Just when the Israeli-Palestinian political situation seems like it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. And everyone is to blame.
First blame lies with the Palestinian murderers who are stabbing innocent people on the streets of Israel. While these actions are the predictable results of Israeli policies, they are also inexcusable, ghastly and horrible. And each of the individual attackers bears the full moral responsibility for them.
Second blame lies with those Israelis who have been carrying out “price tag” and other revenge attacks for years now, often with impunity. They, too, are barbarians, terrorists and are evil, just like their Palestinian counterparts. No matter what the cause, no matter the context, murdering civilians in their sleep, or on the bus, or anywhere else cannot be justified or excused.
The third blame lies with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. For 100 years, the revisionist Zionist narrative has remained the same: Jews must beat down the Arabs, because they will never accept us and must be defeated. And since a quick military victory is no longer possible, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine must proceed slowly, grindingly, over decades. Peace is naive.
That narrative has been Israeli government policy for the past decade, and it has worked, in part. The peace process is over, more West Bank land is now in Jewish hands, the Israeli military has been brutal in the way it carries out attacks, and the Palestinians are out of hope.
But as we are beginning to see, tragically, over the past few months, hopelessness does not, in fact, lead to resignation. Instead, some Palestinians are behaving as if they have nothing left to lose, with viciousness, amorality and lethal rage.
Can you blame them? Actually, yes, because they deserve blame. But you can’t blame only them. So maybe this is a better question: Can you understand them? I certainly can. At the very least, now that certain extremist Israelis are murdering innocent people, too, we can no longer take the collective moral high ground.
There is a fourth layer of blame, which lies at the feet of the Palestinian Authority. It is true that, thanks to revisionist Zionist ideology, any Palestinian peace efforts would be futile. It is also true that to demand that Mahmoud Abbas “renounce violence” when there is Israeli state-sponsored violence every day is asymmetrical and unfair. But Abbas’s efforts at the United Nations would surely bear more fruit if they weren’t accompanied by tacit and sometimes overt encouragement of violence in Palestine, such as Abbas’s recent incendiary statements, like, “We bless every drop of blood spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah.”
Palestine needs a statesman with moral authority, someone who can credibly appeal to the international community now that the Israeli government is intransigent. Admittedly, this is faulting Abu Mazen for not being a Gandhi or a King or a Mandela. But that is what these times demand.
Israel will prevail in this latest intifada. It will slap curfews on Jerusalem, reduce Israel’s Arab citizens officially (rather than merely de facto) to second-class citizens, and bulldoze entire neighborhoods if necessary. Dozens more Jews will die, but hundreds of Palestinians will die. Israel has the tanks.
But the daily, pervasive sense of sadness, despair and rage is palpable, especially among my many friends and relatives living in Israel and worried about their kids. Here’s what one of them posted on Facebook on October 13:
“I’m despairing, scared (in a way I never was before, being a parent…) and furious at an Israeli electorate that thought, what? That continuing the same policies and MO for the last 10 years would somehow, magically, lead to a different result? Things here are clearly going to get worse, for everybody, on all sides, for the next… while.”
Here in America, I’m praying for peace. I’m praying for all of us. And, for an attempt at symmetry, here is part of a post accompanying a news photo, by a Palestinian Facebook friend (I’ve edited it because the post is quite long):
“Yahia Hassan, a young Palestinian father, bids farewell to his 2 year-old-daughter, Rahaf, after losing his pregnant wife, Noor, as well. The video footage shows him pleading with Rahaf to wake up while hugging her body. She was killed along with her mother and unborn sibling in an [October 11] Israeli air strike in Gaza… And somehow, Palestinians need to wake up each morning, or rather to fall asleep each night, and maintain hope in the “international community” and in humanity. Yet commentators here in the U.S. often express their shock that some Palestinians choose the path of extremism. I look forward to the day that Palestinian parents will no longer have to bury their children…. The day a Palestinian life will carry equal value in centers of power to that of an Israeli life. The day that freedom, self-determination, dignity, and human security are extended to us as well. The day that our voices, whether crying in anguish, or calling for justice, can no longer be silenced.”
There is loss on all sides, hatred on all sides, incitement on all sides, peacemaking on all sides, despair on all sides. On each side, many are convinced that the other side is worse. And there can be no doubt that the latest cycle of violence and counter-violence will lead to more death, destruction, mistrust and despair.
And to think, only six years ago there was a centrist prime minister who was prepared to withdraw from most of the West Bank and sign a peace agreement with the state of Palestine. We were told, then, that the risks were too great. And then the centrist turned out to be a crook.
So now we have this utter, abject misery, which will surely get worse for everyone. Of course, Israel will win this phase of the conflict. But when this is what “winning” looks like, we all lose.
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.