On Israel, Looking for Hope In a Sea of Bad Faith and Despair

If you don't have mixed feelings about what's going on in Gaza, there's something seriously wrong with you. As Gershom Gorenberg says in his piece today, in a war, both sides can be wrong, and that's the case now. So how do we find a way to think and talk about this conflict when our natural impulse is to take a side?

Complicating things even further is the fact that the people who do think that there's no ambiguity here range from the morally infantile to the unspeakably ghastly, and no matter what you say you'll find yourself on the same side as some of them, if only for a moment. On one hand you've got prominent conservatives trooping to the convention of Christians United For Israel (no fewer than five U.S. senators, plus A-list pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol), where they bow down before the group's leader, the demented pre-millenialist televangelist John Hagee, and proclaim that God smiles every time a bomb falls on Gaza. On the other you've got anti-Semites everywhere coming out of the woodwork to protest outside synagogues and shout "Death to the Jews!" Do you want to side with the apologists for Hamas terrorism, or the apologists for Israeli government actions that must be given the same name? No matter which you choose, you ally yourself with the worst people making the most indefensible arguments.

So what if you want to condemn Hamas, not only for their terrorism but for the way they bait Israel into conflict, knowing that the result will be Palestinian deaths, but you also want to condemn the Israeli government for the suffering and destruction it brings down on Palestinians?

You can understand people's reactions and decisions while still concluding that they're wrong and disastrous. It isn't surprising that Israelis huddled in bomb shelters would say to Bibi Netanyahu, "Yes, crush them, do whatever you have to do," and convince themselves that the result will be something other than more terrorism. Nor is it surprising that Palestinians watching their streets blown to rubble and their neighbors killed would say to Hamas, "Yes, fight them, strike back however you can," and convince themselves that the result will be something other than more death and misery.

But what I find most unfathomable is what the hawks on both sides imagine the future will bring. There are Israelis on the right who actually believe that if the Palestinians can just be beaten down a bit more, then they will abandon their hopes for their own country and resign themselves to their abysmal fate, and then Israel will live in peace. And there are Palestinians who believe that Hamas, with some rockets and the occasional kidnapping or bus bombing, will be able to drive the Jews into the sea and reclaim the entire land for its rightful owners. These beliefs are not just deluded, they are positively insane. And yet they persist, encouraging mini-wars like the one we're seeing now and making a lasting solution more difficult.

In the face of all that, it's awfully hard not to get hopeless. Perhaps Israel will destroy most of the tunnels Hamas has built, and take out many of the rocket emplacements. To do it they'll kill hundreds more Palestinian civilians. And what then? Nothing will change, except for the worse.

That hopelessness, and the fact that the debate so often features one repugnant advocate arguing with an equally repugnant advocate from the other side, has for years made me reluctant to write about this topic. But maybe there's a chance, however slight, that this abysmal iteration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will open some small possibility for change. Maybe it will convince more Palestinians that Hamas's way promises them nothing but more suffering. Maybe it will convince more Israelis that Netanyahu's way promises them nothing but more fear. Maybe it will convince more Americans that being "pro-Israel" as it's been defined here (i.e., as taking the Likud position, whatever it might be) has done Israel no favors.

And maybe all that will make a resolution that ends this seemingly endless cycle of war and death and misery and hate just a bit more likely. Maybe. 

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