As the Israeli bombardment of Hamas hideouts in Gaza continues, killing thousands of Palestinians, protests against Israel have erupted worldwide. The demonstrations in the Muslim world have been typically volatile, with Israeli flags and effigies burnt, and genocidal chants against Israel and Jews redoubled. Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands protesting in support of Palestine in major Western cities have not focused their energies on ensuring respite for Palestinians, and addressing the plight of the Gazans, who are currently facing a gruesome existential crisis.
Any sort of resolution to the conflict, in my view, would only be achievable via reconciliatory movements, such as rallying for a two-state solution and demanding the release of Israeli hostages, in the same breath as calling for a ceasefire or condemning the Judaeophobia on display across the rallies. Instead, the pro-Palestine protesters appear more invested in demanding the erasure of Israel by freeing Palestine ‘from the river to the sea’.
Many gullible Western liberals have demanded that solely a Palestinian state exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Strangely, they do not appear to see anything anti-Israeli, nay anti-Semitic, in this demand. Of course, these protesters vociferously accuse Israel of erasing Palestine, without blinking an eye at their own position on the elimination of the Jewish state.
More critically, as thousands are being killed in Gaza, it takes a special ideological fixation, and indifference to human suffering, to peddle self-serving inflammatory narratives, fuelled by the blood of the Palestinians whom one claims to be defending. It should not require lengthy reflection to realise that championing Israel’s destruction, especially without any practical means to carry it out, is not exactly the best way to convince that state not to inflict harm on others. But it is precisely this symbiosis between Palestinian suffering and calls for Israel’s destruction that has helped sustain both the Islamist and leftist dogma on the conflict. Instead of adducing the death of Palestinians as an argument for destroying Israel, the cause of peace and safety for both sides would be better served by building bridges.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the reactions to the 7 October massacre orchestrated by Hamas, in which over 1,000 Israelis were murdered, the highest number of Jews killed in an attack since the Holocaust. Islamists have loudly glorified Hamas’s Judaeophobic jihad – fuelled by animosity against the Jews on the basis of religion – and claimed it is consistent with Islamic scriptures. At the same time, the ideological left’s exuberant celebration of the mass murder of civilians is almost exclusively reserved for Israeli citizens and not any other country’s citizens.
Those hostile to Israel often refuse to differentiate between Israelis and Jews in general. Yet even the most raucous anti-Western voices on the left would take a courteous pause before linking attacks on Jews in the US, the UK or France to ‘colonialism’. In contrast, when gruesome massacres of Israelis were being carried out, the left’s instinctive reaction was to celebrate, as they have continued to do while hostages remain in captivity with Hamas. Even Western parliaments, such as the one in Scotland, refused to fly the Israeli flag, while the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) did not even mention Israel in its moment of silence for the ‘loss of innocent lives’.
Of course, the left’s celebratory or at least exculpatory attitude towards the killings in Israel would hardly be adopted towards the numerous states empirically more guilty of crimes similar to those attributed to Israel, from Turkey to China. Even from a Muslim-centric lens, many times more people have been killed in wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen since the turn of the century than during the entire history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Similarly, the suffering of Afghans, Iraqis or Syrians at the hands of external forces is not generally used as an apologia for the Taliban or ISIS – at least not to the same degree as with Hamas.
Those deeming Israel an ‘artificial state’ might want to look at the arbitrary nature in which the vast majority of the postcolonial states came into being, without consideration for locals’ consensual aspirations. For instance, 80 percent of the borders in Africa were simply based on longitudes and latitudes. The Muslims of many Indian states had little in common with what is now Pakistan, the doppelganger of Israel whose creation they rallied for in the 1940s, with significantly more displacement and human suffering. Indeed, the creation of Pakistan involved the largest mass migration in human history. While Jews have always lived in the Israel-Palestine area, Muslims from Uttar Pradesh or Bengal in India had as much connection to the Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in Pakistan as someone in Poland would have with Portugal.
Today, too, it is Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern origin who constitute the largest percentage of Israeli Jews, owing to the mass expulsion of Jews from Muslim-majority states. This fact is consistently ignored by Israel’s opponents in those countries. The attribution of war crimes singularly to Israel is determined by the rulebook put forth by the same global establishment that created Israeli and Palestinian states in the region. Paradoxically, the Jewish-majority country has been required by its critics to treat territories captured in war in a manner unlike that in which any other victorious power ever has done in history.
Despite all this, one can still attempt to make sense of the ideological left’s fixation with Israel, given the historical military and economic support provided to the state by the Western powers, under the leadership of the US. This fixation has been further augmented in the present crisis by the majority of Western governments’ backing for Israel and the predominant media support for their narrative on the conflict.
The rise of Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government in Israel, which has exploited its own religionist rationale to bulldoze Palestinian rights, has also encouraged those on the left to condemn the stance of Western powers and criticise their role in the conflict. This condemnation is undoubtedly crucial to keeping a check on Israeli far-right manoeuvres, and to the possibility of an eventual compromise. Not only have growing Jewish settlements on the West Bank shrunk Palestinian control over the territories, but the current Israeli regime’s open support for the settlers is encouraging violence against Palestinians who have nothing to do with Hamas or anti-Israel jihad.
It is also essential, for anyone who recognises the clear role of religion in the conflict, to delegitimise any canonical justifications of exclusively Judaic claims to the land in the Old Testament, just as it is to highlight the Judaeophobia in the Quran and Hadith. Yet to condemn the settlements on the West Bank, and the Israeli government’s policies, requires by the same token the acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy as a state. A sweeping assertion of Israeli illegality is not only counterproductive, but also inconsistent with the international law usually cited to delegitimise Israeli action in the West Bank.
However, the most ominous hypocrisy, and one that is especially damaging to any quest for Palestinian freedom, stems from the Muslim left. For one thing, they deceitfully refuse to acknowledge the Arab and Muslim imperialism at the heart of the conflict; for another, they refuse to acknowledge the Judaeophobia rooted in Islamic scripture as the driving force behind the Muslim world’s murderous obsession with Israel. The genocidal rhetoric against the Jews with which Islamic scriptures are brim-full, and which is often echoed at Palestine protest rallies even in the West, is the predominant motivation behind Muslim animosity towards Israel. In Hamas, this animosity finds its most bloodthirsty expression. The leftist postcolonial apologia of their actions provides the cover of victimhood that sustains Islamist violence.
Even so, what makes support for Hamas by self-identified ‘pro-Palestine’ sections truly bizarre is that the jihadist group is not just indirectly responsible for Gaza’s plight, nor is it merely using civilian inhabitants of Gaza as human shields. Rather, Hamas has actively killed Palestinians to maintain its stranglehold over the population. From gunning down supporters and members of political rivals Fatah to brutally massacring dissenters in Gaza, the group has thrived on Palestinian dead bodies.
Furthermore, like many other jihadist groups in the Muslim world, the rise of Hamas was facilitated by Western powers and indeed Israel itself at the tail end of the Cold War, in order to counter groups with Soviet sympathies. Thereafter, through funding from the oil-rich Arab world, Hamas leaders have enriched their bank balances, and many, like the current chairman Ismail Haniyeh, are orchestrating Israeli and Palestinian bloodshed from the comfort of Qatar. Hamas, together with its fellow jihadist outfit, Islamic Jihad, has been duly supported by Iran, where the leaders of both groups met this June to plot the ‘most efficient way to end the more than 75 years of occupation’ along with the Shia jihadist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. The plan that ensued, punctuated by the gory events of 7 October, was designed to derail the ongoing normalisation of ties between Israel and the Arab world. As recently as September, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman had underlined that official diplomatic ties were ‘closer’ than ever. Tragically, the present conflict has dealt a blow to these diplomatic efforts.
In addition to the glorification of jihad against Israelis, what also binds Hamas and its leftist apologists is their condemnation of the diplomatic recognition of Israel on the part of Arab and Muslim states, a move initiated by the Abraham Accords in 2020. For over eight decades, since the 1937 Peel Commission report suggested the creation of a Jewish homeland, the violent Arab rejection of it has superseded any endeavour to form a Palestinian one. Even until the Six-Day War in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were under Jordanian and Egyptian control; the idea that a Palestinian homeland might be created in those territories, even one that was temporary and conditional to future expansionary ambitions, was never promoted.
At the heart of the ongoing conflict in the region is the fact that different religious groups are claiming exclusive control over much of the same territory. These opposing claims are irreconcilable. However, one way to resolve the dilemma might be to allow Muslims and Jews to share collective control over certain parts of the land, most notably in Jerusalem, while holding other parts exclusively. I suspect that this will indeed be the means of resolution in the long term – though not until more blood has needlessly been spilt.
The collective Arab-Muslim acceptance of Israel has long been the sure move that would ultimately ensure Palestinian freedom. Unfortunately, it is the puritanical proponents of ‘free Palestine’, whether the jihadists or their apologists, who have rallied, politically or militarily, to practically deny any bid for that freedom by denying Israel’s right to exist. Even among the more reconciliation-minded of these ideologues, it is the rise of the Israeli right and its repudiation of the two-state solution that they view as the deal-breaker, and not the fact the Jewish state has been surrounded in the region by those propagating their own genocidal version of a single, Arab state.
In this way, the Islamist and leftist dream of Israel’s extermination, which symbolises the salvation of their respective ideologies, has long treated Palestinian lives as fodder – no matter if treaties signed by Egypt and Jordan with Israel underlined the potential of peace deals in the region. Today, both Jordan and Egypt are likelier to welcome Israelis than Palestinians, with King Abdullah II refusing to take refugees and Egypt having sealed its border with Gaza since 2007. The lack of even a whisper of condemnation of Egypt or Jordan in rallies for Palestine makes it easy to understand how such rallies can be interpreted as being targeted specifically at Israel, and at Israel alone.
Even so, despite the hysterical ideologies at the heart of the long-running Israeli-Arab conflict, and the existence of countless volumes underlining the complexities of the conflict, the solution is still set to be as arbitrarily imposed as the problem was. While the Hamas-initiated war might postpone the Saudi-led acceptance of Israel, the deal will happen soon. As has long been maintained by Mohamed bin Salman, this deal is likely to lead to the creation of an autonomous Palestine as well, especially since Riyadh wants to maintain its leadership over the Muslim world.
Unfortunately for the Palestinians, what they will eventually get is likely to be a fraction of what they could have attained decades ago through reconciliation, while a wish for such reconciliation is scarcely detectable in the rallying cries of those claiming to be the well-wishers of Palestine. Reconciliation and a two-state solution are also likely to come in the aftermath of a torpedoed Gaza and an enormous loss of Palestinian lives. Meanwhile, those on the ideological left, along with the Islamists, persist in their hate-mongering rhetoric, unwilling to acknowledge how their disdain of compromise is contributing to the bloodshed of Palestinians and Israelis alike.