A Ceasefire Now is a Ceasefire in 1944
There is mass moral confusion regarding the current war between Hamas and Israel. This ought not to be. History will show the morality of the belligerents to be as clean cut as the distinction between Nazi Germany and the Western Allies. My intent is to show this clearly and directly.
I’ve divided this into three broad sections: ten central facts about the broader Israeli-Palestine conflict you need to know, followed by six common misconceptions, then four grievances Palestine holds against Israel. Following all of this context I believe only one conclusion is sound. Let’s begin.
A note: There are more than ten identified terror organizations operating out of Gaza. Hamas is the largest and by far most important. For brevity I’ll refer to all Islamist terrorist groups under the umbrella of Hamas.
10 Key Facts of the Historical Context
Reviewing 123 years of history quickly (roughly when the Zionist project began) is a challenge, let alone the full 3,000 year history. I’ll suffice with ten things everyone ought to know. For a longer review, read Part 1.
- Arabic Muslim arrival in the land post-dates that of the Jews by millennia (circa 2000 BCE vs circa 640 CE); the idea of a Palestinian state post-dates that of a Jewish state by decades (circa 1880 vs circa 1930)
- Arab Muslim Palestinians were offered their own nation state at least four times (1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008), always rejecting it when the proposals include the existence of an Israeli state.
- Israel never rejected the notion of a Palestinian state – and was the party specifically offering to the Palestinians their own statehood in the two most recent proposals.
- When the state of Israel was founded by the UN in 1948, there could have been a Palestinian state alongside it. Instead, the Palestinians chose to ally with multiple Arabic countries who attacked, but ultimately lost the war which became Israel’s War of Independence.
- When Egypt and Jordan controlled the Gaza Strip and West Bank (respectively) for 19 years (1948 to 1967) they never gave the Palestinians a state. During this period, whenever a Muslim regime controlled a portion of Palestine, Jews were forbidden to live there. By contrast the state of Israel has always had an Arab Muslim minority.
- Both Arab Muslim Palestinians and Jews were forced out of their homes and communities by the thousands (e.g., Muslims during the War of Independence, or Jews from the West Bank by Jordan post 1948).
- Every major military operation (1948, 1967, 1973, 2008, 2023) began by aggression and acts of war from Israel’s enemies (the closest Israel came to being the casus belli was in 1956 during the Suez Canal crisis). Palestinian apologists assert that Israel instigated the Six Day War in 1967. This is incorrect, as prior to Israel’s assault Egypt violated the UN agreement by kicking UN peace-keeping troops out of Sinai and deploying 100,000 troops and a thousand tanks in the de-militarized zone in obvious preparation for war.
- Guerrilla and terror attacks against Israeli Jews began before the inception of their nation-state (such as the Hebron Massacre in 1929), and have persisted continuously to this day.
- Every time Israel gained a portion of land during war they were willing to give it back in return for peace; these offers were rejected more often than not.
- Israel twice unilaterally vacated occupation zones (Gaza in 2005, and southern Lebanon in 2000), asking for nothing in return. These did not generate peace or reduce terror attacks into Israel proper.
6 Misconceptions to Clear Up
The following major misconceptions are repeated endlessly in both traditional and social media.
1. Israelis (Jews) did not Colonize Palestine
Between 1880 and 1947 Zionist Jews moved from other countries to the area we call Palestine where they purchased land and built settlements. Before 1918 they were moving into a territory of the Ottoman Empire. After, they were moving into a territory of the British Empire. In both cases the only people that could be called colonizers would be the Muslim Turks or the British – those were the empires which ruled Palestine.
What the Jews did is called migration. The connotation of “colonization” is that of invasion and conquering. I’ve never heard of refugees being called colonizers – in addition to the Jews that fled from pogroms in Russia and fascism in Europe, about 650,000 fled persecution in Arab countries and Iran.
If you label the migration and refuge of Zionist Jews between 1880 and 1947 as colonization, to be intellectually honest you would have to believe there is currently a “colonization” by Arabic Muslims of Europe and the US. Which is absurd. We need to be consistent. The Jewish Zionist movement was composed of migrants – just like the large number of Arab Muslims who came to Palestine during the same period.
2. Israel is not Committing Genocide
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has complete air superiority over all of Palestine, while Hamas’ defense systems are mostly non-existent (that tends to happen when your sole focus is bent to building offensive and terror capabilities). The Jewish state has the capability to eliminate all Palestinians in Gaza and transform the entirety of the Strip into a sea of glass and dust.
Instead of doing this, the Israeli armed forces…
- warn Gazan civilians before missile strikes.
- drop thousands of leaflets and send hundreds of thousands of text messages and phone calls to warn Gazan civilians before military operations begin.
- “roof knock” to alert civilians in a building and give them time to leave before firing deadly munitions.
- call off airstrikes when civilians are known to be in danger.
- have an official code of ethics that requires them to protect civilians on any side of any conflict. Also see here.
Not only does Hamas do none of these types of things, but they even prevent many civilians from leaving the areas where military operations are conducted by force.
Historically, civilian casualties were often the purpose of military campaigns. In more recent centuries civilian casualties have been a tragic but accepted byproduct of warfare. Israel’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties are exceptional.
The IDF engages in these efforts to save civilians despite that it greatly reduces the efficacy of operations to defeat Hamas. Surprises are generally crucial in the tactics of small firefights, battles, and even entire operations and campaigns. The same warnings that allow civilians to move to safety allows terrorist operatives to also seek refuge.
Furthermore, Israel treats Gazans wounded during military operations (the reverse being something Hamas would never do). Israel has taken in and freely treated over 4,000 wounded Syrians (Arab Muslims) during their bloody civil war of the past decade. It also provided vast amounts of humanitarian aid including food, gas, clothes, generators, and medical equipment. Not the mark of a regime involved in ethnic cleansing.
To put the final nail in the coffin of this falsehood, what about the population Israel is supposedly targeting? Real genocides result in vastly smaller numbers of the targeted people (compare the European Jewish population between 1939 and 1945 or the Armenians in Turkey between 1915 and 1918). By contrast there has never been a decade during which the Palestinian population has declined. Even Area C of the West Bank (the one with the most Jews, the least Palestinians, and the area most directly governed by Israel) has grown from 15,000 Palestinians to 300,000 in just the past 25 years. Overall there are 15 times more Arabs in Palestine now than in the 1880s when Jews began returning to Israel.
3. Hamas is not Committing Genocide Either…
…but for a very different reason. Hamas certainly has the will to commit genocide. They openly declare their plan and desire to kill all Jews and “wipe out Israel.” When Hamas says “from the river to the sea, from the north to the south” they explicitly mean Israel has no right to exist. They have never hid these intentions.
Genocide entails two components: the aim of killing a nation or people, but also actually doing so. The Soviets succeeded in killing millions during the Holodomor; the Khmer Rouge succeeded in killing millions in Cambodia; The Hutus succeeded in killing nearly a million Tutsis in Rwanda. Hamas, thankfully, simply does not have the capability to do the same.
Nonetheless, Hamas is doing its best to kill as many people as it can.
The real misconception to remedy is the idea that ‘Hamas is merely a (militant) nationalist group seeking a nation-state.’ We know how real nationalist groups act – there have been hundreds of such causes throughout the 20th century. Hamas is quite different.
Hamas’ tactics are those of terrorist groups or a death cult. Guerrilla warfare motivated by the desire of sovereignty does not involve:
- extensively deploying suicide bombings to kill civilians
- attempting to blanket all of a country with rocket fire, rather than strike at opposing military infrastructure
- butchering civilians by chopping off body parts, including murdering infants
- torturing people before murdering them
- burning people alive (including babies)
- raping women and killing them in medias res
- acting gleeful while murdering.
As with the democidal regimes that were capable of real genocide, Hamas has no love or sympathy for its own. While Israel has invested in warning systems, bomb shelters, and the famed Iron Dome which can only be used defensively, Hamas does nothing similar. Why? It wants to maximize the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israel’s military (so that Israel will be censured internationally).
Rather than defend its own citizens, Hamas…
- openly advocates using their own people as human shields
- actually uses their own people as human shields
- shoots at Palestinian civilians who flee fire fights
- hides weapons in mosques
- hides military infrastructure, terror tunnels and personnel beneath schools
- hides military infrastructure and personnel among hospitals and residential areas
- uses children to surround and ‘escort’ combatants away from strike zones
- uses children as soldiers and even suicide bombers
- “lures ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport [their] fighters to safety.”
- wears civilian clothes while engaging in military operations
Everything in both preceding lists violates the fourth Geneva Convention and international law. As Bassem Eid, a Palestinian Arab commentator from the West Bank said, “Israel uses rockets to defend its people. Hamas uses people to defend its rockets!”
Importantly, if a civilian target (school, house, ambulance, hospital) is used for military purposes, it is a legitimate military target. When Israel conducts a strike at such a target, it is not a war crime. Conversely, Hamas claims any Israeli civilian is a legitimate target.
Israel and Hamas are inverses. The former has the capability to commit genocide, but not a willingness. The latter has a willingness, but not the capability. As Biden’s Secretary of State said in 2021, “There is no equivalence between [the] terrorist group [Hamas] indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and a country defending its people from those attacks.”
The Hamas Atrocities Documentation Center has more information on Hamas’ murderous activities.
4. Israel is not an Apartheid State
An apartheid state is a modern state that has a two-tiered justice system (like the Medieval era when nobles enjoyed an entirely different set of laws from peasants). The separate sets of laws can discriminate between classes (as in 1300s England) or races (as in South Africa before 1994), or religions (as in Saudi Arabia today).
But in Israel proper there is only one justice system. There are about 1.5 million Arabic Muslim citizens in Israel that enjoy full legal rights – they can vote, they have passports and full freedom of movement, there are Arab members of the cabinet, there have been Arab and now even Muslim supreme court justices, and so on. There is simply one set of laws and rights for Israeli citizens whether they are Jew or Muslim or Christian or Arab or Palestinian or something else.
The reason people are confused and claim that Israel is apartheid is because the West Bank (and Gaza before 2005) lives under a military occupation and administration. But most who live there are not Israeli citizens (nor want to be). The Palestinians who live there do not have full rights – they can’t vote, they don’t have full freedom of movement, there are curfews. (Before we move on, please note that the Palestinian Authority (Fatah/PLO) commit severe human rights abuses in the West Bank: Biden’s State Department noted many in its 2022 report).
Why does Israel enforce different rules there? For the entirety of Israel’s existence militant groups have launched terror attacks from there (here’s a list of Israeli victims of terrorism going back to 1993). Out of prudent security concerns for its own population, Israel has felt it necessary to enforce restrictions on the occupied territory of the West Bank. Perhaps this is unnecessary to prevent terror attacks. Whether it is necessary or not, it’s a military occupation, not an apartheid system. These are not equivalent.
5. Gaza is Worse than an Apartheid State
For all the falsity of claims that Israel is apartheid, it’s amazing how a similar standard is never applied to Gaza:
- Gaza is a one party statelet, not a democracy of any kind. (Israel has regular local and national elections).
- There is no religious freedom in Gaza. All synagogues were destroyed by Hamas. (By contrast, there are dozens of mosques in Israel).
- Gaza is severely anti-gay, with prison sentences up to 10 years. (As far back as 2008 Israel was touted as the only Mideast nation to support gay rights legislation and that is tolerant and gay-friendly).
- In Gaza, there is no:
- free media
- freedom of expression (including in mundane matters such as clothing)
- academic freedom
- freedom of assembly
- independent judiciary
- due process
- freedom of movement
- equality between the sexes (women cannot show faces in public, honor killings are common, etc.)
- economic freedom
Needless to say, Israeli citizens enjoy all of the preceding liberties.
Hamas is totalitarian. Its people – virtually all of them Muslims – suffer in a society as restrictive and oppressive as that of North Korea. Incredibly, Arab Muslims under Israeli law have exceedingly more freedom than Arab Muslims under Hamas in Gaza.
Here is a bit of levity to help lighten the mood before we continue.
6. Gazans Must Blame Hamas, not Israel, for their Indigence
The Palestinians in Gaza suffer with a lack of sufficient food, medicine, and jobs. A typical misrepresentation of their plight is that this is due to Israel’s long-held blockade of the strip. Except that despite the blockade, billions in humanitarian aid is provided to Gaza from the US and European Union. The US has provided $5.7 billion since 1994 (this includes aid to the West Bank), with $100 million exclusively for Gaza after the October 7th attacks. Israel itself assists and provides aid. Yes, the country blockading Gaza also provides aid…to Gaza.
Sadly, very little of this massive assistance helps the average Gazan due to Hamas’ kleptocracy. If Hamas wished to govern properly and enable economic flourishing for its people, the following would not be true:
- Direct foreign aid intended for poor Palestinians is so sucked up by the Palestinian elites that the rulers of Hamas (and Fatah) are millionaires and billionaires.
- As much as 95% of cement imported into Gaza meant to build houses is stolen by Hamas to build networks of tunnels to mount terror attacks into Israel.
- Medical supplies imported into Gaza are frequently stolen by Hamas to give to its own leadership who sell it on the black market.
- The water in Gaza is often unsafe to drink. But, wait for it: 30 miles of water pipelines intended for Palestinian civil water supply was stolen by Hamas to build rockets.
- Electricity goes out for hours at a time, often due to Hamas’ own missile fire.
- Raw sewage washes up on shores (for the same reason – Hamas invests in munitions, not civil infrastructure).
In the words of Arabic Palestinian political analyst Bassem Eid, living in the West Bank:
“[Hamas] is a criminal gang that only cares about increasing its own power at all of our expense. Your lives start to improve only when the Hamas reign of terror finally ends. Only then will you actually taste the fruits of real peace with your Jewish cousins…I urge you to open your eyes and see past the Hamas deception. No matter how many Jews it manages to kill, Hamas will have achieved nothing that benefits ordinary Palestinian Arabs.”
4 Legitimate Grievances of Palestinians
Most pro-Palestinian propaganda will greatly multiply lists of crimes and offenses committed by Israel against the Palestinians. The legitimate ones can be grouped into four categories. Because of the discrete separation of Gaza and the West Bank, I note which ones apply to which segment of Palestine.
1. Military Occupation and Administration (West Bank Only)
Just because Israel is not an apartheid state doesn’t excuse problems arising from the military occupation that persists in the West Bank.
Palestinians face curfews, lack the freedom of movement, and many of their communities in Area C are inside Israeli military training zones. These facts of life would be onerous to anyone.
As noted above for the apartheid fallacy, the rationale is for security purposes. As someone who saw 9/11 on TV in the US when it happened, but who is not very fond of the TSA, I am sympathetic to the challenges policy makers in Israel face. It cannot be easy to demarcate the boundary between Israeli security and Palestinian liberty.
But implementing security measures to prevent terrorism doesn’t excuse a serious lack of adequate water supply or primary school education. These are real concerns to be addressed by the occupying forces.
It should be noted, however, that withdrawal and total abdication of the West Bank is not a realistic solution (today). When the Gazans assumed direct control over their territory and society they promptly elected Hamas who drove them into no fewer than five wars in only sixteen years!
Gaza is tiny, and still Hamas’ rockets can now reach a huge proportion of Israel. Were Hamas able to fire from the West Bank the entirety of the nation would be threatened. Furthermore, Gaza’s border with Israel is relatively short, making it require less manpower to defend. Yet Hamas has been able to breach the wall with tunnels many times. By contrast, the border between the West Bank and Israel is colossal: points of infiltration for suicide bombers and terrorists would be exponentially greater.
If the West Bank were Hamas’ playground, Israel’s ability to defend itself would be dramatically weakened: an unacceptable proposition.
Longer term, if Israel would have to re-occupy the West Bank (just as it is now contemplating returning Gaza to a military occupation), the operation would be a tragedy even larger than the current war. Competent solutions need to contemplate more than one step down the road. Withdrawing from the West Bank would be disastrous if there remains a distinct possibility that Hamas could take over.
The solution to this grievance is for Israel to undertake a serious campaign of humanitarianism and society building in the West Bank. The people who live there under Israeli rule should enjoy as much economic liberty as possible.
2. Jewish Settlers (West Bank Only)
Jewish settlement into the West Bank continues (both vertically and horizontally, as they say). Political in-fighting amongst Israeli political parties, as well as their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank touches on this constantly.
Forbidding further Jewish migration into the West Bank is a potential solution. Of course, this means restricting the freedom of movement for Israelis, and the economic freedom of both sides (why cannot a Palestinian owner of a house or building choose to rent or sell it to an Israeli Jew?). Generally, I do not favor “correcting” an injustice with new injustices. But this grievance could be eliminated virtually overnight making the claims by apologists of Hamas even weaker.
3. Palestinians Arrested and Held in Military Prisons without Trial (Both Gaza and the West Bank)
This is a tragedy – as an American this reminds me of the same political issue during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Many of these are militants engaged in armed conflict or terrorism. Combatants in the midst of a war can be held as prisoners of war without trial at least until hostilities cease. But what if there is never an end to the hostilities? What constitutes an end to the war between Hamas and Israel?
The Israel-Palestine conflict is intractable.
An obvious solution is to simply hold trials for them, rather than just locking them away.
4. Palestinian Civilian Deaths during Military Operations (Gaza Only)
Civilian death is the most grievous thing in this list. Although I covered it above regarding the genocide fallacies, noting that Israel goes to extreme lengths to limit civilian casualties while Hamas does all it can to increase them, a few additional comments are warranted.
It is inescapable in war that there will be civilian casualties. So the real context ought to be the actions of the aggressor. To completely eliminate Palestinian casualties all that has to be done is for Hamas to stop firing rockets, stop executing terror attacks in Israel, and stop initiating war. It’s that simple. Not a single war or armed clash between Hamas and Israel has been initiated by Israel.
Unfortunately, we’re dealing with the ruthlessly bloody death cult of Hamas. So of course, there’s more to the story about civilian casualties. Often they are the fault of Hamas itself due to myriad misfired rockets that land inside the Strip. Or they are heavily inflated, such as during the 2008 war where at least 30 percent of those Hamas claimed as civilian deaths were actually combatants, and dozens were double counted; or the 2014 war in which adult males, who make up a minority of the population, are massively overrepresented in casualty numbers (a statistical impossibility if most of these were merely civilians). Incredibly, it turns out that terrorists are 28.5 times more likely to be killed by the IDF than civilians. Hamas even openly tells all Gazan government organs and ministries to label everyone killed a civilian, even when they are known to be combatants.
Thinking it All Through
This is not original to me, but I find the following thought experiment compelling in light of the preceding and historical context.
Compare the likely outcomes of two opposing possibilities:
- What if Hamas laid down their arms today and unanimously renounced armed violence to achieve any political ends, but Israel retained the IDF?
Gaza and the West Bank would achieve nation-state status virtually overnight. There would finally be peace between Israel and Palestine.
- What if Israel laid down their arms today, discharged every member of their armed forces and unanimously renounced armed violence to achieve any political ends, but Hamas doesn’t?
There would be mass slaughter of Israelis; a second Holocaust. Ironically, in this scenario there would also be peace, but of a very different kind: there would no longer be an Israel to struggle against.
What is the Solution?
For a while much of the conventional wisdom of security analysts has been that it is preferential for Israel to commit its military just enough to deter terrorist attacks, but not enough to require a new military occupation of Gaza. This approach has political, economic and military appeal – it means Israel is not responsible for the citizens of Gaza, and that the IDF will not have to engage in a difficult and lengthy urban war incurring much greater casualties than it is accustomed to. This balancing act of military engagements that garner only a short term peace culminated in October 7th. It’s not a permanent solution.
Nor is a ceasefire a reasonable solution. If Hamas remains intact and capable of renewing rocket and cross-border terror attacks, there will be further such attacks. No sovereign nation anywhere would accept that outcome.
Calling for a ceasefire now would be akin to calling for a ceasefire in Europe in late 1944. Although Germany was generally in retreat by this time, Hitler was still capable of renewing offensives and continuing the project of mass death for Jews – in fact, the Nazis sped up the murders of Jews towards the end! There could be no peace until the Nazis were fully denounced, dismantled, and destroyed.
Likewise, the real solution to this conflict is to denounce, dismantle, and destroy Hamas.
Just as wise and kind persons among the allies wept for civilians under Axis powers during WW2, we must weep for the innocent Gazans caught in this dreadful conflict. In 1945, the allies served to liberate the German civilians, as well as the other slave states under German and Nazi rule. Bari Weiss succinctly said, “You cannot be for the liberation of Palestinians and not be against Hamas.”
We must be clear about where the blame actually lies. We must be clear about what can actually be done to give the Gazans liberty. We must be clear about what Israel must do to prevent another 10/7 on their soil.
War is rarely the right answer. But when it is the right answer, it is usually the only answer for that particular problem.