As heartbreaking images and stories are being shared by friends of and in Israel, I am compelled to say something, in particular to my non-Jewish friends. In particular to those who don’t know too much about the history of the region.
People in Gaza desperately needed a Nelson Mandela. Someone who believed in a future, someone who was incorruptible. They initially voted for and have since been autocratically ruled by Hamas, an organization with an extreme ideology and official mandate to "obliterate Israel." Nelson Mandela didn't have to deal with religious fanatics, but still.
Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that supports free press, freedom of religion, the right to protest, LGBTQ+, full political representation for its Jewish and Arab citizens, and other rights familiar to those who live in a western democracy. That seems to get lost on a lot of people. LGBTQ protests in support of Palestine is like watching chickens marching for KFC.
Israel also has its own share of corrupt politicians and religious extremists, and it is far from perfect. But name another democratic country that has been at war since its inception, subject to suicide bombings and indiscriminate missile attacks. Name another democratic country repeatedly demonized, de-legitimized and condemned by double-standards in the UN. Name another democratic country with genocide hanging over its head, in the past, and in the future. There isn't one, and if there was, it wouldn't be perfect either.
Most of Israel's diverse population are descendants of victims from another mandate that called for genocide. Jews the world over have learned, to our horror, that attacks on our people and homes are not isolated incidents. We know where it can lead, and we know that all racism is cut from the same fabric.
There is simply no excuse for the Hamas attack. Blaming Israel in any way is victim-shaming at best, antisemitic at worst. Innocent people in Israel did not 'deserve' this anymore than a victim of rape or violent crime 'deserves' it. On that topic, it's worth pointing out that the popularity of the BDS/anti-Zionism movement is rooted in antisemitism (and if you follow the money largely funded by Iran). Student groups are oddly quiet about Iran, you know, that country that massacres its citizens at protests and beats women to death for not following Sharia Law. Venom appears strictly reserved for those damn free-thinking Israelis and their progressive trance music.
Zionism, you should know, refers to the right of all Jews to have a homeland they can be safe in. Condemning Zionism does not condemn Israeli leadership (who many Jews disagree with). It condemns all Jews, everywhere. Iran and Hamas are proudly and rabidly anti-Zionist. They don’t fight for a new Jewish leadership that will commit and compromise for a peaceful resolution. They fight so that there will be no Jews. Period.
Meanwhile, calling Israel an Apartheid state is insulting to all South Africans. I know, I am one, and lived through it. It's even more insulting to people of colour who suffered during Apartheid. Why? Consider: Arabs in Israels can vote, run political parties, own businesses, sit on the Supreme Court, work across all industries, marry whomever they want, and travel freely throughout the country. Arabs in Gaza who are vocally committed to Israel’s destruction face restrictions, because, I repeat, they are vocally committed to Israel’s destruction. Did you forget the suicide bombers that killed children, women and elderly on buses in Tel Aviv? Do you see what happens what happens if Israel doesn't take security seriously?
Even so, Israeli businesses offer gainful employment, non-discrimination, and hope to both Jews and Arabs. To those who disagree with me, I invite you to actually visit Israel, and to speak to Israeli Arabs. Ask them if they feel like second-class citizens. Then read up about the horrors of Apartheid, and while you’re at it, who funds and promotes the BDS movement. Then ask yourself: can people who are indigenous to a land actually colonize it? Jews have been living in this region for thousands of years, they didn’t just arrive on boats from Europe and say, “we’ll take it!” It’s hip to follow a campus cause, I get it. It’s not hip to be an uninformed bigot.
BDS would very much like you to boycott all Israeli products, including Sodastream, an Israeli company. Have you looked at a Soda Stream box? It says: “Made in Israel: This product was made by Arabs and Jews working side by side in peaceful harmony.” Those protesting a cause they know nothing about would rather this not be the case. They would rather Israeli businesses that employ Arabs and Palestinians shutter and lay everyone off. Their misguided intentions would be ironic if it weren't so devastating. I understand it’s fashionable to have a cause, although every single crime Israel has been accused of has also taken place in countries like China, Pakistan, the United States, Canada, Australia and many others. Why go after Israel and only Israel? Might it have something to do with, you know, the Jews?
It is also important to stress that innocent people in Gaza do not deserve this either. They want to live in peace and watch their children succeed like the rest of us. Yet what are we to make of Israeli corpses being dragged through the streets of Gaza, of Palestinians and those sympathetic to their cause celebrating this massacre around the world? Can you imagine Israel using its women and children as human shields? Can you imagine the Israeli Army raping and massacring young women at a Palestinian Peace Festival? There is no moral equivalence between a brutal, authoritarian death cult and a democratic society. Hamas not only kicked a tiger, they poked its eyes out and killed and kidnapped its babies. Israel’s response has been brutal, as a tiger’s response would be brutal. As for Hamas leaders, they fully anticipated this, and are hunkered down safely while their people suffer the consequences. Every time you see a sign or graffiti that reads “Free Palestine” please add just two words: “From Hamas.”
Sam Harris is perhaps the smartest, most reasonable thinker out there. In this excellent treatise about the sin of moral equivalence in this conflict, Harris writes:
“Simply the counting the number of dead bodies is not a way of judging the moral balance here. Intentions matter. It matters what kind of world people are attempting to build. If Israel wanted to perpetrate a genocide of the Palestinians, it could do that easily, tomorrow. But that isn’t what it wants. And the truth is the Jews of Israel would live in peace with their neighbours if their neighbours weren’t in thrall to genocidal fanatics”
By taking hostages, hiding militants in hospitals and using children as human shields, Hamas - supported by a brutal regime in Iran deeply threatened by an Israel-Saudi Arabia peace deal - has once again relegated the people of Gaza to cannon fodder. Hamas has long profited off violence and misery. Iran relishes the chaos. War and human tragedy is inevitable. They kick the tiger, the tiger lashes out, they condemn the tiger, then kick it again. The cycle has to stop.
If there is any silver lining to the current tragedy in Israel and Gaza, it is that a new leadership might emerge to clear the debris and aspire to a lasting peace. That, inshallah, the people of Gaza will finally resist and oppose the horrors of their Hamas leaders, and that Israelis will clear out their own broken leadership and galvanize around a secure, peace-committed future. Even then, it only takes one deranged religious lunatic on either side to derail everything. Yet thanks to Nelson Mandela (and his largely forgotten and overlooked counterpart, FW de Klerk) South Africa was able to somehow forge a lasting peace. Where is the Palestinian Nelson Mandela? When is the Israeli FW de Klerk? We could really use them when all this is over.
To my Jewish, non-Jewish and Muslim friends, please know: I mourn the suffering on all sides. I welcome debate. I feel your pain, anger, frustration and exhaustion. Inshallah and baruch hashem, we will one day get the leadership - and the peace - we so desperately strive for.
Ps: If you want to read a balanced book that is sympathetic to both Israelis and Palestinians as it explains the history of the conflict, I highly recommend Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth by Noa Tishby.
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