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In Defence of Israel
Some difficult truths
After the October 7th terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel, many leftists and Muslims took to the streets to protest, not against Hamas but Israel. Since then, the hostility toward Israel and Jewish people has only grown, with many people ripping down posters of Israeli hostages, and some even chanting “Gas the Jews!” Much of this hatred is driven by the common narrative, perpetuated everywhere from mosques to universities, that Israel is an evil enterprise built on the oppression of innocent Palestinians, and therefore deserves no sympathy.
When I was a naïve young leftist I too believed Israel was a tyrannical regime, because that’s what everyone around me was saying, and my empty mind was a vacuum that sucked it all up. Once I escaped my echo-chamber, and began to objectively assess the facts, I realized just how unfairly Israel has been demeaned — not just among leftists and Muslims, but also in media, academia, and on Wikipedia.
In particular, Israel tends to be accused of three things: that it stole Palestine from the Arabs, that it’s an apartheid state, and that its government is morally equivalent to — or worse than — the terrorists it fights.
Let’s see whether these accusations fit the facts.
“Jews stole Palestine from the Arabs.”
The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is too complicated to fit into the basic narrative template of oppressor versus victim that we apes rely on to understand the world. But it does begin with actual, legitimate victimhood.
Historically, Christians resented Jews for rejecting Jesus, and Muslims resented Jews for rejecting Muhammad. This resentment was exacerbated by the fact that the Jews, whose history of wandering the globe shaped them into a resourceful and adaptable people, would often economically outcompete the natives of the societies they became part of. As a result, the history of the Jews is a history of their persecution.
In the late 19th century, severe pogroms in Eastern Europe led to the rise of Zionism, the idea that Jews, to finally be free of the discrimination they’d faced for centuries, would need a state of their own. They eventually chose the region known as Palestine, because it corresponded to their ancestral Kingdom of Israel, as told by the Torah.
Palestine had never been a state, and at this time it was merely a province of the Ottoman Empire. From around 1867, Jews began to purchase Palestinian land from private landowners. When they arrived, they drained the swampland, built farms, and gradually pooled their land to form kibbutzim (small communities).
During WWI, the Ottomans were driven out of Palestine by the British, who began to administer the region. The Brits were desperate for wartime allies, so they promised a state to both Jews and Arabs in exchange for help winning the war.
After the war, the Jews proved more proactive than the Arabs in getting the British to keep their end of the bargain. As such, much more progress was made in laying the foundations for an Israeli state in Palestine than an Arab one (though the Hashemite Arabs did succeed in obtaining several Arab states from the British).
As Jewish communities began to grow in Palestine, they were met with hostility from local Arabs, whose bitterness toward the relatively affluent migrants was exacerbated by Islamic antisemitism and by kibbush ha'avoda — the Zionist practice of hiring Jews over non-Jews.
Tensions rose, and the Arabs rebelled in 1936, leading the British to establish the Peel Commission. The Brits offered to divide the land between Arabs and Jews, with the Arabs receiving 80% and the Jews 20%. The Jews accepted, but the Arabs refused.
After WWII broke out, some Arab leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, collaborated with the Nazis against both the British and the Jews. They oversaw the creation of Muslim SS units, and frequently broadcast Nazi propaganda, such as antisemitic conspiracy theories, across the Middle East.
For many Jews, the Holocaust vindicated Zionism, renewing their fears that unless they had a state of their own, they’d continue to be scapegoated and persecuted. As such, many more American and European Jews began buying land in Palestine. They were soon joined by several exoduses of Middle Eastern Jews fleeing persecution in Muslim countries. All the while, conflict with the Palestinian Arabs escalated.
After WWII, the British, war-weary and facing a crumbling empire, surrendered administration of an increasingly chaotic Palestine to the UN. In 1947 the UN voted to resolve the conflict by dividing Palestine into two states; one Jewish, one Arab. This time slightly more land was offered to the Jews than to the Arabs, but this was because much of the Jewish area was deemed by the UN to be sterile wasteland in the Negev Desert. Nevertheless, the Arabs rejected the plan, and many took to the streets to protest. The protests became riots, which soon escalated into a civil war between Arabs and Jews.
The Zionists saw the Arabs’ violent rejection of their right to a Jewish state as all the more reason for its necessity. So in May 1948, with the UN’s blessing, the Zionists declared independence for the state of Israel.
Immediately, five Arab countries attacked the newborn nation. In the ensuing war, both sides committed atrocities. Around 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from Israel in what some call the Nakba (catastrophe). Israel won the war, but Jordan captured the region now known as the West Bank, driving out the Jews. Meanwhile, the Arabs who’d fled Israel tried to return, but since there were 700,000 of them and only 600,000 Jews, they were deemed a security risk and denied re-entry.
Tensions continued for two decades, and in 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria fought another war with Israel, which Israel won in six days, capturing Sinai and Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Humiliated, the Arab states met in Sudan, where they issued the Khartoum Resolution: “No peace with Israel. No negotiation with Israel. No recognition of Israel.”
In 1973 the Arab coalition launched a surprise attack against Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. And once again they were defeated. During the ensuing peace talks, the Arabs rejected all offers, leading to the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban famously quipping, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Nevertheless, Israel continued offering opportunities. In 1978 it proposed to return Sinai to Egypt if Egypt agreed to peace with Israel, a deal Egypt finally accepted. In 1994 Jordan also accepted a peace deal with Israel. Several times, Israel offered to return the Golan Heights to Syria if Syria agreed to peace, but this offer was rejected. Most of the other Arab states also refused to make peace with Israel.
Throughout the 1990s, Israel tried to make peace with the Palestinians through the Oslo process, which would’ve finally given the Palestinians their own state. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat refused every offer proposed to him, so in 2000 the negotiations collapsed, sparking the Second Intifada, a series of violent Palestinian riots in which thousands died.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza, relinquishing control of the region to the Palestinians. The Palestinians held elections, and chose to elect Hamas, a genocidal ultranationalist jihadist group that had sworn to destroy Israel. With that, there would be no more opportunities for peace.
Now, obviously a lot more happened. But the common idea that Israel “stole” Palestine is so simplistic as to be wrong. To summarize: Palestine was never a state. The first Jewish settlers bought and developed the land they settled on. After tensions with Arabs rose, the settlers tried to negotiate. After negotiations failed and hostilities escalated, they formed a state with UN approval, and when they subsequently annexed Arab territory, it was as a result of war that the Arabs had initiated.
Overall the history shows a persistent trend: Israel and the international community repeatedly offered compromises to the Arabs in exchange for peace, and the Arabs repeatedly rejected them. So the common narrative, that the conflict was a result of stereotypical “Jewish greed,” is false. It was more a result of Arab intransigence.
“Israel is an apartheid state.”
Many leftists are so fixated on the West’s historical racism that they view every other conflict as a replica of it; a simple case of light-skinned people oppressing dark-skinned people. Since they’re obsessed with white supremacy, they view even the Israel-Palestine issue through this lens, using terms like “apartheid,” “colonialism,” and “genocide” to describe it. But Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians cannot be accurately described with these words; it exists in its own unique context.
Unlike with South African apartheid, Israel’s Arab citizens, who comprise 20% of the country’s population, have all the rights afforded to the Jews, and many even sit in the Knesset. Further, Israel allows Palestinians into Israel to work, though, since millions of Arabs want to see the country obliterated, Israel must carefully vet those it welcomes. And given the flow of weapons into Palestine from Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, Israel must strictly control who can enter or leave the Palestinian territories. This isn’t apartheid, it’s survival.
Israel used to occupy Gaza just as it now occupies the West Bank. It eventually did what “social justice activists” demanded, and withdrew from Gaza. The result was that Hamas took power and began curtailing the rights of Palestinians, indoctrinating them with antisemitic propaganda, stealing international aid intended for them, and using the aid to buy weapons, build its subterranean terrorist base, and fund billionaire lifestyles in Qatar for its leaders.
As for the West Bank, it’s true that Israel has been building illegal settlements there. This is the closest Israel comes to “colonialism,” but it’s actually better understood as a military occupation: the IDF has a presence in the West Bank due to the continued threat of terrorist groups — not just Hamas but also Islamic Jihad, Lions’ Den, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
Now, since swathes of the Israeli-occupied land are much cheaper than Israeli land, many lower-income Israelis build their homes on it, and the Israeli government, instead of stopping them, gives them its blessing (and sometimes even subsidies.) A small number of these settlers are extremists who attack local Palestinian properties. All of this may be illegal, wrong, and stupid, but to call it “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” is an insult to actual victims of such atrocities.
Overall, Israel, like all countries, has committed some crimes and many mistakes. But apartheid isn’t one of them, because Israel’s segregation of Palestinians is not motivated by racism but by security. Those who demand it treats all Palestinians the same as it treats its own citizens are asking it to open its doors to those who wish to destroy it.
And it’s strange that they single out the region’s only liberal democracy — and world’s only Jewish state — for this kind of criticism, when so many other countries are doing much worse. 700,000 Ethiopians have been ethnically cleansed in Tigray, and there were no protests in Western streets. 100,000 Armenians have been ethnically cleansed in Nagorno-Karabakh, and there were no protests in Western streets. Right now, Pakistan is working to expel 1.7 million Afghan refugees, and there will be no protests in Western streets. So why the huge turnout for protests whenever Israel fights to keep itself safe?
Some might argue that Westerners single out Israel for criticism because it is supported by their own governments. But Saudi Arabia is also supported by Western governments, and its barbaric laws and war crimes in Yemen have been mostly met with silence.
The constant singling out of Israel by leftists and Muslims makes no sense unless they wish to continue the long history of scapegoating Jews. Or perhaps, in the case of woke leftists, they believe that Israelis tend to have pale skin, so view them as white and hold them to a higher standard.
In any case, isn’t that the real racism here?
“The Israeli government is morally comparable to Hamas.”
A common response to the claim that Hamas is a bunch of religious fanatics who kill innocent civilians is that the Israeli government is just the same.
It’s true that within the Israeli government, there are Kahanist religious extremists like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who dream of seizing all of Palestine and of building the prophesied Third Temple on the Temple Mount, an event that would have potentially apocalyptic consequences.
However, these few ultra-Zionists only hold positions in office because Netanyahu, as unpopular as he is, needed votes to form a government. They’re a fringe minority with little power, having their proposals routinely rejected and even being excluded from the recent war cabinet. Further, the entire Israeli government is held in check by the secular Israeli Supreme Court, which aims to uphold human rights even for Palestinians. Netanyahu has tried to roll back the Court’s power, but he’s been met with the largest protests in Israel’s history. It’s unlikely he’ll be in power for long.
Contrast this with Hamas, which rules without checks or balances in Gaza, and is almost exclusively ruled by religious extremists who restrict the rights of their own people and call for holy war against infidels, decreeing not just mass murder but also rape and torture. As a jihadist organization, Hamas feeds on hatred and division, so is threatened by peace. In 2010 it carried out a series of terror attacks to derail peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and its recent October 7th attacks were likely formulated to derail peace talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
A common Hamas motto is "We love death more than [the Jews] love life," which is evident in its actions. It targets Israeli civilians and uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, hiding soldiers and weapons in hospitals and other public places. In contrast, the IDF generally takes care to avoid harming civilians, often warning them prior to an attack, but, given Hamas’ tactics, this isn’t always possible.
Half of Gaza’s population is children, so kids are often among the casualties. After using children as human shields, Hamas exploits their deaths to prey on the public’s emotions. Of course, it doesn’t actually care about kids; not only does it deliberately target Israeli children, it also broadcasts “kids’ shows” that encourage Palestinian children to blow themselves up.
It’s said that power corrupts, but it usually just reveals what was already there. So it’s useful to ask what absolute power would reveal about Israel and Hamas. In other words, what would each side do if it had nukes and its enemies didn’t? Based on Hamas’ history, and its charter, which calls for the total obliteration of Israel, we can be confident it would nuke Tel Aviv. And yet, if Israel had nukes, it wouldn’t nuke Palestine. We know this because it’s had nukes for 50 years.
Now, it must be mentioned that Israel bears some blame for the growth of Hamas; on at least two occasions Israel has supported the jihadi group; initially so it would hijack the Palestinian cause from the more secular (and thus more reasonable-seeming) Palestine Liberation Organization, and later as a foil to Hamas’ rival Fatah. They were foolish errors, but the fact that they were — like most of Israel’s failings — exposed by Israelis, attests to a level of transparency and fairness in Israel that you seldom find among Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.
Whoever bears the responsibility for Hamas’ rise, it is the responsibility of both Israelis and Palestinians to end it. The jihadis’ total disregard for human life, and their relentless spreading of hatred and delusion, ultimately prevents peace or compromise and hurts Israelis and Palestinians alike.
We need to stop viewing this issue in terms of who is oppressing who, because that leads nowhere.
On the one hand, we have Palestinians who were denied a state of their own, and who are now forced to endure sanctions and bombings while trapped under the tyranny of an Islamist death-cult that steals their aid, suppresses their rights, and uses them as human shields.
On the other hand, we have the Jews, who have been persecuted throughout history, and who asked for a single place in which they could finally be safe, just one tiny Jewish state that was relentlessly attacked from the moment it was born, and which is now trying to survive amid 22 hostile Arab states and a world that resents it.
Either side can easily be portrayed as the victim, because victimhood is limited only by imagination. So we must consider the question not in terms of who is most oppressed, but who is most reasonable? Who is most willing to compromise, and whose goals will, overall, benefit Israelis and Palestinians most?
Israel has its extremes — its bombs sometimes hit civilians, its settlement-building is out of control, and its Supreme Court is under attack by its own government.
But Israel’s excesses are Hamas’ norms. The jihadis don’t even have a Supreme Court, or any checks on their power. They’ve stifled their people’s freedom more than Israel ever could. And they’ve sworn to keep killing civilians as long as Israel still stands.
Ultimately, Israel can only be a better neighbor to the Palestinians when Hamas and its allies are gone. Tragically, that requires violence. Israel should know that the world is watching, and will hold it to account for any excesses. At the same time, it is doing what must be done, and so, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, I give it my cautious and conditional support.