Forced Expulsions and Promised Lands, Part 3
Is "Peace through Strength" a futile doctrine?
Since publishing my last essay, I have felt intermittently awful and ashamed — ashamed that I find it impossible to wholeheartedly condemn Israel’s war in Gaza (although I agree a ceasefire is necessary, and civilian casualties must be minimized if they cannot be avoided). Witnessing the global pro-Palestine peace movement, I have been soul-searching, trying to understand if I am losing my mind or my grip — have I become some kind of heartless warmonger, falling under the diabolic spell of tribalism? What am I missing?
The flood of images and videos of ruined hospitals and dead children from Gaza are brutal, unbearable — although, of course, they are no different from other scenes of war-time carnage from around the world, from the past and present. These images are also being spread via social media because they are weapons in an ongoing information war. I probably don’t agree with Republican politician and former Green Beret Nick Freitas about much, but I do agree with the points he makes here.
According to Freitas, the global dissemination of these horrific images and videos was the real purpose of the Hamas attack on October 7, part of a strategy of “asymmetric warfare.” Hamas (and its allies) knew this brutal attack would provoke a brutal response from the Israeli military, causing thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties. The images of those reprisals would then be used around the world to inflame public sympathies — particularly among progressives and Leftists in the West — toward the Palestinian cause and against Israel, which has become increasingly Right Wing and oppressive to Palestinians. While Hamas cannot win on the battlefield, it can win in the global court of public opinion, which is what seems to be happening now.
Over the last decade, the Gazans’ miserable plight was increasingly ignored as Israel began to normalize relations with its Arab neighbors since signing the Abraham Accords in 2020. Hamas orchestrated this attack, which may have taken years of planning1, to bring global attention to the Palestinian cause. Hamas was aware they would be dooming thousands of Palestinians to death and immiseration. But human life, for them, is not important, according to their own expressed beliefs – even the lives of their own people. To die in such a conflict is martyrdom, which brings the martyr closer to Paradise.
I admit I was one of the many people who didn’t understand the horrific circumstances endured by the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza – often called an “open air prison” – over the last decades. Israel gave up on forming normal relations with Gaza after the Palestinians elected Hamas as their leadership in 2005. Hamas’ initial charter states their desire to kill all the Jews and abolish the state of Israel. Hamas also abolished further elections in Gaza, and diverted funds for social services to amass weapons and train terrorists. Israel dealt with this menace by walling Gaza in, controlling the border, and building a missile defense shield to repel their rockets.
As I mentioned in earlier essays, I never tried to understand the byzantine complexities of the situation in Israel, until now. What is happening in Israel has so many implications for the world and our future. It seems that studying it can’t be avoided.
The more I research, the more this seems an insoluble — unresolvable — moral and political dilemma. Beneath the moral, political, and ethnic dimensions of it, there is the religious and eschatological issue. This the most dangerous aspect of the conflict, as it could easily lead to all-out war in the region, and nuclear war. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all possess an “End of Days,” Apocalyptic theology, centered on this region — in particular the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, a crucial sacred site for Muslims. This is where the Third Temple of Solomon must be built, eventually, for those Jews and Christians who take a hyper-literal approach to scripture (others might find the “Third Temple” a metaphor for inward sanctification). According to one evangelical Christian site:
The importance to Orthodox Jews of rebuilding the Temple lies in its role in the redemption of the world, which they believe can only take place once the Temple is rebuilt. Gershon Salomon is director of the Temple Mount Faithful, an organization that has been trying to prepare Israeli society to accept and promote the rebuilding of the Temple through demonstrations at the Temple site, the construction of a cornerstone for the Third Temple, and the making of various Temple-related utensils. Salomon has said: “[Building the Third Temple] is an act which must be done to complete the redemption of the people of the Bible in the Land of the Bible.”
The Hamas attacks on October 7 were called “Al-Aqsa flood,” and were specifically in response to recent assaults by Orthodox Jews on Muslims praying in the Al Aqsa Mosque.
In recent essays, I looked at intractable elements of Islamic theology that lead to political and moral absolutism. For the Ayatollah in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and many other radical and fundamentalist Islamic groups, there cannot be a Jewish state in the Middle East: It must be destroyed. The leaders of Iran say this over and over.
Problems between Jews and Muslims goes back to the formation of Islam in the 7th Century CE. Back then, Muhammad made war against the local Jewish tribes, conquering them, killing the men and taking their wives and daughters as concubines. Here is one of many historical incidents in Muhammad’s life, from Wikipedia:
Muhammad, while bathing at his wife's abode, received a visit from the angel Gabriel, who instructed him to attack the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza... Muhammad besieged the tribe, alleging they had taken sides against him, which they firmly refuted …
After a 25-day siege, the Banu Qurayza surrendered. The Muslims of Banu Aws entreated Muhammad for leniency… all the men [were] put to death, their possessions distributed among Muslims, and their women and children taken as captives. Muhammad declared, "You have judged according to the very sentence of God above the seven heavens.” Consequently, 600–900 men of Banu Qurayza were executed. The women and children were distributed as slaves… The proceeds were then utilized to purchase weapons and horses for the Muslims.
On and on, it goes. At the same time, there were long periods in the history of the Middle East where Jews were tolerated and accepted in many Muslim societies, as fellow “People of the Book.”
Sylvain Cypel’s The State of Israel Versus the Jews looks at the apartheid policies of Israel and its flouting of international law and its human rights abuses over the last half century. Crispel is a former Zionist and an Israeli who now thinks that the state of Israel and its “cult of force,” based on “systemic cruelty,” has become not only a moral but an existential danger for the Jewish people as a whole.