The Middle East – Again

The History is Ugly, The Future is Doubtful – Is This Really The Best We Can All Do?

This Terrible Situation

In every imaginable way, this is about as bad as it gets – and it will get worse.

Unspeakable violence – pure savagery, unspeakable murders were committed against Israel. Over 1300 died, including babies, handicapped, people asleep in their own beds. Thousands more were wounded. None feel secure, anywhere. Israel, meant to be a home for a people on the very edge of annihilation, suffered the worst attack and intelligence failure since the country was founded.

 Now the people of Gaza have lost similar numbers and all 2 million are at risk and largely on the move, to nowhere. Hamas is all among them. The evil that started this uses its own people as would-be shields. This will get much, much worse.

Welcome to the Middle East.

 Two Opening Comments to Be Clear About Where We Are

I need to be clear about two things at the outset of this terrible time.

One, I have never been shy about my criticism of Israel, doubly so of Netanyahu. The country has moved toward increasing fragmentation, empowering ever more extreme elements (sound familiar, fellow Americans?). The current path is a version of apartheid, pure and simple. Palestinians are ever more hopeless of ever finding justice in any meaningful form.

Recent efforts to neutralize the courts are completely wrong. There are people in the current cabinet who should not be within a mile of any authority, anywhere. The most extreme settlements are encouraged; a blind eye is turned to their brutality. The country’s politics is hopelessly fragmented, with too many parties furthering the divisions. All that remains true. But today is not the day to fight those battles. They must be fought, but now other battles must come first.

Two, no confusion about Hamas. This is an evil, murderous organization. They cannot be dealt with to any degree of confidence. Their documents and speeches are crystal clear. It exists to kill Jews because they are Jews, to erase the country of Israel. The only option that makes any sense is to neutralize Hamas as much as humanly possible. Doing this while trying to minimize human, civilian losses will be nearly impossible, but they must. Israel has every right to defend itself and to strike those who threatened their very existence. But how they do so is not a blank check. The world is right to expect better.

A Middle East Trip Opened My Eyes

Some years ago, I had a trip in the region of the current conflict. I moved across Israel, the border areas with Gaza and the West Bank, in Lebanon, on the Golan Heights, and in Cyprus. American tourists, it seemed to me while I was there, did not see much of the Palestinians and other such populations. I did. I went through check points like those who live in the area do every day. I spent time in native markets and walked the streets.

I came home haunted by what I had seen. I saw that when people lose the ability to talk to each other, when “the others” are seen as inherently wrong and unworthy, nothing is possible but continued war and eternal hatred. I heard Israelis say this of Palestinians, and Palestinians of Jews and Israelis. Fall into this cycle and your children for eternity will be unsafe, all of them, forever.

Two Abiding Truths – Accepting Only One Is Not Enough

Truth 1: Israel has a right to exist, its people to be secure. Jews have been hunted mindlessly throughout history. Too many did too little in WWII. The threat is every bit as bad today. The rest of us owe a debt to support a safe, sustainable country. Again, this is not a blank check, but it is a solemn obligation that is morally and practically the right thing to do. Not doing so is unacceptable.

Truth 2: The Palestinians are right that they have been screwed, by everyone. Reading the documents, especially the British ones, leading up to the founding of Israel, one would think the land was largely unoccupied before Jewish settlers would arrive. The Israelis were fighting for their lives themselves, as a country. Arab states offered the Palestinians no help in resettling or in setting up any place they could call their own. Some probably thought doing so would only validate Israel. Others likely simply did not care. Until a just solution is found for the Palestinians, there will be no security, no safety, no justice.

 For me, both of these truths are just that- truths. Accepting only one – either one – alone is guaranteed to continue violence and insecurity for everyone, forever.

Burning Questions Today

How Did the Hamas Attack Come as Such a Surprise and So Complex?

It will take time to determine this, but it must be run to ground. Early evidence indicates that both the military and Egypt knew something was brewing, but it is possible Netanyahu ignored it. It is also clear that much of the military was preoccupied with the extended domestic struggles over this government and over the militant settlements in the West Bank. Sorting this out will be like we did for 9/11.

 Can Hamas Be Destroyed?

Yes and no. It largely can be destroyed, made ineffective, although at great sustained costs. But to completely make it disappear is likely not possible. Two things could make a difference. One, go after the political leaders who live elsewhere. Tricky business there, legally, and politically, but these people need to be hunted down.

Two, the international community needs to find a way to help develop competent authority to govern in Gaza. The Palestine Authority in the West Bank has not been the answer. Hamas got into power in Gaza in large part because the people had had enough of the corruption and ineptitude of their governors. Today, I expect most would gladly choose a successor to Hamas. But who?

What Can Be Done About and For Gaza?

In the long term, it is difficult to imagine Gaza as part of a Palestinian state. Two part states separated by another do not work (remember East and West Pakistan?). But in the meantime, a better solution than today must be found, again for morality and for strategy. Simply blockading Gaza again or moving everyone as refugees to Egypt (which has zero interest in taking in people governed by Hamas, a spin-off of the Muslim Brotherhood) are not solutions. Short of a Palestinian state, no peace or security if likely to come.

What About the Netanyahu Government?

It has a unity government for the moment. I expect and hope that at some point this government will dissolve and the people of Israel will hold Netanyahu fully accountable. This happened on his watch and has already gone worse than it could have been. He and his closest team members deserve political exile forever. He has, over many years, done terrible harm to his country.

What Is Ahead?

There are so many variables, including foreign influence and the US elections of next year. It’s not possible at this early point to know how things may go but know that it will be long in settling. It is difficult to be hopeful that the leadership exists in enough places to find real peace. I would love to be wrong.

What if Sadat and Rabin had not been assassinated by their own extremists? How different all this might be by now.

Bill Clontz

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4 replies to The Middle East – Again

  1. We went to Israel/Palestine in 2010 and, like you, had our eyes opened. We visited Christian churches and a Palestinian refugee camp; we rode through a settlement (a stark contrast to the living conditions of the Palestinians); we heard from both Palestinians and Israelis who are working together to bring peace and unity, to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes, to teach both Israeli and Palestinian youth skills for living together, and so much more. We learned that there are over 120 organizations of both Israelis and Palestinians working together on the ground to bring peace. One pastor told us not to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine but to be pro-peace. I will never forget that trip because I learned that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

    • An invaluable experience. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  2. UUs for Justice in the Middle East has brought in people at GA for many years to talk about what was happening in Israel. It is eye opening. You have done an excellent job of summarizing. I only wish more Americans would educate themselves to see the issues more clearly.

  3. First of all, Bill, I appreciated your very fair comments on Israel, Palestine, and Hamas.

    When I was living in Ethiopia during the revolution in the 1970’s, Margaret, my youngest child, and I were mistakenly arrested. A Palestinian doctor friend of ours went to bat for us and, we were freed. One does not forget that.

    One thing one never forgets is humiliation. Palestinians have been humiliated, oppressed, denied rights for at least 75 years. Their homes have been bulldozed, their olive groves destroyed, etc., etc. Israel has illegally confiscated much of their land for settlements. A Palestinian state has never been seriously considered by Israel. This treatment has fostered a deep hatred of Israel. The understandable, but unjustified, horrible attack by Hamas has resulted. An overly brutal response by Israel will only result in increased hatred in the very large Islamic world.

    I hope that the visits by the president and multiple diplomats will be helpful to both sides.

    I am very saddened by what is going on there, and I pray that peace can be achieved.

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