The Israeli-Palestinian conflict reignited again. It festers endlessly, bursting out every few years. No one has ever addressed the cause. Within the past several days, thousands of people have died because of politicians’ and pundits’ illusions that the real problem will disappear by avoiding addressing it. Ergo, again, the media are the crux of the problem. We have a war not because of conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians but because we do not have a candid public conversation about the underlying issues.
The media talk about the dead bodies, not the truth
What we hear about the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, is a classic example. The press unquestionably bought the official Israeli claims that it was a surprise.
Since Adolf Eichmann’s capture in 1960, the Israeli secret service has enjoyed a reputation as the world’s best. In the ongoing struggle with Palestinians, it mastered infiltration methods. In particular, as the media report, it has a fair knowledge of the underground tunnels in Gaza. One could see an example of the layout of them on TV. Hamas built them in preparation for the Israeli bombardments or ground invasion.
Palestinians always struggled to smuggle military hardware into Gaza. In previous years, attacks from Gaza were just symbolic or highly inefficient. With Israel’s tight border control, it was hard for Palestinians to get modern weapons.
On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a well-coordinated assault, deploying thousands of warriors. Also, this time, Hamas used precise rockets, some supposedly American, recovered from Afghanistan or the war in Ukraine. The press wants us to believe that Israelis knew about the tunnels but missed major firearms smuggling and had no clue about the thousands of militants preparing an onslaught. Despite that, their foreign partners warned them that Hamas was mobilizing.
The press repeats that Israelis put their guard down with a recent relatively low level of Hamas hostility. Kids know that if a sworn enemy is nice and quiet, it is plotting the next attack. Should we swallow without choking that people at the world’s best intelligence service do not know that?
It may take awhile before we will know what exactly happened. Today, we can put together what is publicly known. Benjamin Netanyahu is a man with a big ego troubled by the prosaic accusations of corruption. He always was for annihilating Hamas by force. If Israel had prevented Hamas’ attack, there would be no need for the dramatic call for the obliteration of Hamas. If Netanyahu genuinely missed the signs of the Hamas uprising coming, as an honorable man, he should step down. He did not. With the war starting, the corruption accusations went into the shadows, and Netanyahu plays a hero leading the eradication of Hamas. No one dares to say the obvious that it would have been done long ago if it were possible.
Also, is it a coincidence that Hamas hit Israel on Vladimir Putin’s birthday? Russia sees its war in Ukraine as a challenge to the current world order, with the U.S. as a leader. The messy conflict in the Middle East is one more headache for the U.S., taking the world’s attention from Ukraine.
We do not know how much support and encouragement Hamas got from Russia, if any. We know that it has support from Iran, which also sees its gain in causing pain to the U.S. However, none of these powers is interested in resolving the genuine conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Their objectives are to play it for their political gain.
When the Polish king fixed God’s mistake
Jews might differ among themselves on many things, but they all agree that God gave Israelis the Promised Land. The Bible says that. It also testifies that Jahveh forgot to inform the Canaanites already living there about his decision. Not to mention the Philistines, who, for whatever reason, settled there as well at roughly the same time.
It took Israelis a few hundred years to reach the peak of their power under the rules of the biblical kings David and Solomon, which historians estimate happened about 3,000 years ago and did not last long. If ever, because independent sources and archeology do not offer convincing confirmation.
The Bible and historical records are in accord that in the following millennium, Israelis were conquered by more powerful Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and, finally, Romans. They fought for independence from the Romans but lost horribly in 136 CE. With the genocide and expulsion of Jews, the Promised Land was desolated. After that, most Jews lived in the diaspora.
About 1,000 years later, we can find Jews as craftsmen and merchants in most European cities. They competed with locals and were harassed and often expelled, except in Poland. At that time, emerging as a newly organized state, Poland was underpopulated, covered mainly by marshes and forests, which were gradually adapted for farming. West of Poland, as today, were the more technologically advanced Germans. Their lands were overpopulated, so they tried to conquer Poland.
They failed militarily, but the Poles needed those German craftsmen. So, they were allowed to come, live in cities, or form new settlements. Some Jews came along. Polish monarchs soon realized that German-dominated cities were often loyal not to them but to their German rulers. However, the Jews, who had often experienced persecution in German lands, were loyal. It was a no-brainer: Since the 13th century, Polish dukes issued acts guaranteeing freedom of trade and freedom to practice their religion to Jews.
In 1332, King Casimir III the Great included the protection of Jews in the major codification of the Polish laws. Persecuted all over Europe, more Jews moved to Poland. For about 600 years, they prospered. Their religion and traditions thrived. It was probably one of the best if not the best, periods in the history of Jewish people. From there arrived the wealth, the strength of national identity, and the influence that led to the rebirth of Israel on the biblical Promised Land.
The original sin of Israel
With the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsing by the end of the 18th century, Polish Jews spread around Europe, inspiring the mostly already assimilated Jewish diaspora there. Experienced in manufacturing, trade, and finances, European Jews were best prepared to benefit from the booming industrial growth. The rise of anti-Semitism followed.
In 19th-century Europe, many peoples transformed into nations. A revival of the Czech language and national identity inspired many, including Jews. By the end of the 19th century, Zionism, an idea of restoring the statehood of Israel on the biblical Promised Land, gained popularity.
At that time, Palestine was under the rule of the weakening Ottoman Empire, so with money and political influence, Jews started moving in. From the onset, locals violently opposed new settlers, who were getting affluent by bringing modern civilization into a backward community.
After WWI, the Brits administered Palestine as the mandate of the League of Nations. They tried to limit the immigration of Jews, foreseeing the conflict that we still have. Practical Brits also worried that the local property records were poorly maintained; some Jewish land purchases could be challenged, if not legally, on political grounds, as they are now.
During WWII, as soon as the Germans began the genocide of the occupied territories, the Polish underground sent alarming messages to the West. It was beyond the comprehension of Westerners to accept that Germans, whom they knew as an outpost of civilizational progress, could commit such atrocities. Hence, their reaction was reserved. After the war, they asked themselves if they could have done more to stop the genocide sooner.
That remorse in the West helped the Jews fight for an independent Israel. After WWII, more Jewish refugees arrived in Palestine, many with military experience. The fights with Arabs and Brits still administering the region became intense and bloody. Jews formed military organizations, with Irgun being the most prominent one. The terrorist acts committed by such organizations could be compared to what Hamas does today, but no one had the stomach to fight Jews just after the Holocaust. Under those circumstances, in 1948, the world recognized the independence of Israel without securing any meaningful protection for Arabs living there.
A modern secular world accepted the biblical Jewish rights to the Promised Land. The same mistake had not worked too well for Jews the first time around. It is the original sin of contemporary Israel as well. Israel will have no peace unless the Palestinians’ claims to the lost properties are settled.
It is just about the real estate
What Israelis call the Promised Land is the real estate that Palestinians in Gaza claim was stolen from them, their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. Some claims might be more than a century old. When asked how to end the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, acclaimed experts tell us that it would require extensive education to eradicate Palestinians’ hate of the Israelis. Behind arguments of this kind, there is a silent assumption that, one day, Palestinians got off on the wrong foot and started hating Israelis for no reason.
Israelis often point out that Hamas, which rules Gaza, is much more hostile than the Palestinian Authority governing the 165 enclaves in the West Bank. These enclaves can be compared to the ghettos where Jews lived in many European cities during medieval times. Palestinians have limited freedom of movement. Restrictive permit policies constrain their abilities to run a business, acquire property, or build a house. Jewish settlements get the best lands.
In the Gaza Strip, about two million Palestinians are squeezed into the tiny piece of land, with the population density matching Hong Kong’s. But, due to the Israeli blockade, barely any business activity occurs there. They survive mostly because of charitable donations. To mitigate these conditions, Israel allowed some Gaza residents to work in Israel. After the October 7 attack, I read in some Jewish blogs that the program did not work because ungrateful Palestinians still support Hamas.
Jews cannot imagine that Palestinians commuting to work in Israel may recognize their place of work as, in their perception, once unlawfully taken from some of their compatriots. They can see the prosperity Jews enjoy and feel they could have the same but never will as long as they are deprived of freedom.
Israelis find convoluted justification for restricting the freedom of Palestinians. But in their misery, Palestinians have enough food to survive. Procreation is their only pleasure, and it is their best weapon. Engaging Palestinians in productive work and wealth gathering, as most of us pursue, is the only solution, but it is a solution that Israel does not accept.
About half of the residents of Gaza firmly support the militant anti-Israeli position of Hamas. So-called experts we see on TV have difficulties seeing that Hamas gets support because Israelis similarly suppress more peaceful Palestinians in the West Bank. Ergo, a militant response seems a valid option.
No Israeli politician says it straightforwardly, but the long-term Israeli policy toward Palestinians seems to be founded on a silent assumption that with ongoing pressure, Palestinians will somehow disappear one day. It has not happened so far. History tells us that it requires genocide for a people to disappear.
The world looked with anxiety at Israel’s intention to pacify Gaza. Israeli President Isaac Herzog blamed the whole population of Gaza for the atrocities of Hamas warriors. Some interpreted that as an acceptance of genocide. Even if Israel goes full force and, besides the militants, kills half of the Gaza residents, it will make things even worse. Today’s children can take up arms a few years from now. And the survivors will be making babies.
Thieves, prostitutes, and politicians
Israel was beaming after gaining independence. Skeptics poured cold water over that thrill, saying that Israel would become a normal country once it had its thieves and prostitutes. From today’s perspective, one would add politicians, who, like in other democracies, focus on getting elected, not solving the burning problems.
For example, different political orientations have dominated politics In the United States in the past few decades, but none of them had the audacity to fix immigration and health care policies. Similarly, no major political force in Israel aspires to settle Palestinians’ real estate claims. With its size and the location of its adversaries oceans away, the United States can safely sail through many crises. A small Israel, with enemies a stone’s throw away, does not have that comfort.
Fortunately for Israelis, Hamas resorts to actions that the West considers barbarian. So the West supports Israel, conveniently forgetting that, during WWII, some Western nations committed even worse crimes. Not to mention the fact that the West cannot agree on expelling Russia from the UN Security Council despite its undisputed atrocities in Ukraine.
It is anyone’s guess whether Palestinians will double down on their barbaric methods or adopt ways of fighting Israelis without breaking the Geneva Convention. A sober analysis indicates that time is on their side. When Jews started resettling in Palestine over a century ago, knowledge and money were their advantage. Today, knowledge is available even to the poor Palestinians. Big oil money supports them as well.
Israel did not fully legitimize its presence in the eyes of its neighbors because it has not settled Arabs’ property claims. Instead of building its security on agreements with its neighbors, the people who are the immediate threat to Israel’s security, Israel bets its safety on the guarantees provided by the U.S. It is not wise, as one can imagine a possible scenario that one day the U.S. might have its hands tied with other problems and might not be able to help Israel. If that day coincides with the strengthening of Arab states and their allies, the next Holocaust is in the making.
If Israel wants to last longer than the next 50 or 100 years, it must find a way to live in peace with its neighbors.