The emails filling my box about Israel function as a remarkable document. They are a record of seemingly reasonable people who have completely lost track of basic moral reasoning. And that represents itself nowhere more consistently or powerfully than here: treating what could possibly happen to Israelis as more important than what already is happening to Palestinians. It’s such a profoundly bizarre way to think, that only this maddening issue could bring it about.
“Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist!”
Indeed– and Israel not only denies Palestine’s right to exist, it has achieved the denial of a Palestinian state in fact. What kind of broken moral calculus could cause someone to think that being told your existing state should not exist is the same as not having a state of your own?
“Israelis will become second class citizens!”
Arab Israelis already are second class citizens, and Palestinians in the territories no citizens at all. They are denied freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly. They are systematically discriminated against for jobs, especially in government. They lack adequate representation in government. Their leaders are kicked out of Knesset meetings for questioning the IDF. Racist, ultra-nationalist mobs marched through their streets, chanting “death to Arabs!” Their weddings to Jews are the subject of vicious protests. They live side-by-side with racist teenagers who unashamedly trumpet ethnic warfare. They must live in a society where men like Avigdor Lieberman, an explicit racist and literal fascist, serves in a position of power and prominence. Where Meir Kahane is memorialized by groups receiving state funds, where the JDL’s thugs march, where Lehava preaches against miscegenation. A society where the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset openly calls for ethnic cleansing. Palestinians live in a society where a tiny fraction of government funding is spent on their communities or their people. Where human rights organizations like B’Tselem are oppressed by the state. Where they have to endure Kafkaesque application processes to prevent their homes from being bulldozed, if they are given that opportunity at all. Where they live under fear of reactionary, fundamentalist Orthodox settlers who call for death to the Palestinian race.
“Israel is diplomatically isolated unfairly!”
Palestine is diplomatically isolated in a way Israel cannot imagine. The United States uses its veto power to unilaterally deny even the possibility of full membership status for Palestine in the United Nations. The US has used its foreign aid programs and incredible diplomatic leverage to marginalize Palestine and protect Israel. Israel enjoys the protection of the most diplomatically powerful country on earth; Palestine cannot even claw out formal recognition of its borders.
“Israelis will be rounded up and put into camps!”
Palestinians are already in camps, open-air prison camps like Gaza, tiny, beleaguered cantons that lack access to drinkable water or transportation infrastructure, blockaded from receiving food and essential supplies, prevented from fishing their own waters, their movements harshly restricted, forced to go through humiliating and threatening checkpoints to get to work. They travel in segregated buses. They are frequently denied access to Eastern Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian commercial and cultural life. They endure constant calls for “Greater Israel,” the call for ethnic cleansing to establish a unitary ethno-nationalist state. They live in unrecognized villages in the Negev and the North which the Israel state provides no services for. They, unlike Israeli Jews, have no “right to return.” They endured the Nakba.
“Israelis will be killed by terrorist violence!”
Palestinians are killed by terrorist violence. They are subject to spasms of outrageous violence, as the IDF kills them by the hundreds with bombs, tanks, and guns. The vast majority are civilians, many children. Their homes are destroyed, their neighborhoods demolished, their entire villages wiped out. Their hospitals and schools and universities and places of worship are bombed by Israel. Palestinians are subject to routine violence and degradation from IDF troops, who make light of this fact on social media. They are at risk from right-wing Israeli mobs who attack them at their protests and deny them their rights to protest. Their nonviolent protesters are thrown into prison. Their homes are bulldozed out of revenge.
Do I need to go on?
Everything that defenders of Israel insist will happen if Palestinians gain power, Palestinians are now enduring, or worse. Every humanitarian disaster that you imagine will occur with the creation of a Palestinian state is happening now. It’s just happening to the people of Palestine. And so this is the question for my many, many critical emailers: why do you shed more tears for what you imagine might happen to Israel than for what is happening to Palestinians?
Israel is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. Its people enjoy prosperity and security. The most powerful country on earth protects and enables it no matter what its behavior. In every meaningful sense– in terms of physical security, in terms of functioning government and democracy, in terms of human and political rights, in terms of economics and employment, in terms of respect and protection for culture and religion, in terms of life expectancy and health, in terms of education and happiness, in terms of pure self-determination– Israel is one of the most well-off nations on earth, and Palestine, one of the most beleaguered. So then why calls for the defense of Israel so outnumber calls for the defense of Palestine? The only answer that makes sense is this: the belief, whether subconscious or knowing, that an Israeli life is worth more than a Palestinian life. That is the enduring, tacit, obvious belief that underlies this entire discussion, the thing people think but do not say.
(Photo: Palestinians stand over the bodies of eight Palestinians from the al-Louh family, who were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit their house, during a funeral in Deir al-Balah town of Gaza City on August 20, 2014. Eight members of the same family, including three young brothers and a pregnant woman, were killed early Wednesday by an Israeli strike in the town of Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. By Mohammed Talatene/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)