The Perpetual Cycle of Blame in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lingered on for many decades, and it’s fast becoming a problem the world has minimal solution to solving. Will the tragedy of violence between Jews and Palestinian Arabs ever end? Reciprocal blaming suggests it’s a long shot at best.
The menace of war in the Middle East once again looks intractable. The war between Israel and Hamas is not slowing down, and the amount of suffering inflicted and body counts keeps climbing. The daily reports of large-scale deaths of civilians, the plight of 199 hostages, emerging details of the gruesome terrorist attacks, and the threat of a widening conflict all contribute to a sad sense of futility.
On Tuesday, October 14, The New York Times reported that an airstrike hit the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, killing hundreds of people. The health ministry in Gaza overseen by Hamas put the number killed at more than 400. Israel said its intelligence suggests a misfired rocket was to blame, launched by Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas. The rocket is reported to have landed in the hospital’s parking lot. Many civilians displaced by the war were sheltering at the hospital.
The World Health Organization issued a statement saying that the Al-Ahli hospital is one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip that had been given evacuation orders from the Israeli military.
So who’s to blame? This wouldn’t be the first time a rocket fired within Gaza malfunctioned and hurt civilians. But did Israel change its story? That’s the allegation published in The Palestine Chronicle. According to the story, an unnamed Israeli military spokesman said on the Aljazeera Arabic live blog that Israel had warned the Al-Ahli and five other hospitals to evacuate. I could not find a source for this smoking gun. The spokesman was not named, and I could not find this claim in any news story on the Aljazeera website. In fact, another story on Aljazeera says responsibility for the hospital bombing has not been independently verified.
Is Truth In Limbo? Questions of Propaganda
The citation that Israel was changing its story reportedly came from Xinhua, a state-run media company owned by the People’s Republic of China. I could not find this story on the English-language Xinhua website. However, I’ve read the news in a Chinese state-run newspaper and found this source suspect. As of 2020, the United States considered nine Chinese state-run media companies as foreign missions or propaganda organs of the Chinese government.
To further bolster its blame on Israel, The Palestine Chronicle reported that hospital administrators said they had been threatened with bombing if they did not evacuate. These administrators were not named. Also, most major hospitals in Gaza were reportedly given similar warnings. This article also said Israel had bombed the hospital on October 14, but again, I could not find a news story mentioning this bombing, even on Aljazeera. The Palestine Chronicle reported that Israel had bombed other hospitals, including Al-Dura Hospital—another news report I was unable to find, even on Aljazeera, which reported extensively on the Al-Ahli hospital bombing.
The Palestinian Chronicles furthered its allegation against Israel by mentioning that Israeli aircraft had struck a school run by the UN in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp that was sheltering civilians. This account has been verified by multiple news outlets. But again, as disgusting as the bombing of a school is, it does not, in itself, prove responsibility for a hospital bombing.
The Times of Israel reports that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shared evidence on October 18 that supports its claim that it did not fire the missile to blame for the hospital explosion. The IDF says it intercepted a conversation between Hamas officials in which the explosion is blamed on Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
American intelligence purportedly includes satellite data pinpointing the missile launch to Palestinian fighters in Gaza. This claim, however, has not been independently verified. On CNN, a military analyst viewed video and judged that the rocket was fired in Gaza and fell into the hospital parking lot due to a failing motor.
Will Israel release this intelligence to prove to the world that this horrific bombing was the work of Islamic Jihad and not the Israeli military? Doing so might help turn down the temperature. Then again, the horrors of the Israel-Palestine conflict usually prove that people will believe what they want to believe and never change sides. To wit, The Palestine Chronicle reported that the missile that struck the Al-Ahli hospital could not have come from Gaza because no ordinance there could have produced that powerful of an explosion. Conversely, Israel has said the lack of a crater at the bomb site proves the explosion was not the work of an Israeli IDF.
Biden’s Pledges Support to Israel
President Biden visited Tel Aviv on Wednesday, October 18, pledging full support to Israel in its war against Hamas. But Biden also cautioned against military overreach in the face of what could become a widening conflict.
After Biden’s visit, it was announced that food, water, and other humanitarian supplies would be allowed through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Friday, October 20. Aid trucks entered Gaza the next day. Biden also announced $100 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and the West Bank.
The Clash of Opinions
Opinions from the left and the right have focused on different things, glossing over or avoiding self-incriminating information. Western media, being largely pro-Israel, publishes opinion pieces that often defend to some degree Israel’s response to the horrific attacks on October 7, tending to cite the gruesome figures that Hamas killed more than 1,400 people, wounded more than 4,200 people, and kidnapped almost 200 Israeli citizens (including children and the elderly) to use as bargaining chips—a blatant war crime.
All discussions of humanitarian concern should extend to the people (particularly children) of both Israel and Gaza, as exemplified in this opinion piece in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. However, Western opinion pieces are usually light on the long historical plight of displaced Palestinians. If the United States, Britain, and other allies of Israel want to make headway in the Middle East, the Palestinian citizens need to hear that their plight is heard and understood.
Conversely, commentary in The Palestine Chronicle by historian Ilan Pappe mentions none of the tragic details from October 7. Pappe is the author of “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” which chronicles the expulsion of around 720,000 of the 900,000 Palestinian Arabs living in what would become Israel during the 1948 Palestine war. In his opinion piece, “My Israeli Friends: This is Why I Support Palestinians”, Pappe does not pledge support to just Palestinian citizens. He expresses roundabout support for Hamas terrorists by saying that he understands “the settler colonial nature of Zionism, and [am] horrified by its policies against the indigenous people of Palestine.”
“It is this moral compass,” Pappe says of this understanding, “that enables us…to admire the courage of Palestinian fighters who took over a dozen military bases, overcoming the strongest army in the Middle East.” There is no mention of Israeli civilians killed in their homes or slaughtered en masse at a music festival devoted to peace.
Pappe furthers his moral hedge against the recent atrocities by saying, “Also, people like me cannot avoid but raise questions about the moral or strategic value of some of the actions that accompanied this operation.” That’s his strongest statement against the violence of Hamas, and it’s a complete dodge of moral culpability for atrocities that included decapitating babies, parading people through the streets, and burning people alive in their homes. A war crime is a war crime, no matter who commits it.
Western Colonialism and Culpability
Just as defenders of Palestinians must do better in acknowledging blame for the horrors committed by Hamas, Western allies of Israel must do better in their outreach to Palestinians. If we are to confront the entirety of the horror in Palestine and Gaza—and attempt to reckon with the whole of Israel’s history—we cannot turn away when it is convenient for our argument. Only honest conversations will bring the whole of the problem into view and make peace possible. And that problem goes back a long way.
We are at the end of a long trajectory that includes British occupation of Palestine, the Balfour Declaration in 1917 that spelled out Britain’s support for establishing a Jewish state, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, various insurgencies, the Six-Day War in 1967, and multiple intifadas—not to mention the multiple peace talks hosted by U.S. presidents that never resulted in a Palestinian state. The whole thing is a powder keg inside a Rubik’s cube.
We also wrestle with long-standing memories of anti-semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust during World War II, which contributed to the establishment of the state of Israel.
But we also must talk about the 700,000 Palestinians who were kicked off their land in 1948 in order to make room for the ethnically monolithic state of Israel. Does this Zionist campaign not qualify as an ethnic cleansing and a post-colonial land grab?
This history of dispossession is what animates hatred in the Middle East toward Israel. There must be a two-state solution. Sadly, the mere attempt at peace has proven deadly. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979, making Egypt the first Middle Eastern country to officially recognize Israel. Two years later, Islamic fundamentalist army officers assassinated Sadat on October 6, 1981.
This Is Israel’s September 11
In its response to this crisis, Israel would do well to review the aftermath of Al Qaeda’s attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Just as the attacks from Hamas have awakened Israel to terrorists’ never-ending fixation on violence, so did 9/11 wake up Americans to the realities of terrorism brought to its shores.
Since then, a number of terrorist attacks have been carried out on European civilians, such as by the Islamic State on November 13, 2015, in Paris. Today, Hamas is acting like the Islamic State, whose fanatical ideology justifies murder for drawing Muhammad. If Palestinian supporters acknowledged this moral failing and denounced such religiously inspired hatred, intolerance, and calls to violence, it would go a long way.
But that’s not how Pappe sees the issue, writing in his op-ed, “The picture is that of a colonized people fighting for survival, at a time when its oppressors had elected a government, which is hellbent on accelerating the destruction, in fact, the elimination of the Palestinian people—or even their very claim to peoplehood. Hamas had to act, and quickly so.”
This defense of Hamas makes no mention of Hamas’s stated goal of wiping Israel off the map. Why would it? That would be shooting yourself in the foot. Why admit this truth when it’s easier to say, “Western media and politicians went along with the Israeli discourse and the narrative, however problematic it was.”
What is truly problematic is focusing solely on the bad deeds of one side. Can’t we defend the humanitarian rights of the citizens of Gaza while still denouncing war crimes, whether committed by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Israel?
The citizens of Gaza are prisoners of both an Israeli blockade and an arguably unpopular Hamas government. And now, they are caught in the crossfire. According to a recent poll by the Washington Institute, the majority of Gazans (62 percent) supported the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. In addition, 50 percent of respondents agreed with a statement saying Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction and accept a two-state proposal along the 1967 borders.
The citizens of Gaza are not Hamas, although admittedly, enough of them voted for Hamas to put them in power. But right now, all of them are suffering through a humanitarian crisis that was exacerbated by Israel’s blocking of aid and continues due to inspections of the trucks carrying humanitarian aid.
Dreams of a two-state solution are more potent than ever. But in the aftermath of Hamas’s bloodbath, the divisions between Israel and Palestine look starker than ever.