Smoke rises from the Israeli raids on Oct. 8, 2023, in Gaza City, Gaza. After the attack launched by Hamas on Israel the day before, which surprised them, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Palestinians to leave Gaza and warned that the army would turn Hamas positions “into rubble.” (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)
These are not good days for democracy. Or decency.
Hamas, a group of Islamist militants/resistance fighters/terrorists (pick your appellation) won a majority in the Palestinian Parliament then proceeded to quash the more moderate Fatah and concentrate on attacking Israel.
That was 17 years ago. Nobody in Gaza has been able to vote since, and nobody thinks Hamas is remotely interested in democracy.
Right now, Hamas is interested in killing.
Israel is a democracy — more or less — run by a prime minister who’s also a criminal defendant on trial for corruption.
Netanyahu stocked his ruling coalition with religious extremists, racists, homophobes, and authoritarians, some of whom want to take rights away from Arab Israeli citizens and most of whom, led by the prime minister, actively encourage illegal settlements in Palestinian lands.
Here in the United States, we wrap ourselves in the Constitution and proclaim the greatness of our system, never mind that the machinery of American government resembles an overheating Chevy Vega.
While elected officials run toward the nearest camera to proclaim support for Israel, promising all manner of help, financial and military, the inconvenient truth is that our democracy is dysfunctional.
Basic congressional functions are shut down while Republicans fight over which member of the crazy conference can get elected speaker. But even if the House gets it together, no one should expect much forward progress on Ukraine or the pending government shutdown.
Unless the House gets it together, a strongly worded resolution supporting Israel may be as good as it gets.
But there’s already plenty of pandering, chest-thumping, and extravagant stupidity.
A day after Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said brightly, “This is a great opportunity for our candidates to contrast where Republicans have stood with Israel time and time again and Joe Biden has been weak.”
Josh “Fist-Pump” Hawley called for all Ukraine funds to be diverted to Israel “immediately.”
The senator from Missouri doesn’t hold with terrorists, except maybe the ones who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Other Republicans, wallowing in natural or willful ignorance, blame the Biden administration for the attacks, claiming the $6 billion of Iranian money now lodged in a Qatari bank magically financed Hamas’ atrocities.
The U.S. government has now frozen that money. None of it had been spent, anyway.
Perhaps bored with promising that when he’s president we’ll invade Mexico, Ron DeSantis now wants the U.S. to use lethal force to wipe out Hamas.
(Funny how DeSantis has been much quicker to denounce Hamas than his own neo-Nazi supporters.)
“It’s not enough to just launch a strike, you need to uproot the entire terror network,” he said.
According to DeSantis, Netanyahu hasn’t taken robust action against Hamas because those wusses at the U.N. and in the European Union “pressure” Israel to be sweet.
Right. The government of Binyamin Netanyahu is all of a sudden worried about international criticism?
That would be the same Netanyahu who ignores the international community in his attempts to cripple the Israeli Supreme Court, often the only institution standing between the ultra-right and democratic norms? The guy who shrugs when Israeli soldiers shoot journalists and children?
Make no mistake: There’s no equivalence between Hamas’ vicious attacks and Israel’s defending itself.
There is no justification for mowing down hundreds dancing at a music festival, or kidnaping and raping women, or massacring families in the Kfar Aza kibbutz or taking grandmothers and babies hostage.
But that doesn’t mean we should give into some politicians’ simplistic Palestinians = Bad Guys, Israelis = Good Guys thinking.
Hamas are definitely bad guys. They don’t want Israel to exist.
But most Palestinians are not Hamas. Their mission in life is not to murder Jews; it’s to have a life.
They want dignity, the rights of citizenship, education, economic opportunity, and at least some of their occupied lands back.
American politicians calling for the total destruction of Gaza should remember that would mean killing tens of thousands of civilians.
This nightmare has a long history, beginning in 1948 when Jews, long-persecuted, subjected to genocide, driven from their homes all over Europe, finally got their own nation.
Palestinians wanted a nation, too, but that hasn’t happened. So, for 75 years, Israelis and Palestinians have fought over inches of the same rocky soil.
Gaza is an open-air prison, with more than 2 million jammed into a little strip of land, walled-in, unable to leave, blockaded by Egypt and Israel for the last 16 years.
The Israeli government is telling Gazans to evacuate as they bomb the hell out of the place.
There’s nowhere to go.
About 65% of the population there is under 24. They have no hope. And people without hope can be radicalized.
They have nothing to lose.
Hamas, who will no doubt cast their dead as martyrs, can use the violence as a recruiting tool — and the horror will refuel itself endlessly.
Hamas has committed war crimes, targeting civilians, murdering kids, taking hostages — it’s a long list.
Israel is cutting off food, water, fuel and medical supplies to Gaza.
Collective punishment is also a war crime.
In Israel, the “unity government” of Netanyahu and opposition leaders will concentrate on crushing Gaza.
In Washington, the U.S. is already sending Israel munitions, air defense, and two aircraft carriers.
But along with supporting our central Middle East ally, the conflict will be a chance for political point-scoring: demonizing Muslims, demonizing the aspirations of millions of decent Palestinians, demonizing anyone who dares criticize the government of Netanyahu — which is not the same as anti-Semitism.
Despite our pious embrace of Israel, America has its own anti-Semitism issues.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, has had to apologize for tweets that stereotyped Jews as money-grubbing.
Across the aisle, the reliably appalling Marjorie Taylor Greene spouts conspiracy theories about George Soros and “Jewish Space Lasers,” while Rep. Paul Gosar has promoted a Holocaust-denying, Hitler-praising website.
We are not innocent of throwing gasoline on the fire.
You have to wonder if there’s even the slightest chance that America — or anyone — can help craft a solution, one that ensures that the state of Israel is secure — and that Palestinians get a country to call their own, too.
Until then, the world will hear lamentation and bitter weeping for the children that are no more.
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