Pro-Hamas demonstration in London
It’s now 11 days since Hamas launched its barbaric October 7 attack from Gaza, brutally murdering — according to the latest figures I’ve seen — more than 1,400 Israelis (most of them civilians), injuring over 4,100 more and kidnapping nearly 225 people, including children, and holding them hostage in Gaza.
As the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is preparing to enter Gaza to destroy Hamas, which for years has been richly earning its impending annihilation, there have been widespread calls on Israel to avoid harming innocent civilians and claims (often false) of Israeli overreaction and even war crimes.
I am no more in favor of hurting innocent Gazans than any innocents, anywhere. And, yes, I am quite aware that although Gaza’s population — like most Palestinian Arabs — has been steeped in decades of propaganda and “education” that vilifies Jews and Israel, it nonetheless includes people who are quite innocent of the crimes perpetrated by Hamas and its terrorist allies, e.g., Islamic Jihad (jihad means holy war), Hezbollah (“Party of God”) and the mullahs’ repugnant regime in Iran.
While many governments, organizations and ordinary people around the globe have denounced the savage attack by Hamas, I am disgusted by the reaction of thousands of demonstrators on college campuses and public squares in the U.S. and many other civilized countries who are blaming the horrific bloodshed on its very victims, the Israelis.
Pro-Hamas demonstration at Harvard. If I didn’t receive my master’s degree there at a time (1968) when common sense and sober scholarship still reigned, I’d be inclined to tear it up or send it back.
As one post I saw on Twitter/X explained it, “Pro-Palestinian” demonstrations around the world calling for Intifadas [bloody uprisings] and the gassing of Jews began after Hamas’ massacre of Jews and before Israel’s response [began] in Gaza. They were not standing in solidarity with Palestinians, they were celebrating dead Jews.
I think that nails it. By calling to gas the Jews, these demonstrators, many but far from all of them Arabs or other Muslims and most of the rest unhinged “progressives,” have forfeited the goodwill of decent people everywhere. They are nothing but vile anti-Semites.
Let me be clear and candid. Anti-Semite means Jew hater, and I, as a second-generation Jewish American almost all of whose family in Europe was murdered in the Holocaust, utterly detest anti-Semites. I detest bigots of all kinds, but anti-Semites get an extra dose of my bile.
Before I continue, let me give a break to those who lack the time or patience for a lengthy read. Here, in a nutshell, is a summary of my most salient thoughts:
- The October 7 slaughter by Hamas and Israel’s ongoing response to it are the sole responsibility of Hamas. Israel is not to blame, even for inadvertent civilian casualties (“collateral damage”) in Gaza. Those who claim otherwise either do not know what they’re talking about or have been sold a bill of goods. While I won’t make a blanket accusation of Jew hatred, I will say that people who accept all or much of the Palestinian “narrative” about the conflict have almost certainly been taken in, to one degree or another, by anti-Semites. And unfortunately, because several generations of Arabs and many Muslims around the world have been fed an unremitting diet of lies about Israel, their narrative is full of anti-Semitism and cannot be accepted at face value.
- I challenge anyone who claims the Israeli response to Hamas — including the shut-off of the electricity, water, fuel and food deliveries to Gaza that Israel has been conducting for years despite relentless attacks by Hamas — is “disproportionate” to tell me WHAT WOULD BE PROPORTIONATE to the rampage and indiscriminate murder of men, women, children and the elderly in their homes and beds, rape, the beheading of babies, setting fire to homes in order to flush out and shoot people who were hiding, and kidnapping and threatening to murder hostages (“execute” is too antiseptic a term).
Bloodstained child’s bed in kibbutz overrun by Hamas terrorists
- A great deal of what most people “know” of this conflict — and I mean those who have not been following the Arab-Israeli conflict with great interest since the mid-1950s, as I have, and who depend for their information on the mainstream media (including the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, BBC, CNN, MSNBC, etc.) — is either woefully incomplete, lacking in historical context and accuracy, and/or is the result of deliberate misinformation, lies and bias on the part of (often lazy) reporters who prefer the Palestinian “narrative” to the truth.
As a student of history and a highly concerned, well-informed observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I’ll now continue with this effort to provide context (i.e., helpful, truthful information) and debunk a great deal of what some people have been led to think they “know.”
About Hamas and Gaza
- Let’s think for a moment about how innocent people might fare as Israel invades Gaza and continues its air attacks on Hamas military targets. Outside observers are understandably concerned about civilians’ welfare. First, it’s worth noting that Hamas is not a regular army; it’s a terrorist organization that often conducts its operations in civilian clothes; it also fires its rockets at Israeli towns and cities from the shelter of schools, hospitals, markets, UN facilities and office buildings, thus violating two more laws of war — first, seeking to avoid counterattack by hiding in/behind civilian infrastructure (i.e., places Israel is reluctant to target so as to avoid hurting noncombatants) and second, targeting Israeli civilians.
- Why does Hamas want to kill Jews? Because that is part of its raison d’etre. If this seems hard to believe, check out the Hamas Charter, including its Article 7 — “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’” The Hamas charter also cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Article 32), an infamous anti-Semitic forgery created by Czarist Russia’s secret police in 1903 that accuses the Jews of plotting world domination.
- When I see reports of people, organizations and other nations demanding that Israel act in certain ways — e.g., “Don’t tell people to flee south” and “Don’t shut off electricity, water, fuel and food deliveries” — I wonder why anyone should expect Israel to bend over backward to assist people many of whom wish to wipe Israel off the map and murder the Jews. Still, despite such hatred (see below), Israel routinely does make such an effort on behalf of Palestinian residents.
- You might suppose that with Hamas intent on killing Jews, Israel might not give a fig about the death of Gaza civilians. That would be a mistake. I’ve seen reports from several retired U.S. and British military men who have seen IDF operations up close. As retired British combat veteran Col. Richard Kemp has written, “the IDF does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” I recall reading a report, for example, about Israeli pilots, who, in a recent battle with Hamas, were about to bomb a military target in Gaza, but instead returned to base when they spotted a child on a bicycle on the street outside. Yes, there are individual Israeli soldiers (as well as extremists among the Jewish settlers on the West Bank) who sometimes illegally attack Arabs, but Israel usually brings justice to such outlying cases, which, in any event, are broadly rejected by Israeli public opinion (which also decries what it views as lenient punishment for attacks by Jewish extremists).
- One of the best examples of how Israel does its best to avoid civilian casualties is the practice of its air force (the IAF) to “knock on the roofs” of buildings identified as military targets. IAF pilots, before unleashing bombs or rockets at a building housing a Hamas rocket factory or headquarters, fire loud but low-yield explosives at the roof of the building to warn residents they have several minutes (up to 30 according to some sources) to flee before the building is bombed. The IAF also phones residents to give them a spoken warning. Except for the U.S. Air Force, which began to copy Israeli roof-knocking in the 2016 campaign against ISIS in Iraq, I have heard of no other military that goes to such lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Moreover, such warnings, while morally appealing, can be militarily counterproductive since they give not only noncombatants but terrorists a chance to flee (and fight another day).
- Something I’ve seen much discussed as the IDF prepares to launch its ground assault is Israel’s warning to residents in the northern part of the Gaza Strip to flee south. Perversely, some people claim this Israeli effort to save civilian lives is inhumane, even a war crime. Actually, Hamas hopes that if people remain in place, they will slow and complicate the coming Israeli incursion (since Hamas knows the IDF tries to avoid hurting civilians), putting Israeli soldiers in greater danger. If you’re looking for war crimes, what better example can you find than Hamas telling Gaza civilians to stay in harm’s way and serve as human shields?
- But actually, here is an even better example: Hamas has not only told residents in Gaza’s north to stay home — yes it has! — it also attacked a group that was nonetheless fleeing south and claimed the explosions that killed some 70 of them was an “IAF air raid.” Yes, Hamas deliberately killed Palestinians to discourage their escape from “service” as human shields and blamed Israel (which had encouraged the effort to escape) for their deaths, a disgusting “false flag” attack on its own population.
Israeli trucks delivering a wide range of goods lined up waiting to cross into Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing (a daily routine until Oct. 7)
- It’s hard to read anything about Gaza without seeing the claim that Israel has turned the area into an open-air prison. This is a lie. Here’s the truth. Beginning in 2005, when, on its own initiative Israel withdrew all troops and Jewish settlers from Gaza (occupied after Israel won the Six Day War of 1967, defeating Egypt, which had triggered that conflict), it has regularly delivered electricity, water, fuel and food to Gaza. (Wealthier Gaza residents actually have access to a wide range of consumer goods as well as luxury resorts. For more photos, see this link.) For most of the time since 2005, Israel has also allowed Gazans to cross into Israel to work, and it has allowed Gazans (including family members of the Hamas leadership) to receive life-saving treatments for cancer and other conditions in Israeli hospitals. UN data show that some 14,200 Gazans entered Israel between January and August this year for medical care.
A mall in Gaza, the “open-air prison”
- If Gaza is not actually a prison, people might wonder why it is fenced off, with strict controls at crossing points into both Israel and Egypt. (Yes, it’s not only Israel but Egypt that maintains fences and tight border controls around Gaza.) The answer is that Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority (PA — more on the PA below), culminating its coup by murdering PA officials, throwing them off the roof of tall buildings.
- Earlier, in 2005, in a gesture it hoped would ease the way toward negotiating a two-state solution with the PA, Israel withdrew all its soldiers and Jewish settlers from Gaza. In other words, it literally ended its occupation of Gaza (something the Palestinians would prefer people not realize because it contradicts their narrative). The Jewish settlers strongly opposed this, so the government had to send soldiers in to forcibly remove Jews from their homes, businesses, synagogues — it even exhumed Jews from their Gaza cemeteries and reburied them in Israel proper. As soon as the withdrawal was completed, the PA destroyed everything the settlers had left behind — homes, shops, greenhouses, irrigation infrastructure, everything — in an expression of blind hatred. After Hamas threw the PA out of Gaza two years later, Hamas turned it into a base for a series of deadly attacks against Israel, repeatedly launching thousands of rockets at surrounding Israeli communities (the very ones it overran last week) and even major population centers including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These Hamas attacks led to a series of relatively modest IDF strikes on Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has likened to “mowing the grass” in an effort to limit casualties on both sides rather than undertaking the full-scale assault to destroy Hamas once and for all that is now almost certain to begin.
- You’ve probably seen or heard that October 7, when Hamas began its rampage, is “Israel’s 9/11.” You may recall that the death toll from the 9/11/2001 attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and four U.S. airliners was roughly 3,000. (For comparison, the death toll from Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was about 2,400 — mostly soldiers and sailors.) The deaths on 9/11 represented about 0.001% of America’s population of roughly 300 million. Israel’s 1,400 deaths represent about 0.014% of its population of 9.73 million (of whom only about 75% are Jews; most of the rest are Muslim and Christian Arab-Israelis, full citizens). Proportionate to its population then, Israel’s death toll is 14 times higher than that of the U.S. on 9/11. If the 9/11 terrorists had been as “successful” as Hamas last week, they would have killed not 3,000 but over 40,000 Americans. No wonder Israel is determined to clear Hamas out of Gaza.
- Israeli soldiers surely know, going into Gaza, that if captured they can hardly expect to be treated like POWs under the Geneva Convention. They’ll probably be held as additional hostages or tortured and gruesomely murdered. I suspect this will likely make them somewhat more cautious and less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to Gazans who appear threatening. This, regrettably, might translate into an instinct to “shoot first, ask questions later” on the part of IDF’s citizen soldiers.
About Prospects for Peace
- From the numerous public opinion surveys I’ve seen reported over the course of many years, most Palestinians would prefer to defeat Israel through violence than reach a negotiated two-state solution (i.e., an independent Arab Palestine living in peace alongside a predominantly Jewish Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy).
- In the latest such survey I’m aware of — by the Pew Research Center in April 2023 — over half the Palestinian population of Gaza and the West Bank combined preferred “armed struggle” (53%) to “peaceful popular resistance” (24%) and “negotiations” (20%) as the way to resolve the conflict with Israel. Previous readings of Palestinian public opinion I’ve seen over the years have shown that West Bank and Gaza Palestinians reject the concept of living peacefully with Israel by much larger — actually overwhelming — majorities. I think it’s fair to say that most Palestinians prefer the disappearance of Israel and its replacement by an Arab Palestine (a one-state solution) that would have either no Jewish inhabitants or allow Jews to live only as dhimmis, second class subjects, which is the way Jews and Christians traditionally lived for over a millennium in Muslim-ruled nations.
- This is in considerable contrast to Israeli public opinion, which for years broadly supported the efforts of their government to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (i.e., the Oslo peace process). The PA’s increasingly sharp turn away from serious negotiations (while blaming Israel for negotiations’ failure, despite Israel having made repeated offers that met most PA demands) has turned Israeli public opinion to what I view as a resigned acceptance of the status quo — a readiness to limit and contain Palestinian violence (intifada, that is suicide bombings, stabbings, car rammings, kidnappings, murders, rock throwing, rioting) through police responses and preemptive armed breakup of planned attacks by Hamas and other terrorist cells in both Gaza and the West Bank.
- I’ve seen countless expert analyses that unanimously conclude that if the PA (or a responsible successor to it that enjoyed popular support in the West Bank and Gaza) were to negotiate seriously and agree to a reasonable two-state compromise proposal, no conceivable Israeli government could fail to support it, with broad public approval.
- Actually, I believe that public opinion would sweep away any Israeli government that opposed a reasonable two-state compromise proposal that the Palestinians would accept. That’s because I’m convinced the Israeli public at large hungers for peace far more ardently than any radical faction among Israeli Jews thirsts for annexation of Palestinian areas or for revenge for Palestinian atrocities.
- I believe former Prime Minister Golda Meir was right when she wrote, “When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
About the Arab-Israeli Conflict More Generally
- What about the widespread claim that Israel actually deserved the Hamas attack because the Jews, in creating Israel, turned the area’s Arab inhabitants into refugees? I find this argument a monstrous effort to portray Hamas’ Israeli victims as the guilty party — the instigators/perpetrators of the bloody violence. Without going in depth into the history of Jews living in the area that is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, let me note some pertinent facts.
- Deadly Arab violence against Jews in Palestine goes back several decades before Israel was established in 1948. When significant numbers of European Jews began immigrating to the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (increasing the Jewish population that had remained there since the Romans defeated Jewish revolts in the first century AD/CE, exiling most Jews into what is now known as the Diaspora), Arab landowners were happy to sell them land, which the Jews began cultivating, draining swamps in the north of the country and “making the desert bloom” in its more arid areas. The Jews did not steal Arab land. In fact, as Jewish immigration grew in the 1920s and 30s, the thriving economy the Jews were building attracted thousands of migrants from other Arab countries.
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, with Hitler in Berlin during World War II
Grand Mufti saluting Bosnian Muslim Waffen SS troops, 1943
- Unfortunately, as the Jewish population grew, the local Arab leadership — most notably the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini (who later allied with Hitler and raised Muslim troops from the Balkans for the SS) — incited deadly riots and pogroms. (When I was a kid studying for my bar mitzvah in the mid-1950s, one of my Hebrew school teachers, who had grown up in British-ruled Palestine, told my class that his parents wouldn’t let him walk to school without a straight razor he could use for self-defense if attacked by an Arab gang.)
- Finally, when by 1947 the British gave up dealing with the widespread Arab and Jewish violence and said they were leaving Palestine, the UN voted to partition the country into two states, Jewish and Arab. The Jewish “government in waiting” (the Yishuv) accepted the plan, and Palestine’s Arab leadership and the governments of all the Arab countries (the Arab League) rejected it. This lit the fuse that exploded into Israel’s War of Independence the day of Great Britain’s withdrawal, May 15, 1948. Israelis consider that date the anniversary of their independence. Arabs call it the Nakba (Catastrophe).
Abdul Rahman Azzam
- Even as Israel’s neighbors prepared their invasion (which Arab League Secretary General Abdul Rahman Azzam said would “lead to a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades”), Palestine’s Arab inhabitants were encouraged to flee in order to stay out of danger as the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon invaded to kill and expel the Jews. They were told they’d be able to return home shortly, once the Jews were gone.
- That was the start of the Palestine refugee problem. Arabs claim that the Jews attacked Arab villages and drove them out, and there’s little doubt that some such attacks did occur, no doubt contributing to a panic that swelled the refugee exodus. However, from most of what I’ve read, the Arabs themselves are primarily responsible for creating the refugee problem.
- Not in dispute is that Israel has refused to allow all but a small number of the Arab refugees to return to their homes inside Israel since 1949. (The Arabs who stayed in their homes during the 1948-49 war — plus their descendants — now number about 2 million, constituting 21% of Israel’s population and enjoying full citizenship and civil rights.) Who could blame Israel for not wanting to receive a deluge of hundreds of thousands of people who violently oppose its existence? That, in brief, is the genesis of the Palestinian refugee problem.
- What the Palestinians call the “right of return” is one of the major sticking points to achieving a two-state solution. The others include agreed boundaries and the presence of Israeli settlers in the West Bank (what Israelis call Judea and Samaria), which Israel has occupied since the Arabs lost the Six Day War, which they triggered, in 1967.
- The 1948-49 fighting ended with a series of armistice agreements, not peace treaties. Today, the news media generally call the 1949 armistice lines Israel’s internationally recognized borders, although they are not fully recognized as such internationally. (These lines are also widely called the 1967 lines — or sometimes the Green Line, which separates Israel from the West Bank — since they lasted till Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of that year, triggered by threat of imminent invasion by Egypt, Syria and Jordan.) For three decades, no Arab country dared make peace with Israel — till the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1978 and a treaty with Jordan in 1994. Actually, the 1949 armistice lines resulted in Israel’s expanding its territory beyond what the UN partition plan had envisaged. This was the result of its unexpectedly successful defense against the far more numerous, better equipped but less motivated invaders. (They were less motivated because the Jews were fighting with their backs to the sea and nowhere to flee.)
- The UN considers that today the Arab refugee population includes not only the still-living among the roughly 600,000 who fled in 1948-49 but also all their progeny, now totaling nearly 6 million, 10 times as many as those who actually left what is now Israel. The original 600,000 Arab refugees are roughly the same number as the Arabic-speaking Jews (Mizrachi) whom the Arab countries all quickly expelled with, mostly, only the clothes on their backs following the establishment of Israel.
- The Palestinian refugees are the world’s only refugee population that hasn’t been integrated into the nations that received them, and they’re the only ones to have a dedicated UN agency (UNRWA) to support them — and in whose schools they are fed a curriculum laced with violent hatred for Israel. All the world’s other refugees are dealt with by the UN High Commission for Refugees, which generally manages to oversee their resettlement and integration in other nations.
- A point worth noting about the Palestinian refugees is that except for Jordan, Israel’s Arab neighbors have all failed to integrate these refugees into their economies and societies. To this day, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, for example, are not allowed to work. In Syria, they still live in refugee camps.
Temple Mount in Jerusalem
- One final point: Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque. Both Hamas and the PA repeatedly claim that Israel is “desecrating” it, a lie so enormous it beggars belief. Al Aqsa is located in a compound on what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call al-Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. This is the site on which the Jews’ first (Solomon’s) and second temples stood, until the Romans destroyed the second temple in 70 AD/CE. (The Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 587 BCE.) The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site. A retaining wall at its base — the Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel — is all that remains of the structure. The two mosques were built after the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 637 AD/CE. Al Aqsa is considered Islam’s third holiest site (after mosques in Mecca and Medina) and the place from which believers claim that Muhammad ascended to heaven. When Israel, in winning the Six Day War, took control of the Old City of Jerusalem (occupied by Jordan, 1948-67), its government promptly turned administration of the Temple Mount (but not the Western Wall) over to the Waqf, a Muslim organization responsible to the Jordanian government. This was, in the view of the Israeli government, a gesture of respect and peaceful intentions. Expanding on this gesture, Israel further forbade (and still forbids) Jews from praying anywhere on the Temple Mount, although they were/are permitted to visit the area. The Israeli government has adhered rigorously to this policy ever since. Moreover, although some ultra-religious Jews wish to rebuild the Temple on the site, this is opposed not only by the Israeli government, but also by rabbinic authorities who consider that the Temple can only be rebuilt when the Messiah appears. Clearly, Al Aqsa is in no danger of desecration by Israel.
Israeli soldiers dancing at the Western Wall, celebrating the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in June 1967. While the Old City was under Jordanian rule, 1948-1967, Jews were kept from accessing and praying at the wall.
I am grateful to any readers who have made it all this way, and I hope this will put into greater perspective much of the misinformation (and outright falsehoods) you read and hear.
P.S. I’m back at my keyboard this morning, Wednesday, Oct. 18, the day after I’d finished (I imagined!) this post. There was some big news late yesterday, which is still loudly reverberating — a blast at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City last night, on the eve of President Biden’s solidarity visit to Israel. The Hamas “Health Ministry,” whose reports most of the media seem, against all evidence, to take at face value, claimed that the blast killed nearly 500 innocent victims. Israel said it had not targeted the hospital and, after a several-hours-long investigation, said photographic evidence showed the cause appeared to be the explosion of an Islamic Jihad rocket aimed at Israel that had fallen far short of its target (as many as 20% of Gaza’s rockets fail to reach Israel) and landed in the hospital’s parking lot, causing damage much greater than its warhead alone might have created because most of its propellant (fuel) burned on impact, igniting a huge fire.
The New York Times kept changing its headline, but never managed to implicate Hamas quite as much as it initially implicated Israel. (Photo illustration courtesy of The Free Press)
President Biden, asked about it upon his arrival in Israel this morning, said that information from the U.S. Defense Department appeared to corroborate Israel’s explanation. Over much of the Arab and Muslim world, however, the blast brought angry mobs into the street.
I’m left suspecting that the high reported death toll is another Hamas fiction designed to maximize damage to Israel’s reputation.
It’s often said that truth is the first casualty in war. To that, I’d add a thought I’ve seen attributed to Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
One final note: For accurate news, background information and thoughtful opinion pieces about Israel and the Mideast, I heartily recommend Honest Reporting, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI — for English translations of what the Arab and Iranian media are saying — prepare to be horrified!), Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post and Middle East Forum, all of which will be happy to send regular email updates if you ask.