Not long ago, Vox’s Max Fisher argued that Israel was liable for the entire conflict in the Middle East. He then accused Israel of welcoming Hamas’ execution of three Jewish teenagers as a pretext to engage in the vengeful massacring of Arab civilians. And then he lamented the fact that Hamas’ rocket barrage was met with Israel’s technological superiority and, consequently, a lopsided outcome.
Nowadays, as Hamas ignores cease-fires and is caught using children as human shields by the United Nations, many apologists have given up. Not Fisher, who attempts to whip up some moral equivalency in a new piece titled “Yes, Gaza militants hide rockets in schools, but Israel doesn’t have to bomb them”:
This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.
A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he was an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.
It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.
As this Vox card helpfully clarifies, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, offering Palestinians a chance to form any brand of government they chose. Israel instituted a blockade only after Hamas (which has a peaceful political wing, according to Fisher) began importing and smuggling armaments from Iran and elsewhere rather than concerning itself with the humanity and suffering of Palestinians. So if Israel ignored the 11,000-or so rockets and missiles Hamas has stashed in hospitals and kindergartens and God-knows-where, those weapons would continue to pose a threat to its civilian population, and thus continue to pose a threat to Palestinian population. Though I’m skeptical such a result is possible, the best outcome for the average Gazan today, is for Israel to decimate Hamas (and other Jihadist groups) that put them in this dangerous position.
I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:
A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.
In Israel, there is wide-ranging debate about the ethics and morality of war and occupation. The military is accountable to the government and the courts, and the government is held accountable by the people. Israel, with all its mistakes, exhibits all the characteristics of an ethical liberal state. It concerns itself with the human cost of war, but it also – and much of this has to do with its history and the proximity of its enemy – vigorously defends the lives, security and property of its citizens from barbarism. In other words, it “shares” nothing with Hamas.