I am 82, I deserve to retire. Words don’t flow freely anymore. Political passions have to make way for naps and junk novels. But political events have a way of stirring passions. More than 7,000 Palestinians dead from 6,000 bombs raining down their heads!
I can’t stay quiet in the face of this. Many profound, angry things have been written about the situation in Palestine. I can’t do the research necessary to add substantially to the analyses. What I can do is put some order to my feelings.
I want to start by saying I am pro-Palestine. I am not anti-Israel, though I am definitely against the Netanyahu right-wing government. I am not antisemitic. My son Diego is a Jew; he has a Jewish mother. I certainly am not a holocaust denier, though the moral authority of the Jewish people from the holocaust is being eroded by what is happening in Palestine.
Israel is built on Palestinian land when 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their farms going back to the nakba in 1948. Since then, Palestinians have been scattered in refugee camps in Lebanon and other Arab countries. At least 5 million live in the West Bank and Gaza. Since the 1967 war, the West Bank has been under Israeli occupation. Palestinians have to go through hundreds of checkpoints.
In South Africa this was called a system of apartheid.
There are 680,000 Israelis living in 300 settlements in the West Bank who are given priority access to water and other basic services. Settlers are officially backed by military and police in attacking Palestinians to expand settlements in violation of international law.
I experienced the indignity of having to go through checkpoints when I visited Ramallah in the West Bank. In a lecture I gave to university students, I asked them who would participate in demonstrations in the intifada, where they might be shot by Israeli soldiers. Every single one of them, men and women alike, said yes, they would.
Pressure has been particularly intense in Gaza where another 2.4 million Palestinians live in a narrow 41-square-mile sliver of land. Hamas, which was elected government in 2006, has maintained a militant stance in contrast to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The Netanyahu extreme-right government has emboldened settlers who have intensified attacks on Palestinians. With the support of police they have harassed pilgrims visiting the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque. It is telling that Hamas has called its Oct. 7 attack the Al-Aqsa Flood.
Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack was unprecedented. Nothing in Israeli history matches its severity. Among the 1,400 Israeli dead were women and children—a violation of international humanitarian law.
The Hamas attack has been called a terrorist attack. What should we call the Israeli response, with 6,000 bombs and over 7,000 victims and counting, the majority women and children, and supplies of food, water and fuel blocked? This is “collective punishment” and this goes way beyond self-defense.
It is difficult to predict which way this war will go. In an “asymmetrical war,” civilians on both sides are going to be victimized. The two sides are grossly unequal. Israel has the most powerful military in the whole Middle East. Hamas has two advantages: the terrain and its estimated 200 hostages. When Israeli soldiers enter Gaza, they will be fighting in an urban terrain with which Hamas is more familiar. And roughhouse tactics by the Israelis will endanger the hostages.
It’s been three weeks and as of this writing (Oct. 24), the Israelis have not entered Gaza despite daily threats. They fear that Hamas has prepared traps and unknown weapons. Then there is the threat of Hezbollah, a more powerful ally of Hamas in Lebanon which has threatened to join the war if the Israelis enter Gaza. Hezbollah is a much more powerful force and would alter the terms of the war.
Israeli tactics are obvious. Threaten entry into Gaza every day. Meanwhile, prepare the ground, bomb indiscriminately. Prevent food from entering so people starve. The expectation is that if the people are hungry enough, they will do what the Israelis are pushing: They will move to the south and only Hamas fighters will be left. Yet, few people are moving even with conditions getting worst by the day.
The propaganda of the United States and its allies, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, is that people are not moving because the nearest countries, Lebanon and Jordan, are refusing to accept Gaza refugees. But why should Jordan and Lebanon accept refugees? They know it is an Israeli tactic. Already they host hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in refugee camps. Besides, everyone remembers nakba, when Israel refused to accept the return of those it had kicked out.
To lessen the impact of the humanitarian crisis, direct aid through the Egyptian border has finally started, but after a week of waiting, less than 40 truckloads have been allowed in by the Israelis—a drop in the bucket. The solution to the humanitarian crisis is simple and obvious: a ceasefire and Israel’s lifting of its blockade on food. The reason the United States and its allies refuse to make the call is this: Hunger, and moving people out of the north of Gaza, is a crucial part of the Israeli game plan.
Despite intense attempts to suppress the pro-Palestinian movement—in France and Germany it is banned outright—it is growing. In England, where the Sunak government is supporting Israel, over 100,000 turned out for a pro-Palestine rally. Even in the United States, university students—and quietly, State Department staff—are critical of the Biden administration’s support of the Israelis.
The longer the crisis lasts, the greater the support for a solution that ends apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank.
A one-state solution is a non-starter. The Israeli ruling groups will never agree to a state where Jews are not given privileged status. A genuine two-state solution requires a number of things. The demolition of the 300 settlements in the West Bank. This is not impossible; this was done in Gaza. The release of hostages and political prisoners held in Israeli prisons. The end of Israeli control in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Only this solution will gain the support of neighboring Arab states. It might be the only way Israel will survive.
This piece was first run in the author’s Facebook account. —Ed.