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There Is Only One Way Out of This
Unless Israel ends the occupation and the apartheid state, this will never be over.
It has been common for decades to frame events in Palestine and Israel in almost mystical terms—to talk about a constant “cycle of violence” between endlessly warring tribes, or to refer to “ancient grievances” and “intractable” struggles.
This kind of rhetoric serves two purposes. First, it gives lazy writers some easy bits of shorthand to fall back on. Second, and more importantly, it allows people to portray the situation as a battle between two sides guided by quasi-spiritual forces beyond any human control or real-world responsibility. This is an especially convenient narrative if you are trying very hard to claim the mantle of “objective” observer.
But the violence in Palestine and Israel—including the violence that has rocked the region since early on Saturday, when Hamas fighters launched a stunning surprise attack that has been deadlier and more widespread than anything Israel has had to contend with in living memory—is not decreed by the Quran or the Torah. It is not the result of some gnostic puppetmaster pulling the two sides into war. It is not unsolvable.
The violence is the direct result of some very basic realities—namely, that Israel has been occupying Palestine for 75 years, has been killing and oppressing Palestinians for just as long, and has created the world’s most enduring apartheid state. And the only thing that will really put a stop to the violence is if those conditions are ended.
That’s really all there is to it. You can go through all of the twists and turns since 1948, but if you don’t come back to that fundamental truth, there’s no real conversation to have.
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War—in its brutality, in the suffering it causes, in the moral atrophy it inspires—must be a contender for the worst invention in human history. Glorifying war, or writing off the taking of human life, has never made much sense to me. I dearly wish that the violence we are seeing now was not happening, and I fear for the violence and death to come.
But anyone looking honestly at Israel and Palestine should have some idea of why we are where we are. Israel is a colonial power, Palestinians are a colonized and occupied people, and this is the response that colonialism and occupation breeds. Here in the U.S., we venerate people who violently rose up against their colonial rulers, even though they were a bunch of elite slaveowners who were mad not about suffering under apartheid—hell, they were perpetrating apartheid, and much worse besides—but about paying taxes. If they could revolt over the price of tea, what can we expect from people in situations that are much, much worse than anything George Washington had to deal with?
Every respected human rights organization you can think of has concluded that Israel is an apartheid state. Its politics are dominated by openly genocidal forces; just today, Israel’s defense minister ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off electricity, water, fuel, and food, and said, “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.” This stuff is not subtle.
Israel treats Palestinians as less than human as a matter of policy. It has systematically and purposefully destroyed the prospects of the much-vaunted two-state solution. It has trapped the people of Gaza in a hell as bleak as you will find anywhere on earth. It has stolen the land of people in the occupied West Bank in brazen violation of international law. It allows fascists to commit pogroms against Palestinians with impunity. It attacks Palestinians in their holiest places of worship. It leaves thousands of Palestinians to rot in jail without charge. When Palestinians try to peacefully stand up to any of this, Israel crushes them. The killing of Palestinians is as routine as the sunrise.
And, I should add, Israel does all of this with the unquestioning support of the most powerful country in the world. When Joe Biden made his first remarks about this weekend’s violence, he completely—and surely deliberately—failed to acknowledge that Palestinians have been dying. That is how much the United States wants to send the message that Palestinian life is cheap. That is how much protection Israel has from the US. That is how lopsided this conflict is.
I could go on, and on, and on. But hopefully the situation is clear enough. What Israel does to Palestinians is a form of war by any stretch of the imagination, and it is a war that has been waged every day for decades.
It is totally acceptable and humane to lament the violence that has broken out over the past few days and to plead for an end to the killing of civilians. But anyone trying to say that this violence sprang from nowhere; or that it is not rooted in the decisions that Israel has made over the last 75 years; or that Palestinians have not been dying every day for generations; or that they bear the most responsibility for what happens next, is lying to you.
The solution is, and always has been, clear. There has only ever been one way out of this nightmare, and that is for Israel to end the occupation, end the apartheid state, end the blockade of Gaza, end the settlements, honor the Palestinian right of return, and commit to building a truly equal society.
Saying that the solution is clear is not the same as saying that it is easy. Of course it isn’t easy. But it’s true nevertheless. Without the end of the occupation, or the end of apartheid, or the end of the idea that Jewish domination and democracy can co-exist, this will never be over. There’s no way around that. There is no other way through.