November 27, 2023
The question was a valid one: “How could you, a conservative and a gentleman, be for them?” The man is an acquaintance of long standing, also a gent, so I bothered to explain: “Because I’ve been there and have seen what’s going on up close.”
Needless to say, it was the Middle East we were talking about, and my sympathy for the Palestinians, as opposed to tiny Israel surrounded by hostile Arab nations. I was based in Amman back in 1969 and during “Black September” one year later, when King Hussein destroyed the PLO effort to take over his country. I had visited the Palestinian refugee camps for those evicted by Israeli settlers during the founding of Israel in 1948. I then covered the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and have visited many more such camps in Lebanon since then. All I can say is once you’ve seen the misery of life in those camps, it takes a heart of stone to ignore them.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s David Schulman, a Hebrew professor at an Israeli university, writing in The New York Review of Books: “It is a regime of state terror whose raison d’être is the theft of Palestinian land and, whenever possible, the expulsion of its Palestinian owners. I have seen this system in operation over the course of the past twenty odd years.”
Mind you, pro-Israelis might immediately think, “There goes yet another self-loathing Jew.” I don’t know Schulman, but I’ve met a lot of Israelis who not only agree with him, but are adamant that Israel under Netanyahu has become an occupying power bent on capturing the whole West Bank. One thing is for sure, and I will get to the Hamas outrage and the Israeli reaction later on: To Palestinians living under the occupation over the past several years, state violence against them has escalated dramatically.
It is hard for me to describe what I’ve seen with my own eyes when Jewish religious fanatics—or settlers, as they’re called—mostly young men and women imbued with a burning, racist hate for Palestinians, come face-to-face with them. The Israeli army and the police, supposedly neutral, invariably side with the settlers, and thus one more Arab village empties out with religious fanatics moving in. The plan is a simple one and openly espoused by government officials: If life becomes unbearable, the Palestinians will leave and go to Jordan or Saudi Arabia, or anywhere, and the whole West Bank will be Jewish.
Well, it is a pipe dream because there are 8 million Palestinians not exactly wanted by other Arab countries. Netanyahu’s plan was to turn the West Bank into another Gaza, but then came Oct. 7 and we know the rest. Or do we? There is a longtime pattern in that disputed land: Palestinian suicide bombers propelled Netanyahu into the Prime Minister’s office, and it has been he and his hardliners who have fueled extremist Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The horror attacks of Oct. 7 have now been followed by the Gaza massacres of innocents, with more children reported killed in Gaza in the last three weeks than in all global conflicts together in the last year. This is according to Save the Children, not any Palestinian charity.
Let’s show our hand, as they say in Las Vegas. Israel has practiced unrelenting violence as an occupying power over many years. The Palestinian resistance often outdoes the Israelis, and then the deadly pattern starts all over again. Do I mean that the Oct. 7 attacks were justified? A question like that is too outrageous to even contemplate an answer; suffice it to say that Hamas knew very well that in its counterattack Israel would lose the PR battle.
The irony strikes me whenever I visit the Holy Land because of the moral inversion of our times: that of Israel’s occupation of Palestine being seen as deserved in view of the German genocide of Jews. Now the Middle East conflict has been turned into a woke-vs.-antiwoke battleground at American universities. Something not exactly to my liking because my Palestinian sympathies are in cahoots with those who wish to do away with Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee and other great Americans, not to mention a man named Shakespeare.
Simplistic ideological categories blind many of the students except in this case, with Israel seen as a regional superpower, which is undeniable, and the Palestinians as a deracinated people oppressed by colonizers, which is also true.
Had I never visited and lived among the oppressed as well as the oppressors, I certainly would be on the side of the Israelis. Just look at what they’ve done with their land and look at what the Palestinians have accomplished: zero. And yet, I have lived there and have seen what is going on with my own eyes and cannot ignore what I’ve seen and lived. I wrote this more than forty years ago and it still goes: A Palestinian mother cries as bitterly as an Israeli mother does after losing a child, so something must be done.