In the context of the extremely violent past century in the Middle East, the conflict between Israel and Palestine has taken a central place in the American public’s mind. Given the level of vitriol surrounding the recent events in the region, it’s important to develop a framework to clearly evaluate the situation and not quickly jump to conclusions.
October has not been kind to the Holy Land. Since Hamas decided to lob 5,000 explosive rockets over the border from Gaza toward Israeli civilians, their foot soldiers have murdered an estimated 1,400 people, and thousands more have been wounded or taken hostage. Israel’s actions in response have displaced an estimated 1.1 million people and killed thousands of Hamas fighters and Gazan civilians, with the IDF’s ground operations in Gaza expected to raise that number significantly.
Understanding the immediate history of the area is critical to forming an informed opinion on this contentious issue. “Palestine” isn’t one place. It’s a set of noncontiguous territories located around the borders of Israel. Contrary to popular opinion, Palestine is functionally a country. The State of Palestine has UN-recognized full jurisdiction over the West Bank, which is east of Israel, and the Gaza Strip, a narrow stretch of land on the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt. In response to decades of sectarian violence, all of this territory is under de facto Israeli military occupation, although the Palestinian Authority (Palestine’s government) is in full control over things like education and medical care. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is funded by Israel, which runs tax collection on their behalf because the PA has proven to be too corrupt to handle that basic function of government in the past. In 2007, Hamas (which is considered by the U.S., E.U. and other nations to be a violent terrorist group) won a majority of the seats in Palestine’s legislature and then proceeded to wage a war of assassinations and bombings against Fatah, Palestine’s other large political group, seizing total control of Gaza from the Palestinian government. Hamas’ charter is decidedly antisemitic with lines including “Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it” and “[t]he Day of Judgement will not come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.” Hamas has provoked two full-blown wars against Israel in 2009 and 2014 — each killing thousands of civilians — and engaged in a campaign of terror against Israeli civilians for nearly 20 years. This is the backdrop of the current issue. There are several ways to interpret events here.
First, we can look at which side in the conflict respects human rights and democracy. Israel is a multiethnic nation with full religious freedom, is by far the most developed country in the Middle East and is the only functioning free democracy in that region. Muslims, as do all citizens of Israel, have full constitutional rights and sit on Israel’s supreme court and in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature. The stated position of the Israeli government fully allows for Palestine to exist as a state and actively supports that state in numerous ways. Israel guarantees full rights to people of all ethnicities and gender identities while Palestine does not. Jews and Christians face tremendous religious persecution in Gaza and the West Bank. Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ, has seen almost all of its Christian population vanish over the last century. When surveyed, 59% of Palestinians deny Israel has the right to exist. The same survey goes on to show how 40% of Palestinians see violence displayed by Hamas as the best way to resolve the conflict in the region. Unlike terrorist groups such as ISIS or Al Qaeda who were fringe organizations that used extremism and crime to pursue their goals, Hamas is different in that it was elected to power and is widely supported by Palestine’s population. In Palestine, specifically Gaza, minorities both ethnic and otherwise have virtually no protections. The LGBTQ+ community there faces some of the harshest persecution anywhere in the world, infamously being executed in the street. This shows how ironic the “Queers for Palestine” narrative truly is. Palestine’s government uses antisemitism as its base justification for legitimacy. When we analyze events through this lens, the picture is clear. Israel is by far the better actor when judged on grounds like human rights and democracy.
Second, we can see which party has caused the most human death and suffering over the course of the 80-year conflict. The conflict has killed more than 30,000 people since its inception. Hamas, as well as other similar Islamic militant groups, partake in a degree of barbarism incomparable to the principled conduct of the Israeli military. We can see the civilian deaths brought on by Hamas activity in Gaza, a territory Hamas claims to defend. The al-Ahli Arab Hospital suffered a massive explosion on Oct. 17, killing between 100 and 300 people according to U.S. estimations. Hamas blames Israel for the explosion, but examination of camera footage and terrorist activity in the area led Israel as well as the U.S. military to conclude that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a U.S.-designated terrorist group allied with Hamas, fired a rocket that malfunctioned and landed on the hospital. This shows one instance of how blind Palestinian aggression resulted in hundreds of civilians dying a fiery death. Saturday, Oct. 7 was the deadliest single day for Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas has now paralleled Hitler in their capacity for hate. The Israeli military is not without fault either, but combat deaths and civilian casualties are often deeply apologized for by the Israeli government and soldiers receive training to minimize collateral damage when fighting terrorism. The campaign of West Bank settlements conducted by Israel is viewed by some in the international community as illegal, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Hamas executing civilians for simply being Jewish. Although many civilian casualties have been Palestinian, it is aggression from the so-called “Palestinian liberation” movement that has continued nearly a century of brutal violence and refused to negotiate beyond terms calling for the destruction of Israel as a state, tacitly rejecting a two-state solution.
When considering the body of history, the levels of human rights and democracy, and the overall death toll, the result is clear: There is no moral option but to support the people of Israel. Motivated by Islamic fundamentalism and antisemitism, the Palestinian people elected and continue to support a full-blown terrorist group and have helped feed the lie of the “Free Palestine” movement. Hamas’s blatant and widespread violations of human rights and antisemitism cannot be tolerated, and peace in the region can only be accomplished by their undoing. The destruction of Hamas has proven to be necessary for Israel’s national defense, the exercising of which is their right as a sovereign nation, whether the Palestinian people duly elected them or not. Dictatorial and abusive regimes throughout history have sometimes been democratically elected. Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany after being elected and becoming Germany’s chancellor. Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party rose to power in 1960s and 1970s Iraq with widespread public support. Both Hitler and Hussein were democratically elected, and both became genocidal dictators whose violent effect on the rest of the world was the cause for their military removal. The same is true of Hamas. The campaign of terror and violence waged by Hamas against the Israeli people is just cause for their elimination, and Israel is fully justified in executing this function of its national defense.
Sam Marchand is a freshman from Beaumont, Texas living in Keough Hall studying Finance and Political Science. He can be reached for questions or comments at [email protected].
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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.