When teaching about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I leave accounts of suffering aside. Such accounts, regardless of whose suffering is being described, are inherently partial. Neither side has a monopoly on misery. In terms of pain and sorrow, there truly is a moral equivalency between Israelis and Palestinians.
There is no moral equivalency, however, between the two sides’ motivations for their actions. Hamas rejects a two-state solution because it would recognize the existence of a sovereign Jewish state in what was once the abode of Islam, dar al-Islam. The one-state solution of Hamas requires the elimination of the Jewish State of Israel. Israel rightly refuses to be an accomplice to its own demise.
What shocks my students the most is to learn that there was never a State of Palestine. The only independent states that ever existed on that land are the ones described in the Bible—the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The names of Judah and Israel were expunged by the Romans after the Jews’ second revolt against their harsh colonial rule in the second century. They renamed what became an administrative province Syria-Palestina to echo the Israelites’ ancient enemies, long since vanquished, the Philistines. They also exiled the Jews who had survived the bloody suppression of those revolts.
Jews are not colonizers. You can’t colonize your own homeland. In the late-19th century, the age of nationalism, the Zionist movement asserted the Jewish historical claim as the indigenous people of Zion. The Arabs who had subsequently made that area their home saw the influx of European Jews as alien colonizers. Their perception was understandable, but wrong.
When Britain used its international mandate to unilaterally break apart Palestine in 1922, granting 80 percent of the whole to the Hashemite Kingdom to create Trans-Jordan (now called Jordan), the Zionists expected the remaining territory west of the Jordan River to become the national home of the Jewish people. That’s what was promised to them by the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and internationally sanctioned by the League of Nations in 1921. The Zionists had purchased the land, developed the land, and then fought for the land. Throughout history those are the only three methods of acquiring real estate. The Jews did all three. Repeatedly.
Although Israel was eventually offered significantly less by the United Nations partition plan of 1947, Israel accepted. The Arabs, alas, rejected the UN’s offer to create a second Arab state in Palestine. Since then, Israel has fought three wars for its very existence: 1948’s War of Independence, 1967’s 6-Day War, and 1973’s Yom Kippur War. In the intervening years, Israel made significant progress in achieving acceptance among its neighbors beginning with Egypt and Jordan and extending to the countries of the Abraham Accords. As normalization with Saudi Arabia became an imminent possibility, Hamas lashed out.
When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to accept Israel’s existence, Israel returned the land it had conquered during those defensive wars. Egypt got the Sinai, but Sadat was assassinated by a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. In the eyes of these Islamists, recognition of and rapprochement with Israel is a capital crime.
Fundamentalist Islamist regimes and organizations, like Iran, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Isis, Al-Qaeda, Islamic Brotherhood, and Hamas, are engaged in a jihad that brooks no compromise. Their problem is not with the Israeli occupation, it is with the existence of a sovereign Jewish state. Thus, when Israeli military operations to incapacitate Hamas inevitably, and tragically, cause civilian deaths, there is no moral equivalency. Hamas murders civilians to murder civilians; when Israel unintentionally kills civilians, it is to eliminate the threat of Hamas committing additional barbaric atrocities in the future.
For many of us, our moral reflex is to show mercy on the innocents caught in the crosshairs. But a ceasefire before Hamas is extirpated would amount to nothing but a brief interlude allowing Hamas to rearm with even more deadly weapons. In our imperfect world, moral clarity dictates the eradication of Hamas for the possibility of peace.