that you intended to be anti-bully. I trust you can see that I view many Arab/Palestinian actions to be “bullying” as well. That is why this conflict is so difficult to make a personal decision, one way or the other.


    Sapiens is a must read book for you in my view. Among other things, it debunks religion (and culture and laws) as “imaginary”, meaning strictly a concoction of “rules” created my humans and having nothing to do with anything “divine”. No ultimate truth, just best guesses by humans is another way of putting it.

    But while debunking religion, the book also gives it credit as one of the three powerful forces over the last 70,000 years that attempt to “unify” all humans. The term “globalization” takes on a whole new meaning in this book. Money, Empire and Religion, by the way, are the three constant forces of unification in human affairs, actually “global” affairs as human actions always affect the entire Earth.

    My recovery is proceeding as expected. I continue to work hard in exercises and see the good progress resulting. I agree with advice received from many others experiencing this surgery that it is really a one year effort before something “normal” is reached. My ultimate “normal” will be about 90% dependent on my own efforts, assuming of course that the surgeon did the right things (which he did in the operating room).

    I can also point out that dealing with “opioid issues” I found that I was essentially and completely on my own in deciding when (or not) to use those drugs. I can assure you that had I “taken them as prescribed” I would not be able to read the book referenced, much less able to write coherently about it!!

    Off to East Coast to visit three different college grads (Yale, Boston College and Clemson). All three are family members and millennials as well. All three are, as well, as different as night and day.



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