Imagine this: in rural Virginia, about fifty miles outside of Washington D.C., an internationally recognized terrorist group has seized an area the size of a large city. They have established a de facto military base in this area to execute attacks on the nation’s capital and surrounding locales, using the homes and workplaces of civilians as cover from retaliation. How do you think the United States government would respond to this imminent threat to national security? How would you want them to?
In the United States, this scenario is merely an intellectual exercise, but for the government of Israel and its citizens, this is a dire reality. As the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is less than 50 miles from Jerusalem, Israelis must prepare themselves and their families for the genuine possibility that a missile attack could destroy their livelihoods or take their lives at any moment. These citizens turn towards their government, charged with protecting them, and realize that even their advanced air-defense systems and highly trained military are not sufficient enough to save Israeli lives.
Hamas, the terrorist organization-political party hybrid that governs the Gaza Strip, does not only endanger Israeli citizens, but also the Palestinians that voted them into power, as they frequently use the homes and workplaces of innocent Palestinians for cover against Israeli retaliation. The group is not ashamed of their actions: their charter reads, “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: 0 Muslim!” These are the people, hellbent on Israeli extinction, that are responsible for the continued violence in the region.
A Century of Conflict
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not new. In fact, it is over a hundred years old. In order to avoid falling into the briarpatch of groupthink that currently pervades this issue on both sides of the political aisle, it is crucial to know the origin and history of Israel. The concept of the modern Jewish state emerged in the late 1800s via a socio-political movement called Zionism. Jewish Virtual Library defines Zionism as, “The national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.” This came as anti-semitism in Europe was on the rise. The movement progressed rather slowly until the British government issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, in which they promised to, “use their best endeavors to facilitate… the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Yes, Britain. If that sounds odd, it was, because at the time, Britain had no power in the territory then known as Palestine. However, this quickly changed following the conclusion of World War I. When the Ottoman Empire fell, the United Nations (UN) forerunner, the League of Nations, asserted that most of the countries previously under the Empire’s reign needed to be “supervised” by European powers until they could become autonomous nations. For Israel, this power was assigned to Britain, and following this, the two decades of the British Mandate of Palestine began. In just about twenty years, the Jewish population in Palestine increased exponentially from about 25,000 before the mandate to 650,000 afterwards in response to British economic incentives to immigrate.
The period of British Mandate of Palestine brought overwhelming violence and hostility between the Arabs and Jews living there. It became so severe that Britain limited immigration to the country and restricted the Jewish right to own property, cutting off a vital refuge for many of Europe’s Jews attempting to escape the spreading anti-semitic persecutions of Nazi Germany. Following World War II and the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews in the Holocaust, Britain vacated their mandate and pushed the responsibility of handling Palestine to the newly formed United Nations. The UN then formed a commission that offered the first two-state solution to the situation. Palestine would be separated into two separate countries: one Arab and one Jewish, with the city of Jerusalem under international control.
The Jews in Palestine agreed to the partition proposal, but the Arabs did not. Instead of attempting to handle the dispute diplomatically, the Arab Palestinians, with the assistance of Egypt, modern day Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, declared war on the new state of Israel. Israel solidified its status as a state after surprisingly, yet soundly defeating the Arab coalition. This conflict came to be known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and it began a trend that would come to mark Israeli-Palestinian relations: long periods of civil unrest, followed by unsuccessful peace talks that lead to more unrest and even wars.
Israel has offered Palestinian leadership two-state solutions on at least three differents occasions (not including the UN Partition Plan): the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Camp David Conference in 2000, and the Annapolis conference of 2008. The Palestinians have rejected every one of these offers, even though the Arab states surrounding Israel have abandoned their hostilities towards the nation.
What Does This History Tell Us?
Israel’s history exposes the irony of the criticism that is consistently levied at the nation. First, European Jews did not return to what they believed to be their scriptural homeland to start oppressing the Arabs who were living there. In fact, before Britain got involved, Arabs and Jews in Palestine coexisted rather peacefully. The influx of Jews into Palestine before 1948 can be attributed to two factors: British economic incentives and rising anti-semitism in Europe. Neither of these factors could be controlled by the Jewish people.
Secondly, Israel agreed to a two-state solution in 1948. They were then forced to fight a war to prove their legitimacy as a nation. They fought another similar war in 1967, proving they have a right to exist, and expanding their territorial holdings. Since 1967, they have relinquished land they rightfully won in exchange for peace with Egypt and Jordan. Although they are not required to by any means, they have attempted to do the same exact thing with Palestine, who have perpetually refused to agree to a compromise.
To be clear, Israel has fought, and won, two wars that it did not initiate. They have had to manage nearly nonstop violence from Palestinian terrorist organizations, government institutions, and even their citizens. Many claim that Israel frequently responds to Palestinian attacks with excessive responses, saying that Palestine’s forces are less equipped than the Isreali Defense Forces (IDF), and that Israel abuses its military prowess when interacting with Palestine. This argument could hold water if Israel launched their military operations unprompted, but as their history shows, they most often do not. Attacking a country with an excellent military, and then complaining when that military defends its citizens, is perplexing.
It is important to highlight that portraying the world’s only Jewish state as “evil oppressors” is problematic at best and anti-semitic at worst. This does not mean Israel can do no wrong, or that they should not be held accountable for their wrongful actions simply because they are Jewish. It means that a nation who has attempted, in good faith, to negotiate peace deals and two-state solutions with the Palestinians are held to standards that no other sovereign state on the planet is, in regards to their self-defense. It means that a nation who pulled their military from the Gaza Strip in 2006, only to have it fall into the hands of a terrorist organization that kills not only Israelis, but also Palestinians, has a right to defend itself against that organization’s attacks.
What is the difference between Israel and every other sovereign nation? For some reason, they are expected to turn the other cheek when the lives of their citizens are on the line. It is important for those who view Israel’s handling of this conflict in a negative light to ask this question: why should Israel be expected to conduct itself on a high moral plane, when no other nation is, and more importantly, when its enemies aren’t?
What Does the United States Have to Do With This?
The latest escalation of tensions and military actions between Israel and the Palestianian terrorist organization Hamas has resulted in international outrage. Protests have erupted in the United States and across the world. Some of these demonstrations took place in Kentucky, both in Louisville and Lexington. Many demonstrators are demanding the United States government cut off military and other taxpayer-funded aid to Israel, arguing that the alleged human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights make such aid inhumane and unethical.
The United States receives a myriad of benefits from their diplomatic and economic ties to Israel. According to the State Department, the US contributes almost $4 billion to Israel annually. In return, the United States receives indispensable security assistance from the Israeli military. This assistance comes in the forms of weapons research and development, covert intelligence regarding security threats from the region, and joint military exercises. Israel’s sensitive geopolitical positioning offers the United States countless national security benefits.
In addition to the boost Israel offers to the United States’s national security, the countries also conduct $50 billion of trade of goods and services annually. While these imports and exports are important pieces of both nation’s global economies, they also participate in cultural and scientific exchanges through various organizations the fruits of which cannot be quantified.
Demands for the United States to cut off aid to Israel, especially from American liberals and progressives, are not only misguided, but also an ironic juxtaposition of their expressed political beliefs. Israel is a bastion of democratic values and tolerance in the Middle East/North African region. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, an organization that ranks the levels of democracy around the world annually, Israel ranks as the most democratic country in the region. Most other countries in the same region do not come close to guaranteeing the same freedoms and rights to its citizens that Israel does. It is strange that many claim to support the spread of democracy, freedom, and tolerance, but do not support the only country in the Middle East that consistently upholds those values.
Israel outranks every Middle Eastern country. For context, the United States’s global rank is 25.
Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian people and their leadership shows no signs of reaching an end soon. Whenever two peoples are engaged in a violent struggle, especially one as protracted and complex as the one between Israel and Palestine, there will inevitably be tough decisions made on both sides that results in injury and death for both parties. But Israel is not an oppressor, it is not a colonizer, and it has not committed genocide in any form. When seriously and holistically considered, one must admit that Israel is a diamond in the rough of a geopolitical hellscape, and they not only deserve, but need the aid that the United States offers them.
Photo by Levi Meir Clancy