Many American Christians state that Israel’s devastating military tactics against the Palestinians in the Gaza campaign – and in general – are justified by terrorism. I wonder if people who make that case are aware of incidents of terrorism in our own history.
First examples: the Ku Klux Klan and related violence. Over a period of many decades, hundreds – possibly thousands – of blacks were lynched. Homes, businesses, and churches were bombed. Not only were there individual citizens targeted, but at times there were mass wholesale indiscriminate assaults on entire communities such as Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 and 1923. Government officials not only did nothing to prevent this domestic terrorism whether in terms of law enforcement or prosecution, but in many cases were themselves complicit, down to local, state and federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and military officials not only being members of the KKK and other terror groups, but taking part in the very acts themselves, including the Oklahoma National Guard personally killing a still unknown amount of citizens in the attack on the Greenwood community in Tulsa.
The second example: the wave of urban criminal activity – including gang and drug violence but also including random, senseless brutal crimes – that gripped our nation from the late 1970s until the mid 1990s. Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Detroit and Washington D.C. were the flashpoints, but truthfully it was a nationwide problem, as evidenced by Albany, Georgia, not even large enough to qualify as an actual city, not only once being named murder capital of the country but remaining in the top 5 and top 10 on the dreadful list produced by the FBI’s crime statistics for several years. Whole communities and regions felt unsafe, families abandoned these communities seeking safety, and those lacking the means or mindset to do the same (often the elderly and single parent led households) saw a generation of children grow up in fear. Even though the level of direct government complicity in this was nowhere near as high as it was in the first example, they certainly were not blameless. There was a general refusal – even hostility to – enforcing the law in many of these communities and a rejection of notions of law and order by many members of the citizenry and the governments that they elected, which emboldened the criminals even more to commit crimes against innocent people and violently resist law enforcement.
Even though it was never called such, these and other incidents in our nation’s history were clearly incidents of terror, and they resulted in a great many more deaths than Hamas’ rockets into southern Israel. For instance, nearly 4000 people were murdered in one single year in New York City alone. Less than ten years later when New York officials finally began to try to enforce the law, that total dropped to less than 1,000.
So what if the response of the federal government in response to the Ku Klux Klan and other hate group terror, especially after incidents like Rosewood and Tulsa, been to conduct a bombing campaign in civilian areas, residential communities, targeting KKK members, their sympathizers, and families – including those that had committed no crimes – and in the process killing as many innocent civilians as their actual targets, if not more? What if the US government’s response to those criticizing the war on its own citizens as “where the Ku Klux Klan blows up churches and homes and kills innocent people by design, we target KKK members and kill innocents accidentally.”
What if the response to the criminal violence in our inner cities in the 1980s had been to use missiles and machine guns in the public housing projects and neighborhoods where the drug gangs lived and were known to congregate? Do not be naive, such gangs were organized criminal enterprises who killed many innocent people directly and many more indirectly.
In both cases, there would have been massive public outcry against the tactics. This nation would have never supported military action against the Ku Klux Klan and the drug gangs or any of the other groups of people that have spread large scale mayhem in our national history, and certainly not indiscriminate violence that could have had no consequence except kill large numbers of innocents.
Yet truthfully, that is very similar to what is going on in Israel right now. Israel, along with its allies and the media, have done a very good job at portraying themselves as being at war. It is not quite true. They cannot be at war with the Palestinians because the Palestinians are not a foreign state, or even a group operating out of a foreign state with that state’s unwillingness or inability to control them. Instead, the Palestinians are a group of people within Israel’s domain; under Israel’s military and ultimately political control (though Israel does not exert political control over these territories for domestic and international political reasons).
So Israel is not at war in Gaza the way that, say, the United States was at war with Germany and Japan, or even in our undeclared wars – and in my opinion illegal under our own Constitution – which are technically conflicts in Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and both Iraq campaigns. It also does not even rise to being considered a civil war. (Even if it did, Israel would NEVER call it a civil war because of internal and international political considerations.) Instead, Israel is using military tactics against its own population, people that live within their own borders.
It is true, the Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, and do not wish to be. It is equally true, however, that Israel would not grant citizenship to the Palestinians anyway. Israel’s citizen population contains only 5.5 million Jews against 1.5 million Israeli Arabs. About 1.5 million Arabs live in Gaza, 2.3 million Arabs live in the West Bank. So add the nearly 4 million Palestinians to the 1.5 million Israeli Arabs, and the result would be a roughly equal proportion of Jews and Arabs – 5.5 million – with the Arab Muslim population growing far faster than the Jewish one. Israel would no longer be a Jewish state.
So rather than viewing Israel’s bombing and invading Gaza in the same terms as America going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, it would truthfully be more analogous to our sending tanks and missiles into our Native American reservations in response to any violent nationalist movement on their part. (I will not say the same regarding a similarly violent movement, whether political or criminal, involving illegal immigrants holed up in a particular area, because like the Palestinians in Israel, the Native Americans were living on the very land that outsiders came to and declared to be a nation with them still on it. Of course, this is not to compare Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to America’s initial – and long running – treatment of its indigenous population.)
So what is it that allows Americans – particularly Christians – to accept tactics against Palestinians that we would have never accepted had they been used against the Ku Klux Klan or the Bloods and Crips? (I wonder who killed more innocent people: the KKK or Hamas? The Crips or the PLO?) Or more accurately, the communities of 99% innocent civilians that had nothing to do with the KKK or the street gangs but would still wind up bearing the brunt of the collateral damage that everyone knows is inevitable?
I will say this on behalf of the Israeli government, however: the behavior of the Palestinians make it difficult to defend this population. Compare the Palestinians with, say, the residents of our inner cities during the crime crisis. Of course, in these inner cities there were plenty of criminals. Even worse, there were a great many criminal sympathizers: politicians and activists who claimed that the criminals were acting out of economic privation and political marginalization, and that efforts to punish them and impose law and order were illegitimate and criminal in and of themselves. Many of them called the police officers an occupying army, or criminals themselves. And keep in mind: it was not marginal people who held these views, but rather the mayors of large cities, members of the US Congress, prominent members of academia, and not a few influential preachers. So you had not only criminals, but those who were pro – criminal, and the latter group was actually the most harmful.
However, this element was not universal. There were scores in these communities who opposed crime and the leaders and sympathizers that enabled it. Such people petitioned the police, went to various political leaders, and took their case to the media. Some of them even took matters into their own hands by staging “clean up our streets” or “save our kids” marches and rallies, organizing neighborhood watches and cooperative ventures with the police, etc. In some cases this was dangerous work, because the criminal element that had an interest in these communities remaining lawless and feeling powerless at times targeted the leaders and participants of these anti – crime ventures for murderous violence, but they continued their work.
What difference did these people make? Regrettably very little, because it was a small amount of people with very little resources and know how against heavily organized and ruthless criminal networks, corrupt or incompetent government officials, and/or higher profile and better funded community leaders with different agendas. However, despite the failure of the citizens of these communities that worked to promote law abidedness to accomplish anything but prevent a few crimes and clean up a block or neighborhood here or there, the fact is that the very presence of such people let the government and its citizens know that the entire population of these inner cities were not opposed to law and order. Instead there were people, lots of them, who opposed not only the criminals and gangs, but the politicians and activists that were creating and defending the lawless environment that enabled them to thrive.
So I must ask: where are the counterparts of these people among the Palestinians? I remember this one particularly tragic case in Baltimore where this woman tried to stand up to the drug dealers on her block. The drug dealers responded by setting fire to her place of residence, killing her along with her entire family. Where are the people like this woman among the Palestinians?
Now keep in mind: these Palestinians in question need not necessarily support the Israeli state in order to take a stand like this. They merely need to A) oppose terrorism, especially terrorism done by people allegedly representing them and purporting to advance their interests and B) want to avoid the inevitable Israeli response to terrorism. There needs to be a visible movement of Palestinians willing to stand up and say that sending rockets – as well as suicide bombers and everything else – against Israel and claiming that it is done by their leaders with their support is wrong, morally and politically. At the very least, there needs to be Palestinians with the basic survival or self preservation impulse – as well as a desire to protect the lives of their women and children – to hold marches and demonstrations saying “we are not Hamas, we are not Hizbullah, we are not sending rockets into your country, don’t bomb us!” And yes, there should be an effort on behalf of these people to prevent being used as human shields. “Don’t fire rockets from our mosque. Don’t hide your fighters in my school where my kid attends. Don’t stash your weapons in the hospital where I plan to take my pregnant wife when she has our baby. Because when Israel counterattacks, I don’t want my family to die!”
Some people may claim that there are plenty of Palestinians who feel this way, but refuse to speak out for fear of Hamas and similar groups. First, the very fact that Hamas’ (and Hizbullah’s) alleged leadership is so vicious that its own people live in terror of it shows that people who apologize for Hamas, believe that Israel should give them credibility or status by acknowledging and negotiating with them, etc. are not being honest. How on earth could allowing the Palestinians to be ruled by such people be in the best interests of the Palestinians, and how could those who would murder their own people for the “crime” of not wanting to be collateral damage be trusted to not continue trying to destroy Israel?
Second: so what if Hamas will retaliate! Is being killed by Hamas any better than being killed by Israel? I understand the argument that death is more certain for the Palestinian that rejects Hamas. However, the counterargument must be considered: making their opposition to terror and the use of human shields known would force Israel to deal with that fact. Right now, Israel is able to treat all residents of Gaza as potential Hamas sympathizers because there is no hard evidence otherwise.
There are no TV pictures of Palestinians demonstrating in the streets “down with Hamas, we want peace!” or even of their attempting to drive terrorists using them as human shields (and by the way, the terrorists are often long gone, leaving the innocent victims behind, before Israel strikes back!) out of their homes and schools. Al Jazeera would be able to run stories ad infinitum “this man, who risked death trying to stop Hamas from firing rockets from his apartment building, is now dead and his family. They were killed not by Hamas, but by an Israeli air strike!” and Israel would have to deal with it. One of the ways to deal with it: do their best to protect Palestinian dissenters against terror and against Hamas, or at least against being used as human shields, which is enough to qualify you as “a moderate.”
But we don’t see any of that. Instead, we see pictures of Palestinian youths throwing rocks at Israeli tanks instead of throwing rocks at the Hamas terrorists that are drawing the Israeli tanks to their homes, schools, and refugee camps. If you want to blame Israel for your being in a refugee camp, fine. But it is the terrorist using you and your family as human shields that is causing those tanks to fire on your refugee camp, and you yourself saw the “brave freedom fighters” scurry like roaches at the first sight of that tank, leaving you to face down the tank without even the benefit of the same escape route that they took. Now while the Israeli state is the long term problem, the tank about to rain deth on you and your family is the short term problem, and you blame the Israeli state rather than the cause of the immediate problem?
Again, this is the opposite of those who stood up to gang and drug violence in their inner city neighborhoods. Many of them held grievances against America’s political, economic, and social structures and might have actually agreed with the street radicals in theory. But in practice they knew that it was the drugs and thugs killing their kids in the streets, not the bankers and the governors, and those were the ones that they stood up to or went to the chiefs of police begging them to do something about.
So with Hamas firing rockets at Israel and no evidence that any Palestinian opposes it – or even opposes being used as a human shield – how else is Israel supposed to act? What evidence is there that the 1.5 million residents of Gaza not only support Hamas, but support them enough to stand up and sacrifice themselves and their innocent family members as collateral damage?
This is not to say that I support Israel’s tactics in Gaza. Quite the contrary, I really honestly want to oppose it. However, the behavior of the Palestinians makes opposition to Israeli tactics virtually impossible. Israel has just as much responsibility to show that they will not tolerate being subjected to rocket fire as the political leaders of Florida and Oklahoma had to show that they would not tolerate mob violence, and the hundreds of innocent dead people, including women and children, in Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma shows what happens when that responsibility is not taken. However, the Palestinians also have a responsibility to unconditionally dissassociate themselves from those who would murder innocent people by firing rockets at civilians and using human shields in the process.
Hamas’ claims that their firing rockets was in response to Israel’s using a blockade to force its legitimately elected regime into crumbling has considerable merit, but the 1.5 million residents of Gaza are not Hamas. If anything, were the residents of Gaza to separate themselves from Hamas’ terrorism while insisting that Israel respect the results of the free and democratic elections that Israel itself allowed to occur knowing full well that Hamas might win, that would pressure Israel to stop punishing the Palestinian people for Israel’s mistakes. Hamas’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist is an issue between Hamas and Israel, but Israel’s refusal to allow food, medicine, fuel etc. into Gaza is an issue between the people of Gaza and Israel. But the absence of anyone willing to publicly reject Hamas terror tactics or even their using infants as human shields allows Israel to basically paint the 1.5 million population as Hamas and act accordingly.
It is not right, and it is not fair, but the exceedingly foolish (and that is being kind!) behavior of the Palestinian people allows Israel to get away with its conduct. Israel can and should take responsibility for the peaceful Palestinians, either by granting them a state or by absorbing them within their own state, and then treating the terrorist Palestinians as the criminals that they are. However, lacking the cooperation of Palestinians that are not terrorists, Israel doesn’t have to do a thing. They can simply sit and allow conditions to linger. Why not? The Palestinians are the ones that have to deal with the overwhelming amount of misery and tragedy. It also keeps Israel from having to deal with the not insubstantial portion of its own population – and of its evangelical Christian Zionist supporters – who do not want a Palestinian state, and yes that does include those who wish to drive the nearly 4 million Palestinians out of Israel, including eastern Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank.
Even though it would come at a very heavy cost – money and Israeli lives – Israel can and should do better. However, they have no pressing reason – or even no incentive? – to do so, and for that we have only the law abiding and terrorism opposing Palestinians to blame. Some more right wing Israelis claim “there is no such thing as a Palestinian.” That is a spurious proposition at best. But were such Israelis to claim “since there is no such thing as a Palestinian who opposes terrorism in any substantial way, then all Palestinians are terrorists and should be treated as such” then regrettably there isn’t much that can be said – or done – against that proposition. So even if the Israelis are acting in an unjust manner towards the Palestinians, the actions of the Palestinians allow them to get away with it. And since we are dealing with two populations here that save a tiny minority on both sides rejects Jesus Christ, what more can we expect?