What to make of Israel/Palestine?


The temperature of the fighting goes up and down, but there is no real prospect for peace. Two articles express two very different ways to look at this situation.

There are basically two truthful ways to cover the current wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians:

  • A pox on both your houses, because neither side seems to have any plan that involves making peace with the other. (See cartoon above.)
  • One side, Israel, bears more responsibility because it is far more powerful, is doing far more damage, and has far more ability to shape the course of events.

A good example of the first type is Vox’ “The Gaza doom loop” by Zack Beauchamp. Beauchamp does mention that the two sides are not equal, but focuses on the similarities between them.

It would seem as if the current round of violence emerged out of a complex series of events in Jerusalem, most notably heavy-handed actions by Israeli police and aggression by far-right Jewish nationalists. But in reality, these events were merely triggers for escalations made almost inevitable by the way the major parties have chosen to approach the conflict. … It’s clear that that this status quo produces horrors. The problem, though, is that these terrible costs are seen as basically tolerable by the political leadership of all the major parties.

Hamas continues to be able to rule Gaza and reaps the political benefits from being the party of armed resistance to Israeli occupation. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas appears cowed by Hamas’s power — most analysts believe he canceled the Palestinian election because he thought he would lose — and so is content to let Israel keep his rivals contained in Gaza.

Beauchamp similarly breaks Israeli politics into two factions: “annexationists … who want to formally seize large chunks of Palestinian land while either expelling its residents or denying them political rights — ethnic cleansing or apartheid” and “the control camp” who (rather than looking for a viable long-term solution) are just trying to minimize the damage that Palestinians can do to Israelis.

The status quo in Gaza serves both groups. From the annexationist view, keeping the Palestinians weak and divided allows Israeli settlements to keep expanding and the seizure of both the West Bank and East Jerusalem to continue apace. Lifting the blockade on Gaza, and working to promote some kind of renewed peace process involving both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, jeopardizes the agenda of “Greater Israel.”

… Meanwhile, the “control” camp sees this as the least bad option. Any easing of the Gaza blockade would risk Hamas breaking containment and expanding its presence in the West Bank, which would be far more dangerous than the rockets — a threat heavily mitigated by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. In this analysis, periodic flare-ups are a price that has to be paid to minimize the threat to Israeli lives — with heavy escalations like this one required to restore a basically tolerable status quo.

There used to be a third faction, the “equality” camp, which “believed that Palestinians deserved a political voice as a matter of principle — either in a single state or, more typically, through a two-state arrangement”, but it “collapsed after the failure of the peace process and the second intifada in the early 2000s.” Beauchamp estimates that the equality camp controls about 10% of the Knesset, and so has virtually no influence on policy.

The second type of coverage is exemplified by Branko Marcetic’s article in Jacobin: “On Palestine, the Media is Allergic to the Truth“. To Marcetic, putting the recent Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza “in context” would mean

explaining that the rockets came in the wake of a series of outrageous and criminal Israeli provocations in occupied East Jerusalem: a series of violent police raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam during its holiest month, that have damaged the sacred structure and injured hundreds, including worshippers; that Israeli forces were attacking Palestinians who were occupying Aqsa both to pray and to protect it from bands of far-right Israeli extremists who have been marching through East Jerusalem, attacking Palestinians, and trying to break into the compound; and that all of this sits in the shadow of protests against Israel’s most recent attempt to steal land from Palestinians in the city, and the ramping up of Israel’s theft of Palestinian land more broadly under Trump.

While you’re at it, you might at least make clear that the Israeli attacks on Gaza have been far more vicious and deadly than the rockets they’re supposedly “retaliating” against, having killed forty-three people so far [many more since the article was published], including thirteen children, and leveled an entire residential building. You might make clear that Hamas’s rockets are, owing to their own cheapness and Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, at this point closer to the lashing-out-in-impotent-frustration part of the spectrum (which, of course, is not to say they don’t do damage or occasionally take lives — they’ve killed six Israelis thus far). All of this would help people understand why what they’re seeing unfold on their screens is happening, and what might be done to stop it.

Marcetic skewers the even-handedness of most articles of the first type, which refer to “clashes” and “rising tensions” as if they were reporting storms at sea rather than intentional human actions. Israel doesn’t do things so much as stuff happens and a bunch of people wind up dead.

As for what American policy should be, I have no idea. I’m not sure President Biden does either. How exactly do you make peace between sides whose leaders — backed by a sizeable chunk of their constituents — don’t want to make peace?

That said, I’m glad to see the end of the Trump/Kushner policy, which I would sum up as “Fuck the Palestinians.” The Trumpists’ primary goal in the Middle East was to create an Israel/Sunni alliance against Shiite Iran. So they brokered agreements between Israel and four minor Sunni states: Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, and the Emirates. If that spirit of cooperation could be extended to larger Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians would be left without any allies, and presumably would have to take whatever deal Israel feels like offering them.

In essence, the Palestinians were in the way of the strategic realignment Kushner wanted. So to hell with them.

The thing a pampered prat like Jared Kushner can never understand is the thought that Daredevil writer Frank Miller put into the mind of his villain the Kingpin: A man without hope is a man without fear.

No doubt Israel can create a situation where the Palestinians ought to give up. Arguably, it already has. The Kushners of the world, who have lots of non-hopeless options to choose from, certainly would give up and move on to Plan B, C, or D. But I don’t think the Palestinians will. They’ll keep throwing rocks at tanks until the Israelis either deal with them or kill them.

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  • bugsbycarlin  On May 17, 2021 at 9:12 am

    The articles you linked are as profoundly incomplete as something about American Democrat/Republican deadlocks that didn’t mention Donald Trump.

    Netanyahu has failed to form a government for two years, is potentially facing a prison sentence for corruption (genuinely likely, not somewhat wishful thinking like with Trump), and is trying to disrupt the formation of a national unity government which is so “anyone but Netanyahu” that it includes settlement extremists *and* Israeli Palestinians.

    Here are two articles which don’t miss this crucial context.


  • NANCY BROWNING  On May 17, 2021 at 10:33 am

    I strongly recommend that you and your readers watch the video “The Occupation of the American Mind,” which gives historical context to the situation in Palestine/Israel. Also, look at the organization, “Breaking the Silence,” formed by former IDF ((Israel Defense Forces) members who discuss the horrible apartheid and violence that Palestinians face daily within Gaza and the Occupied Territories.

  • John Trimble  On May 17, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    For a particularly smart analysis of this conflict, read Richard Ben Cramer’s 2005 book “How Israel Lost.” Its concluding chapter is simply brilliant.

  • Craig Jackson  On May 17, 2021 at 9:09 pm

    I agree that this is all too convenient for Netanyahu. He would have been certain that the Al Aqsa provocation would result in action from Hamas at least. (They are quite predictable in this way.) His opponent had just been given the instruction to try to form a government.

    Whether he intentionally sacrificed Israeli citizens or just didn’t care is a matter to be determined.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On May 19, 2021 at 10:37 am

    What both articles leave out is context. The evictions of the Palestinian families from Sheik Jarrah followed their failure to pay rent, which they had originally agreed to pay in 1983. It’s generally accepted that renters who don’t pay rent can be evicted. The police action at the al-Aqsa mosque also had a background; Palestinians on the Temple Mount were throwing rocks and fireworks down on the Jews below.



  • coastcontact  On May 20, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    Here are some facts. Israel occupies a space barely larger that the state of New Jersey. Or if you are looking for another comparison consider Vancouver Island. At its inception in 1948 Arab nations opposed the creation of the country that was carved out of British Palestine (a protectorate created after World War One). The Jewish state’s initial boundaries were only part of the protectorate. Despite its small size adjoining nations immediately attacked Israel on the day it declared itself a nation. Hamas purpose, as stated in its charter, is to destroy Israel. So the question is what would you do if someone said I want to kill you? Or to put it another way: How should Israel respond to Hamas and Hezbollah when their objective is the destruction of of their state?


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