Most people seem to have very strong feelings about who’s right in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, despite knowing remarkably little about the history surrounding it. Do the details of the Middle East conflicts make your eyes glaze over, because you’ve heard the same stories over and over again? The Onion had a classic article five years ago making the point that these news articles are basically interchangeable as far as Americans are concerned.
As the fighting between Israel and the Palestinians flares up yet again, so are tensions between supporters of the two sides. On Facebook, it’s been pretty heated. When I read the comments from partisans on both sides, you’d think that each side was reading only half of the news and facts from the Middle East — and the other side was reading only the other half of the news and facts.
You can almost take much of their rhetoric (from both sides) and switch it to the other side by changing the names. The cheerleaders for the two sides don’t seem to understand that it’s a complex dispute with fault on both sides, not something that can easily be reduced to a tale of heroes and villains.
I’ve been surprised in the last few days to get questions from people who really don’t know that much about the dispute, people who hear both sides screaming at each other and don’t know what to believe. As a result, I’d like to take a quick look at some of the basic facts of the conflict and show you why I don’t see either side as “good.”
I grew up believing the standard pro-Israel narrative, because that was the standard story in the media here and it’s what we heard from the U.S. government. This is because Israel was a U.S. ally during the Cold War, while the Arab states generally sided with the Soviets.
After I finally looked at what really happened and thought about it critically, I realized that the people living in Palestine in 1947-48 were wronged. The guilt-ridden people of Europe wanted to somehow make themselves feel better about what had happened to the Jews during World War II, so they supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
There had been a Zionist movement since the 19th century, but nothing would have happened if those European powers hadn’t decided to support unilaterally taking land from the Palestinians who had lived there for hundreds and hundreds of years to create a “homeland” for people who had been living in Europe. So land was taken from the Palestinians and a Jewish state was created.
The Arabs in neighboring countries supported the Palestinians and opposed the Europeans who were dumped amidst them, and there were several wars, beginning when the country was first proclaimed out of thin air in 1948. The Palestinians were definitely the victim in the beginning, but they resorted to terrorism and evil conduct as they sought to gain their land back.
Israel has been brutal (and outright evil) in its treatment of those Palestinians. So even though the Palestinians were completely in the right at the start, both sides have been horrendous in the ways they’ve pursued the struggle. (I think such evil conduct in life-or-death battles between groups is par for the course among humans, but that’s another issue.)
The partisans of each side can only see what the other side has done wrong. To the pro-Israel partisans, the Palestinians are just a bunch of terrorists and the Israelis are peace-loving people of God who just want to be left alone. To the pro-Palestinian partisans, the Israelis are just a bunch of maniacal killers and any terrible things done by Palestinians are justified (or at least excused) by the fact that the European Jews stole the land in 1948.
There aren’t any good guys in this conflict. It was morally wrong to steal the land to give it to a bunch of European Jews to create a country to start with, but now that it’s there, I don’t see a sane solution, especially since the sides hate each other so much. It’s one of those conflicts in human history when the two combatants might very well fight until one has destroyed the other entirely.
I don’t want any part in it, and I certainly don’t want U.S. tax money subsidizing the two sides while they kill each other.
Supporters of Israel will frequently say — quite sincerely — that it was perfectly acceptable for the Jews of the Zionist movement to kick the Palestinians off the land, because the land had been Jewish territory that was stolen from them many years before. That’s naive at best.
It’s true that Jews had controlled that territory thousands of years ago — in what we in our culture would call biblical times — but the area had been under control of many different people groups before and after that. Even in the time of the New Testament, it was Roman territory.
So, yes, there was a Jewish kingdom there — on land that the Bible tells us they conquered from other people — but to pretend that the modern state of Israel is the same as that would be like finding descendants of the Druids and carving out half of England to give to them.
Pretty much every group in history has been both conqueror and conquered. The idea that someone can say, “This was our land thousands of years ago, so we want it back,” is quite absurd. If people feel so eager to help oppressed groups get land back that’s been taken from them, I suggest they look closer to home and ask which Native American tribe should get the house they currently own. (And that historical theft is far more recent in history.)
We can’t go back and correct all historical wrongs. When the Romans conquered what was then Jewish territory, it was certainly unjust. But how do you feel about the people who lived there before the Jews? The Jewish history books (that we Christians have in our Old Testament) tell us that the Jews completely wiped out group after group in order to take the land as their own.
Are we to conclude that genocide is morally acceptable when the Jews used it to take the territory, but the genocide attempted against the Jews by the Nazis was bad enough to justify taking territory by any means? We have to be consistent.
I don’t pretend to have a good solution to the Middle East problem. What I do know is that the involvement of the U.S. government in that conflict is making all of us less safe. If the feds hadn’t been interfering in the affairs of various Middle Eastern countries for close to a century, we wouldn’t have the enemies over there that we have. They don’t hate us for our freedom. They hate us because of what we’ve done to them.
The conflict in Palestine is going to get worse. Both sides are going to do vile and evil things. The Israelis have the better weapons, so they’re most likely to win in the short term. (Remember that Israel also has nuclear weapons. Remember that every time a president tells you that “weapons of mass destruction” is an excuse for invading a country.) In the long term, it’s hard to say what will happen.
The only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want any part of the conflict. I don’t want my tax money going to buy bombs and tanks (for either side). U.S. taxpayers are currently pumping billions of dollars into both sides. We need to walk away and let them fight their own battles. We’ve made enough enemies. It’s time to quit making things even worse.
And it’s time to quit pretending that one side or the other is blameless. There’s plenty of blame to go around.