Israel’s War against the Palestinians Is the Real Outrage

When it comes to the Middle East, Americans have it all wrong.

The root cause of the Mideast conflict is not Palestinian “terrorism.” It is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank–including East Jerusalem–and the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians have lived under Israeli military occupation for 34 years. What part of that sentence do Americans not understand?

Amnesty International recently described the “human rights violations and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions which, over the past 18 months, have been committed daily, hourly, even every minute, by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians.”[1]

Absorb that: “Every minute” the Palestinians are subjected to “human rights violations and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.”

Now think about how long 34 years is, and contemplate what it has been like for the Palestinians to suffer for over three decades.

Consider how many Palestinians have lived their entire lives under the boot of Israeli soldiers.

And yet many Americans condemn those struggling for their freedom while applauding the oppressor.

The Palestinians have the right to resist their occupation. And Israel, as the occupier, can have no right whatsoever to protest the means employed by the Palestinians.

It’s preposterous to suggest otherwise. Did the Nazis have the right to condemn the tactics of the French Resistance?

If Kuwait had been able to defend itself against Iraq’s attack, would the world have listened to Iraqi denunciations of Kuwaiti “terrorism”?

No, the world simply told both countries to get out of the occupied lands.

These matters are so perfectly clear that it shouldn’t be necessary to state them.

But, in America, it seems, it is.

The principle extends further. Those who have aided and abetted Israel’s occupation–and that means, first and foremost, the U.S. government–similarly have forfeited the right to pass moral judgment on the Palestinian resistance.

Make no mistake about the singular importance of Washington’s role in shielding Israel from the consequences of its 53-year-long assault on the Palestinian people that began with the ethnic cleansing in 1948 of Palestinians from what is now Israel.

And ethnic cleansing it was.

When the United Nations created Israel by partitioning Palestine, Jews comprised only one-third of the population of Palestine, which held some 608,000 Jews and 1,237,000 Arabs. Even within the area designated for Israel under the U.N. partition plan, the population consisted of some 500,000 Jews and 330,000 Arabs.[2]

The new Israelis solved that problem by directly expelling many of the Palestinians and embarking on a deliberate terror campaign to induce the remainder to leave. The Israeli government attempted to make this dispossession permanent when it declared, on June 16, 1948–just a month after Israel had declared independence, and before half of the refugees had even left–that it would not permit the Palestinians to return to their homeland.[3]

Today, Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinians’ right to return to their home–a right guaranteed by international law–because their return would “change the demographics” of the racially-defined Jewish state.[4]

In other words, to the Israelis, ethnic cleansing is a good thing, so long as the people cleansed are the Palestinians, those interlopers in “Eretz Israel.”

Despite the moral clarity that emerges from any fair reading of this history, many Americans see the Palestinians–not the perpetrators of the 53-year-long crime against them–as the aggressors.

This is an unfathomable disconnect from reality and an abandonment of any pretense of principle.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the past week has been Israel’s reaction to the Arab League summit in Beirut, at which the entire Arab world, including the Palestinian Authority, offered Israel a complete peace. Israel’s massive invasion of the West Bank followed the very next day.

Israel could not have more clearly rejected peace.

And yet, in our government’s view, the war is all Arafat’s fault. Even though he’s imprisoned in two rooms within a building surrounded by barbed wire, reading by candlelight and communicating via a dying cell phone, the horrors would all be over if he would just “do 100 percent.”

Decent Americans can only stare in stunned silence at the vapidity of such thoughts.


[1] Amnesty International, “Statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Israel and Occupied Territories,” April 2, 2002. Available here.

[2]See pp. 675-677 of “Binationalism not Partition,” in Walid Khalidi (ed.), From Haven to Conquest, Beirut: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971, pp. 645-702. “Binationalism not Partition” is a report submitted by a United Nations subcommittee on Nov. 11, 1947, as part of the U.N.’s decision-making process on Palestine. The report estimated the population of the territory to be assigned to Israel as having 498,000 Jews, 407,000 Arabs other than Bedouin, and 105,000 of the nomadic Bedouin. According to Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, NY: Pantheon Books, 1987, p. 83, n. 2, final changes to the boundaries called for in the partition plan reduced the Arab population of the Jewish state by some 180,000. This leaves a total of 332,000.

[3]For a discussion of this vital issue, see my “The Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1947-1948,” October, 2001. Available here.

[4]On the Palestinians’ right of return, see:

Amnesty International, “The Right to Return: The Case of the Palestinians,” March 30, 2001. Available here.

Human Rights Watch, “Human Rights Watch Policy on the Right to Return,” undated. Available here.