One of the enduring mysteries of modern political discourse is the way in which smart people — who are not remotely anti-Semitic — impose curious, unworkable double standards on the nation of Israel. Let’s take, for example, the response of many on the left to the so-called Great Return March, an effort by thousands of Gazans to storm the Israeli border.
After all, the international legal standards are clear. A nation has the right to protect the integrity of its border, and that right is supplemented by an inherent right of self-defense in the face of a hostile foreign power. Hamas — which rules Gaza — rejects Israel’s right to exist and remains in a state of perpetual, declared war with Israel. Any reasonable person contemplating the consequences of a border-wall breach knows that chaos and bloodshed may result.
Moreover, every reasonably informed person knows that Hamas has a long history of using human shields, including women and children, to drum up international sympathy and deceive gullible foreign critics into believing that Israel is using lethal force against peaceful protestors who merely seek a peaceful resolution to an intractable conflict. Yet still yesterday we saw tweets and articles not just from the single-minded anti-Israel Left but also from far more thoughtful observers:
Is it the official position of the Israeli and US governments that lethal force is justified for unarmed protesters who approach a border fence with intent to climb it?
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 14, 2018
While Jewish + Christian bigots celebrate an occupied city, Jewish soldiers kill people fleeing an open-air prison. As a great lover of Zion said long ago, "This is not the way."
— Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) May 14, 2018
Let’s answer these tweets with a question. What would you have Israel do when thousands of people march on the border, some armed, some not? What would you have Israel do when you know that terrorists are certainly mixed in that crowd, people who’d gladly shoot or stab Israeli civilians if they were ever to gain access to Israeli towns?
You can’t let the wall come down. You can’t let thousands (or perhaps tens of thousands) of people flood into Israeli communities.
Oh, and you’re not allowed to presume that the Israeli military has superhuman ability to do what no military force has ever been able to do: effectively and reliably control hostile armed mobs with exclusively nonlethal means. In other words, tear gas won’t get the job done.
Israel could moderate its approach to Gaza tomorrow, and Hamas would seize as many assets as it could to construct terror tunnels and rebuild its military infrastructure.
One of the enduring problems in international dialogue about Gaza is that the Palestinian resistance is, quite simply, more vicious and violent — with ultimate eliminationist goals — than well-meaning leftists want or believe it to be. Take, for example, objections to the American embassy in Jerusalem. The real root of much of the Palestinian rage isn’t that the location of the embassy disrupts a (largely illusory) “peace process,” but rather that American action is yet another step toward solidifying permanent Israeli control over most of Jerusalem.
Hamas, to its very core, believes that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. None. To its very core, it believes that all of Palestine must be under Islamic control. It has absolutely no moral qualms about intentionally inflicting as many civilian casualties as possible in the pursuit of its absolutist goals. Israel could moderate its approach to Gaza tomorrow, and Hamas would seize as many assets as it could to construct terror tunnels and rebuild its military infrastructure. That’s the sad reality of life in Gaza.
And that sad reality presents Israel with few good options. That’s what evil does. It rarely presents the forces of reason with easy or simple solutions.
It’s also worth noting that there is a dispositional difference between left and right. American liberals are more likely to look at mass protests — even violent mass protests — and lionize the dissenters. That’s when you see phrases in news stories such as “mostly peaceful,” or you’ll read descriptions of the disparity in power between the rioters and the Israeli military — Palestinians’ kites and Molotov Cocktails versus Israelis’ Apaches and tanks. All too many liberals are blinded by the Palestinians’ underdog status and refuse to squarely consider that actual ideas and attitudes of the Palestinian rioters.
American conservatives hear phrases like “mostly peaceful” and scoff. That’s not Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. marching on the wall.
At the same time, American conservatives should no more excuse every IDF action or tactic than they should excuse every American action or tactic. Israel is a nation that is more dedicated to preventing civilian casualties than even the United States is, but it is not infallible. It needs an ally that can offer constructive criticism.
Yet while Israel is hardly perfect, its response to the Great Return March is necessary and prudent. Under no circumstances can it allow Hamas to breach its border fence. Nor can it hold its foreign policy (including the location of foreign embassies) hostage to threats of Palestinian terror or Palestinian riots. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and it will be the capital of Israel in any peace settlement. The only way Jerusalem will not be the Israeli capital is that Israel ceases to exist.
Formal American recognition of that reality isn’t wrong, and it isn’t reckless. It’s a cold dose of reality to a Palestinian cause that’s been steeped in eliminationist fantasies for generations. Rather than riot, it’s the Palestinian responsibility (including the Gazan responsibility) to understand that it cannot and will not destroy the Jewish state.