May 22, 2021

Israel and the Palestinians

by Harold Gershowitz

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Israel is not going to go away…and neither are the Palestinians. Israel is unambiguously and rightfully committed to its own survival, and Hamas is unambiguously and wrongly committed to Israel’s destruction. Everything else is spin.

And speaking of spin, there is a lot to go around regarding the eleven days of bloodletting that ended as the just concluded sabbath descended on that remarkable but tortured land. The contention that the eleven-day war was caused by a real estate dispute in East Jerusalem or by Israeli brutish interference with the call to prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque isn’t entirely credible, although the basic facts do not seem to be in dispute. However, the 4,000 + rockets that were fired at Israeli population centers from Gaza by Hamas were at the ready and awaiting an excuse to launch. And let’s be unambiguous. Firing any rockets, let alone thousands of them, indiscriminately at civilian population centers as Hamas did to provoke the just-ended war is a crime; a war crime by any definition.

So, what might have been, for Hamas, the casus belli this time for their enormous and reckless rocket barrage against Israeli cities? Maybe the eviction case being heard in the Israeli courts, or perhaps, the silencing of the loudspeakers and the veritable brawl that ensued at the mosque. Or, perhaps equally compelling, the attempt by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, Israeli opposition leaders from two different Israeli political parties, to form a coalition government with Mansour Abbas, Chairman of an Islamist party focused on bettering the lives of Israeli Arabs. Abbas’s United Arab List Party, also known as Raam, recognizes the State of Israel and actually won four seats in the Knesset in the most recent Israeli election. 

The prospect of an Israeli cabinet that included an Arab Islamist party is, of course, anathema to Hamas, which is dedicated to annihilating the Jewish state. Any cooperation between Islamist Israelis and Jewish Israelis is a call to arms for Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States, Japan, and Canada, while Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have designated the Hamas military wing, which launched this and other rocket attacks against Israeli population centers, as a terrorist organization.

Such a turn of events— an Israeli Islamist political party in coalition with two traditional Israeli political parties, would have signaled a dramatic and positive sea-change in the seemingly eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in light of the recent Abraham accords shepherded by the Trump Administration. That prospect, as much as any other, may well have been Hamas’s motivation to unleash such a senseless attack against Israeli population centers.

While an Arab serving in an Israeli cabinet would not have been unprecedented, it has in the past only happened at the invitation of the ruling Israeli party, as when the Labor Party in 1974 first appointed Raleb Majadele to serve as a Minister without Portfolio. Majadele served in three Labor cabinets, including as Minister of Science, Culture, and Sport between 2007 and 2009.

Aborting a potential Israeli coalition government that included an Islamist Party was, arguably, a top priority for Hamas, and the terrorist group certainly knew how to stop any such perceived treachery from taking place. Four thousand Hamas rockets and Israeli counterattacks later, and the prospect of an Israeli coalition government consisting of traditional Israeli parties and an Israeli Islamic party is now just another casualty of the senseless bloodletting. From Hamas’s point of view, however, —mission accomplished.

Ironically, that which may have served the interests of Hamas has probably made the next Israeli election, which never seems far away these days, a shoo-in for Prime Minister Netanyahu. As the French say, “the more things change, the more things remain the same.”

Violence for political ends, however, is not an exclusive Palestinian franchise. In September 2000, during another tense time, the late Ariel Sharon made a highly publicized, and gratuitous visit to the Temple Mount accompanied by about a thousand armed riot police. The site is perceived by many as the holiest place to Jews, and among the holiest places to Muslims. Israeli and Palestinian leaders urged Sharon not to make such a provocative trek to the Temple Mount. Sharon, however, was focused on unseating the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and on challenging fellow Likud stalwart Benyamin Netanyahu for party leadership. As it turned out it was an effective strategy; six months later Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel.

The Sharon visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 was a calculated act of arrogance. The right of Israelis, or Jews in general, to visit the site has not been in dispute since the ’67 war when the old city of Jerusalem was secured by Israel. In fact, I went to the Temple Mount in 1989 while doing research for the three books of my Eden Trilogy. It was a tense time, given the intifada, but I went alone with my guide onto the Temple Mount and was not confronted or subjected to any overt hostility even though we were the only Jews on the grounds at the time.

Even then, during the Intifada, there were Jews and Muslims, as there are now, who simply wanted to live and work peacefully alongside one another. This was demonstrated repeatedly during the just concluded eleven-day war. Notwithstanding the rioting in some Israeli cities which captured newspaper headlines and television news coverage, Jewish and Muslim Israeli doctors, nurses, and other first responders worked together, side by side, in Israeli hospitals to treat and care for trauma victims of Hamas rockets.

Israeli Jews and Muslims working together is not uncommon in Israel as evidenced during Israel’s largely successful fight against COVID-19. I recall a news photograph featuring a team of two medics pausing to pray in front of their ambulance. One was Jewish — standing and praying in the direction of Jerusalem — and the other a Muslim, who laid out his prayer rug on the roadway and knelt facing Mecca. Whether such Jewish and Muslim relationships will be a casualty of the recent fighting remains to be seen. One thing is certain; nothing would please Hamas more.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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2 responses to “Israel and the Palestinians”

  1. Robert borns says:

    It is a joy to read today’s brilliant clear column by Hal. His analysis hit the nail on the head.

  2. Chris Haedt says:

    Right on Robert Borns. Thank you Hal for your comprehensive and complete essay .

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