Yesterday I wrote down some of my thoughts on the Gaza war, and promised to curate a list of other writers who have done a better job than I have. I don't necessarily agree with these folks 100%, but at least they're trying to bring some sanity to the conversation.
Two years ago, during the last war between Hamas and Israel, I did a little survey on social media and asked people where Jews came from, originally. Most people said “Europe.” It was deeply telling and explained why, in so many narratives I’ve seen proliferate on social media, Jews are considered the white colonizers of Palestinians and people of color. The Jews, in this narrative, were like the British in Africa, India, and Pakistan: white foreigners who came from far away to subjugate brown people and steal their resources. It’s a nice, easy narrative that fits perfectly into the conversations about the evils of colonialism and systemic racism. And it’s why so many groups on the left have aligned themselves exclusively with the Palestinian cause and see Jews as white aggressors.
There’s one problem: it’s not quite true. It would be if the British were originally from India or Africa and returned, 2,000 years later, to claim it as theirs. In fact, most of these misguided narratives also leave out the role of British colonial rule and especially the U.N. in creating the state of Israel—as well as an Arab Palestinian state next to it. (Which Palestinians rejected, for some understandable reasons, after which neighboring Arab countries attacked the new Jewish state.) Israel, in other words, wasn’t a rogue state, but one created and recognized by the international community. It wouldn’t have existed without it.
I don’t know what will happen or what can happen to solve this. Those who talk about a two-state solution are living in a world that hasn’t existed for a decade. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians seem to want one anymore. They each want a state of their own, a state without the other, and the ethno-nationalism that built Israel—born as it was out of slaughter and oppression—has fueled the ethno-nationalism of the Palestinians, born out of the exact same elements. Both sides have hardened to an exclusionary extreme that precludes compromise or coexistence, and the events of the last week will ensure that even the embers of those hopes are doused cold. Before Saturday, the plan seemed to have been to wait each other out—or, if they were Israelis, ignore the problem and their complicity in it. Now, it is to fight to the death.
What about the broader context for this latest horror — all the way back to 1948? Yes, that’s a necessary conversation, vital even. But in judging the events of the past week, it’s utterly irrelevant. There is no historical context — none — which can excuse or mitigate what Hamas did and what Hamas is. There is no oppression that justifies the murder of infants in their beds. And from some of the videos, you can see how the act of personally murdering a Jew is cherished by these fanatics, a glorious achievement, a life goal.
But has the Israeli government been reckless, expansionist, and determined to destroy any chance for a Palestinian state for a while now? Yes, it has. Since the excruciating near-miss of 2000, Israel has treated the Palestinians as a menace to be managed and, with any luck, ignored. Has it treated the population in the West Bank appallingly in this century? Yes, it has. Has the Israel lobby supported the unconscionable and relentless establishment of settlements for decades? For all their hand-wringing, yes. Is Israel’s achievement the immiseration and dehumanization of all Palestinians in the occupied territories? I don’t think any objective observer at this point could deny it. The attempt to deny the core problem has only made it worse.
Hamas’s stated reasons for this war are that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been provoking the Palestinians by the morning strolls that Israel’s minister for national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was taking around Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and by the steps that he was taking to make imprisonment of Palestinians harsher. While these moves by Israel were widely seen as provocations, they are hardly issues that justify Hamas putting all its chips on the table the way it did last Saturday.
The bigger reason it acted now, which Hamas won’t admit, is that it saw how Israel was being more accepted by the Arab world and soon possibly by the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia. Iran was being cornered by President Biden’s Middle East diplomacy, and Palestinians feared being left behind.
So Hamas essentially said, “OK, Jews, we will go where we have never gone before. We will launch an all-out attack from Gaza that won’t stop with soldiers but will murder your grandparents and slaughter your babies. We know it’s crazy, but we are willing to risk it to force you to outcrazy us, with the hope that the fires will burn up all Arab-Israeli normalization in the process.”
Yes, if you think Israel is now crazy, it is because Hamas punched it in the face, humiliated it and then poked out one eye. So now Israel believes it must restore its deterrence by proving that it can outcrazy Hamas’s latest craziness.
The terror attack on Israel by Hamas has been a divisive—if clarifying—moment for the left. The test that it presented was simple: Can you condemn the slaughter of civilians, in massacres that now appear to have been calculatedly sadistic and outrageous, without equivocation or whataboutism? Can you lay down, for a moment, your legitimate criticisms of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, West Bank settlements, and the conditions in Gaza, and express horror at the mass murder of civilians?
In corners of academia and social-justice activism where the identity of the oppressor and the oppressed are never in doubt, many people failed that test. In response to a fellow progressive who argued that targeting civilians is always wrong, the Yale professor Zareena Grewal replied: “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.” (She has since locked her X account.) Chicago’s Black Lives Matter chapter posted a picture of a paraglider, referencing the gunmen who descended on civilians at a music festival near the Gaza border from the air. (The chapter said in a statement that “we aren’t proud” of the post, which was later deleted.) Harvard student groups posted a letter stating that its signatories “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
Fitting Israel into the intersectional framework has always been difficult, because its Jewish citizens are both historically oppressed—the survivors of an attempt to wipe them out entirely—and currently in a dominant position over the Palestinians, as demonstrated by the Netanyahu government’s decision to restrict power and water supplies to Gaza. The simplistic logic of pop intersectionality cannot reconcile this, and the subject caused schisms within the left long before Saturday’s attacks.
The leftist belief in the righteousness of “punching up,” a derivation of standpoint theory, is also important here. Again, this idea has mutated from the reasonable observation that different groups have different knowledge based on their experience—I have never experienced being pulled over by a traffic cop as a Black man, and that limits my understanding of the police—to the idea that different rules apply to you depending on your social position. When an oppressed group uses violence against the oppressor, that is justified “resistance.” Many of us accept a mild version of this proposition: The British suffragettes turned to window smashing and bombing after deciding that letter writing and marches were useless, and history now remembers them as heroines. But somehow, in the case of the incursion from Gaza into Israel, the idea of “punching up” was extended to the murder of children. I simply cannot comprehend how any self-proclaimed feminist can watch footage of armed militants manhandling a woman whose pants are soaked with what looks like blood and decide that she has the power in that situation—and deserves her fate.
The West’s apologists for Palestinian war crimes have far less power than its apologists for Israel’s brutal domination of the Palestinian territories and discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel. But precisely because left-wing critics of Israeli apartheid lack power, we must not forfeit our moral authority. For decades, the Israeli government’s knee-jerk defenders have sought to equate opposition to the occupation with contempt for the security of Jewish Israelis. Now, a loud minority of Palestine’s self-styled champions are blithely affirming this smear, insisting that solidarity with Palestine requires callous indifference toward (or, at the very least, silence about) the mass murder of Jews. In so doing, they are making it easier for their adversaries to discredit and marginalize the broader cause of Palestinian liberation.
All this is morally sick and intellectually bankrupt. From my vantage, it looks as though a few leftists were eager to demonstrate their superlative moral clarity by fighting with liberals about the legitimacy of a Palestinian uprising aimed squarely at the IDF and conducted in the name of democratic equality; so eager that they would not be deterred by the fact that the weekend’s events bore scant resemblance to that scenario.
What we actually witnessed was not “the Palestinians” mounting a violent struggle for justice but a far-right theocratic organization committing mass murder in the name of blood-and-soil nationalism. Hamas’s project is antithetical to the left’s foundational values of secularism, universalism, and egalitarianism. And it is also completely at odds with the progressive vision for Palestinian liberation. Western radicals’ predominant prescription for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is a “one-state solution,” in which Israelis and Palestinians all enjoy democratic equality in a single binational state. Hamas’s atrocities have not advanced this ideal but set it back, lending credence to those who insist a one-state solution is a recipe for ceaseless civil war. This weekend was not a triumph for the left’s project in Palestine but a disaster.
[I]t is a moral imperative for progressives to condemn Hamas’s atrocities, affirm the human rights of Jewish Israelis, and reject the ethno-nationalist claim that Palestinians have a unique right to reside in the region. And it is also a political imperative for them to do so.
Again, I don't agree 100% with everyone I've quoted. But they all have resisted knee-jerk reactions and they've all put some thought into their pieces. That's what we need right now.