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For Supporters of Israel or Palestine, Outrage Abounds

Everywhere you look, when the topic turns to Israel and Gaza, outrage abounds. One side is apoplectic that we aren’t talking more about the hostages. The other side can’t believe that the world watches impassively while innocents suffer relentless bombings and famine levels of hunger. In the name of this outrage, violent (and it should be said, illegal) Israeli settlers somehow feel justified in attacking aid trucks bound for innocent victims. And in countries across the world, hatemongers have used this conflict as a pretense to commit increasingly heinous acts of antisemitism.

So who is right? Whose outrage is more justified? Whose cause or vengeance is more righteous? On which side does morality lie?

The most precarious ideological real estate these days seems to lie in the middle. If you recognize and pay heed to the laments and accusations of one side, you will surely be lambasted by the other. You can, reasonably, I believe, point out that Hamas’ attack on Israel was barbaric and rapacious to the pro-Palestinian contingent. And a massive but will surely follow explaining how decades of Israeli military repression and subjugation created the conditions for this attack. Just as you can assert to the pro-Israel faction, again reasonably, that the Israeli government response has been wildly disproportionate and likely includes the commission of war crimes in its killing of civilians. And a similar but will follow invoking the country’s right to self-defense and the existential crisis it feels it is now facing.

Palestinians inspect damage after an Israeli air strike in the city of Rafah on April 21
Palestinians inspect the damage after an Israeli air strike in the city of Rafah on April 21. (Anas-Mohammed)

This yelling past each other naturally achieves nothing other than making the adherents of each side feel better. Yet it doesn’t get us any closer to a resolution of the untenable status quo nor a better understanding of the position, hopes, or objectives of the opposing side. What is key to understanding, it strikes me, is that these dual sources of outrage are not mutually exclusive. Both senses of rage stem from a desire to protect one’s tribe and one’s people. Taken in isolation, this is an understandable sentiment. Just not when it comes to the sacrifice of another group’s safety or security.

The mutual outrage that we can, and I think all should feel, is against the forces of violence and division that exist and are in large part in control of the conflict, on both sides. We should all feel outrage at the October 7th attacks on innocent Israeli civilians. And we should all be appalled at the killings of innocent Gazan civilians that have piled up by the tens of thousands in the months since October.

Allow me to break down the rationale behind each side’s moral outrage and where their arguments eventually fall short. Then, I will offer the prospect, however slim, of reconciling these disparate views and mutual outrage and a possible way forward.

The Israeli Outrage

On October 7th, the Israeli sense of collective security was shattered. The perception of its invulnerability to a large-scale attack was also fundamentally shaken. True, Israel has been victim to numerous terrorist attacks, large and small, over the last few decades, but not a wider-scale incursion of its established defenses since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Every Israeli lives with a lingering fear of getting on a bus or gathering in crowded plazas, knowing full well that a terrorist attack is a real if remote possibility. I felt that familiar twinge of latent fear living in Tel Aviv as well, even if I lived there during a relatively peaceful time a decade ago. But living with this gnawing fear is very different than watching 1,200 of your fellow countrymen murdered by bloodthirsty barbarians on YouTube.

And so the outpouring of Israeli outrage that followed directed itself specifically against Hamas but also against Gaza more broadly. I think that most outside observers understood this rage and desire for vengeance. Americans felt it against al-Qaeda after 9/11, thus the national catharsis when President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had finally been killed a full ten years after the Twin Towers fell.

The desire to seek revenge for the murder, rape, and kidnapping of your fellow citizens is a natural, primal human response, even if not perhaps the one most conducive to a lasting, peaceful resolution. It is impossible to watch the collected videos of the Hamas attacks on the Israeli youth who attended the electronic music festival and not be appalled, horrified, or virulently angry. Hamas is a repugnant, brutal, misogynistic organization that richly deserves the bile that has been directed toward it in the aftermath of the attack. But the vast majority of Gazans who have borne the brunt of the subsequent Israeli military response do not.

It is necessary to make this important distinction between those responsible for the planning and execution of this attack and those civilians behind whom Hamas hides to garner sympathy and foment the rancor of the international community. And I do believe that most rational people are entirely capable of making this distinction. No one doubts that Hamas seeks greater civilian casualties to increase the scrutiny of and scorn upon the Israeli government and military.

Israeli troops in Gaza
Israeli troops in Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

This does not excuse this tactic. It does, however, impose a responsibility on the Israeli authorities as well as the Israeli people. Israelis, in large numbers, have backed continued military operations in Gaza despite the appalling casualties these attacks have inflicted. They have largely supported, if public surveys can be trusted, the brutal tactics and conduct of this war by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), with over 70% of Israelis in favor of the current approach or going even further. This is not to say that all Israelis favor this approach, and there have been notable voices of dissent and protest. But not enough to curb Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckless and callous conduct in the war.

There is no shortage of documentation of the war crimes that the Netanyahu government has committed in the conduct of this war. And that is to its eternal shame. But it does not need to be to Israel’s, a nation that I and we all should hold to a higher standard as a democracy and a Jewish democracy at that. Israel is a beautiful country populated by truly lovely, warm, and gracious people—but neither average Gazans nor the international community have seen this side in the months since October. They have only seen the side bent on revenge, personified by the defiant and deviant Netanyahu himself.

So yes, we can and should keep the remaining Israeli hostages in our minds, our thoughts, and our prayers. We should all want them to come home safely. And we should do what we can, within the bounds of morality and reasonableness, to get them back (I do not believe, for example, that rescuing four hostages justifies or excuses killing almost 300 people to do so, even if I recognize the relief and joy it brought to the families of those who safely were returned). This is why an immediate cease-fire, one that releases all of the hostages, is the best way forward. But we should, as Israelis, Jews, or people of conscience, recognize the horrible and inhumane toll that the conduct of this war has had on innocent Gazans. And so we can remain outraged at the barbarism and villainy of Hamas while still maintaining compassion for the ordinary Gazans caught up in the war whose homes, families, and lives have been destroyed through no fault of their own.

The Palestinian Outrage

Just as the Israeli outrage is powerful, visceral, and seemingly righteous, so is its Palestinian counterpart. Though I have spent time in conflict zones as an aid worker, I cannot imagine the horror of living in Gaza, having my home destroyed, seeing my relatives killed, and trying to move from supposed safe zone to safe zone, all the while not knowing when the next IDF bombing or assault is coming. The international community wrings it hands, some countries cry foul and condemn Israel, while others stay notably silent. But this does not feed the hungry. Nor rebuild destroyed homes, businesses, or hospitals. Nor bring back the thousands of dead.

The vast majority of the civilian population of Gaza is not to blame for Hamas’ October 7th attack any more than the average citizen of Tel Aviv is at fault for the Netanyahu government’s vicious bombing campaign. I could argue that Gazans have less agency in the authoritarian decisions of Hamas relative to the average Israeli, who may or may not have voted for this current right-wing Netanyahu government, but at least had the option of doing so. While some Gazans undoubtedly support the extremist agenda spearheaded by Hamas, if not necessarily the methods used, there are many who oppose the organization and its perverse goals, morality, and militaristic use of aid funds (the Qatari and Iranian millions that could have been spent on development, education, or health care but were instead spent on rockets and tunnels).

Israeli tank
(Israel Defense Forces)

Some will claim that Gazans elected Hamas, and they, therefore, have the government they deserve. But the last election in Gaza happened in 2006. Almost half of the population of Gaza is under the age of 18, so none of these people would have voted in this election. Think of the countries that have had somewhat legitimate elections since 2006 that have witnessed dramatic changes in their governments since that time: Russia has gone full totalitarian; Hungary, Turkey, and India qualify as illiberal democracies if not quasi-authoritarian states; and Venezuela and Nicaragua are unrecognizable dictatorships. Should we hold the current-day citizens in these countries accountable for electoral decisions made two decades ago that didn’t pan out? I don’t see anyone out there arguing this preposterous point, yet it seems to hold sway for some where Gaza is concerned.

The Biden administration, for its part, does genuinely seem to want an end to the hostilities and the killing but has been unwilling to take the necessary steps to move the needle to get Netanyahu to budge. This would necessitate threatening to cut off (or actually doing so) offensive weapons to Israel. I realize that, to some, this is an extreme policy decision (and to many others not extreme enough). I personally support this measure given the depravity of the Netanyahu government and its blatant disregard for human life and seeming unwillingness to seek an end to the conflict (the longer the conflict goes on, the longer Bibi stays in power and out of jail, where he belongs). Yet, I cannot and will not support cutting off of defensive weapons, given the many dangerous and regional threats that Israel faces, evidenced by the Iranian attack of two months ago.

Where the pro-Palestine side goes off the rails is in assuming that their side has a monopoly on morality. Its supporters rarely reference what ignited this current round of renewed hostilities—Hamas’ awful attack—and they offer scant recognition of the realities of the Gaza Strip before the IDF invasion—wretched governance motivated by a repugnant, anachronistic vision of what a modern state should look like. A rebuilt, reimagined Gaza will need to be led not by myopic terrorists nor even by a feckless, crooked Palestinian Authority (led by the illegitimate Mahmoud Abbas). It will be a herculean task to rebuild Gaza, which will take decades, but it will need steady guidance and leadership.

While any lawful decision-making authority must involve the assent and involvement of the Palestinian people, it requires the legitimacy of the Arab world and the diplomatic and financial power of the U.S. to make it viable and to provide the basic elements of security and investment to begin the process. But the pro-Palestine side needs to come clean about the abuses of Hamas and the fact that it should have no role in the governance or direction of Gaza moving forward. Its ideology of hate and revenge has not, nor will not, lead to peace or a prosperous Gaza.

Where We Go from Here

Finding a solution or a middle ground between the two opposing camps was always going to be difficult. It becomes more so when neither Hamas nor Netanyahu is incentivized to compromise or to end the conflict. Hamas benefits from Israel continuing to inflict causalities on the civilians of Gaza, as it can cast the IDF as the villains and themselves as the righteous martyrs. And Netanyahu benefits from using the war to distract the Israeli people from his negligence of the country’s security and to postpone an election that will be a referendum on his failed leadership. So what can each side’s supporters do to help facilitate a solution, rather than just screaming vainly into the wind?

For one, they can channel their outrage in productive directions. Screaming, shouting, and vilifying the other side doesn’t help. It only calcifies the conflict. On the other hand, pressuring your side’s leadership to make concessions, even painful ones, that can move each side a bit closer together at the bargaining table, does. For Israel, that is a cessation of the active military campaign so that Gazan civilians can breathe, receive vital aid, and begin to rebuild their lives. For Hamas, that involves immediately releasing ALL of the hostages, alive or dead, so that Israel can welcome back their loved ones or grieve their loss, but to finally begin to move on from October 7th.

Israelis protesting against judicial reforms being pushed through by Netanyahu's right-wing government
Israelis protesting against judicial reforms being pushed through by Netanyahu’s right-wing government. (Avivi Aharon)

Of course, this is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Deeper, more meaningful agreements and concessions need to be made to find a more permanent solution and lasting peace.

On the Israeli side, this requires a new government. The Israeli people should continue to demand fresh elections that will bring different, if not completely ideologically distinct, leadership. At least this leadership will have some legitimacy and may feel emboldened to make some difficult yet necessary decisions, like allowing for Palestinian statehood. I realize that many Israelis do not want to reward Hamas with Palestinian statehood as a result of their violence. But Palestinian statehood should not be seen as a win for Hamas; it should be seen as a win for the Palestinian people and, hopefully, a long-term win for the security of Israel. A prosperous Gaza (and the West Bank, for that matter) is the only way that Israel will achieve this long-term security. And the best way to get there remains a two-state solution.

As long as he remains in power, Netanyahu will never allow a two-state solution to be put back on the table because he has worked hard to kill this alternative, and a return to this path is anathema to his extremist, right-wing coalition partners and would collapse his government. This is the chief reason, though there are numerous others, why he needs to go and go now. Israel needs a government that can compromise and realize opportunities where they exist. There is a historic, game-changing opportunity on the table right now for Israel: formal diplomatic recognition by Saudi Arabia—the leader of the Arab world—in exchange for Palestinian statehood (alongside a massive American security guarantee as well). The Biden administration has already negotiated this deal, which is ready to be signed. The sooner that Israel realizes the impediment to peace that Netanyahu represents, and the sooner that they get rid of him and put in place a government that has the interests of the entire country, and not the narrow interests of one person or an extremist, messianic coalition, the better.

Demonstrators for and supporters of the pro-Palestinian movement often seem to prefer to yell and scream about the villainy of the Israeli state without ever realizing the difficulty of Israel’s predicament or proposing meaningful ways forward. Israel did propose meaningful compromises in 2000 and 2007 that were rejected by Arafat and the Palestinian leadership.

Israel does need a legitimate partner for peace, and neither the PA nor Hamas are that. Yes, Israel does need to stop undermining Palestinian autonomy and commit to supporting the creation of a newly imagined entity that can honestly and faithfully represent Palestinians in their quest for viable statehood. But they need a partner who will commit to the arduous, painstaking process of state-building, civil society creation, and functional governance. The international community needs to give Israel the space to make these concessions and the grace to allow them to make mistakes in the right direction.

The Palestinian people face the much harder task of trading their desire for vengeance for a desire for development. The easier path would be retributional attacks and the destabilization of Israeli society through another intifada. Striking fear into those you believe are responsible for the death and destruction visited upon your homeland.

The more difficult (but ultimately more productive) path, as Black and white South Africans, Catholic and Protestant Northern Irish, and West and East Germans have found, is reconciliation.

As to the protestors and supporters of the pro-Palestine movement, they need to allow Israel and the Palestinians the necessary space and air to breathe and allow this difficult, painstaking process to move forward, albeit more slowly than they might like. Screaming won’t help, but organization and advocacy, in the form of political pressure, support for bigger aid packages for Palestine, and a push for possible diplomatic recognition, will.

It is an arduous way forward, to be sure, but it is not unprecedented to see bitter, long-term conflicts resolved peacefully. The supporters of each group need to use their outrage to push each side closer to a solution, rather than merely inflaming passion and virtue signaling. If a resolution is what they truly want, and I hope it is, they need to stop being part of the problem and start thinking about how they might be part of the solution.