The second I saw the first rowdy pro-Hamas march in a big American city, I felt an incredible sense of déjà vu. For what is the “Free Palestine” movement in America more than a recapitulation of Black Lives Matter and other forms of black American activism over the past decade? In both cases, left-wing partisans who see human interactions in terms of oppressor/oppressed dynamics are claiming their group faces serious problems because of external abuse—and denying that their group has played any role in the controversies involving them. In both cases, whatever truth there may be in the initial complaint, the matters that trigger these movements are far more complex and have almost entirely internal causes. And, in both cases, shameless self-billed “local leaders” and other hucksters prevent any discussion of how to fix these real problems.

Some level of sympathy for the groups in question is entirely understandable. Black Americans, of course, were slaves in the United States for almost a century, from 1776 to 1865. Large areas of the South remained racially segregated for decades longer, until 1954’s Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. The U.S. Civil Rights Act, which rendered most forms of racial discrimination illegal, did not become law until 10 years after that. And so on: Over the course of American history, at least 3,445 blacks (and almost 1,500 whites) were lynched by angry mobs—often hanged publicly or burnt alive. It is difficult to read through a substantive text on black American history without feeling some sadness about our nation’s past, as well as great respect for my race’s successful struggle for equality.

The same is true when it comes to sympathy for the Palestinian cause. With the British division of the imperial provinces of Transjordan and Mandatory Palestine into Jewish-majority Israel and Arab-majority Jordan following World War II, and the war that broke out between Israel and surrounding Arab powers, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs left or were driven off their family lands. More than 750,000 of these people and their descendants (up to 5.9 million by some quirky estimates) remain technical “refugees” today, living in such areas of resettlement as the Gaza Strip’s giant Jabalia “refugee camp.” An entire UN Department exists to meet their needs.

Many or most of those Palestinians initially left their lands because Arab generals who commanded forces then invading Israel told them to do so to give hostile armies a better shot at striking into and destroying the nascent Jewish state. By now, nearly eight decades later, several Gaza and West Bank refugee settlements are sizeable cities full of multistory buildings. But the narrative of Palestinian displacement is an understandably upsetting one for many people even now.

And both communities, black and Palestinian, face significant problems, which are tempting to blame on historical oppression and defeat. In the United States, for example, the rate of serious violent crime among African Americans is currently 2.4 times the rate among white Americans. The median black score on the pre-college SAT exam stands at 941, versus roughly 1100 for non-Hispanic whites (itself hardly a stellar score: Asian-American kids and Jewish students now bring home almost a 1250). A sizable income gap persists between the races: The average black male between 30 and 39 earns $51,000 annually, versus a median income of $71,000 for white men of the same age.

The problems for Palestinians are even simpler and more brutal to sum up. Annual per capita GDP inside the densely populated Gaza Strip (officially) stands at just $5,600. The place is literally run by criminals: The elected, and rather popular, governing party is the terrorist group Hamas. What could the cause of such structural failures be? One obvious default is the idea that the blame belongs to oppression. The government of Israel, in the Palestinian case, must surely be blocking humanitarian assistance and business development to Gaza and other Palestinian regions, and preventing the construction of infrastructure there.

In both cases, the idea that oppression is the primary cause of the failure of civil society is forwarded, aggressively and constantly, by persuasive demagogues. The argument that the sole cause of all performance gaps between large racial groups is “racism”—and not, say, culture, regional or religious effects, stochastic random chance, genetic factors, or even the effects of past history—is the core theme of Ibram Kendi’s bestselling pseudo-scholarship. One of America’s leading attorneys, Ben Crump, published a bestselling book arguing that black Americans are experiencing a “genocide” and that rebellion against this state of abuse explains much crime.

Much the same sort of thing is frequently said about Palestine. Almost immediately on the heels of the horrific terrorist attacks of October 7—during which some young women were raped so often and savagely that their pelvises broke—34 of the leading student institutions at a small but prominent college called Harvard signed a formal letter assigning all blame for the attacks, and for conditions in Palestine, to the Israeli “occupation” regime. One of these organizations, rather remarkably, was Amnesty International.

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The only problem with these arguments, to put this in the highly technical language of professional wonkery, is that they are stupid and wrong. The key weakness of the contention that black community issues such as high crime are due to contemporary racism (or, for that matter, to genetics) is that most of them did not exist to anywhere near the same extent in the past, despite the fact that the makeup of the black population was largely identical and the ethnic conflict with whites was far worse. As I have documented, the black murder rate roughly doubled during the recent “Black Lives Matter” era alone: It currently stands at an astounding 32/100,000 per year, which is higher than the Caucasian suicide rate.

This tragic final average merely reflects the end-point of a long and disturbing trend. As writers such as Mona Charen have documented, American and particularly black American crime rates began to surge following the liberalization of “blue city” justice systems in the 1960s and 1970s. Astonishingly, murders increased from roughly 8,000 to 24,530 between the years 1963 and 1993, and serious aggravated assaults increased from 174,210 to 1,135,610. While U.S. crime did decline significantly during the post-Giuliani-and-Bratton 2000s, homicides have climbed back to more than 20,000 annually during the past several years. More than half of all recent murder victims have been black, something hardly characteristic even of the Jim Crow era. If we choose to add fatherlessness to this analysis, the African-American out-of-wedlock birth rate stood at just 11 percent in 1938—in contrast to 69 percent today (alongside a rate of 36 percent for whites). Racism is the cause? Not likely.

Same for the Palestinians. In the bluntest possible logical terms, most of the problems of, specifically, Gaza cannot be laid at the feet of Israel…because Israel has not occupied or ruled the Gaza Strip since 2005. Far more of them, in fact, can be laid at the feet of Hamas, the terrorist group that has been in charge of the area since 2007. Among many other objectively insane actions, Hamas’s leaders ordered or allowed the destruction of the great majority of the infrastructure left behind by some 10,000 departing Jews, who fled the region following an Israeli pullback (thus, of course, being “forced to abandon their family lands”)—including the once-legendary floral greenhouses of the Strip.

Since that point, Hamas has systematically looted the potentially rich lands under its control—at one point rather literally beating plowshares into swords by using miles of state-of-the-art sewer pipe sent by the international aid community to make rocket-launcher tubes. Gaza and the other component region of recognized Palestine (the West Bank) have in fact received many billions of dollars in recent humanitarian aid, because of the sympathetic nature of some Palestinian claims, and much of this lucre has simply vanished or been stolen. Quite a bit of it, to judge from viral retrospectives of what Gaza City looked like before the Israel–Hamas war, was diverted into luxury villas for Hamas commanders and their dependents—some of whom could give even BLM lessons on mansion purchase and maintenance.

More seriously—although the theft of billions from poor people is serious enough—legitimately unpleasant realities of day-to-day Palestinian life such as Israeli checkpoint monitoring of the Gaza and West Bank borders are also caused almost entirely by the behavior of the Palestinian governments. Tens of thousands of rocket attacks against the Jewish state have taken place just since 2001. There is actually a professional website that keeps precise track of how long Israel “has been rocket free” at any given time: The clock sat at 56 minutes and 21 seconds when I last checked in.

Obviously, no nation could ethically, or would logically, leave itself trusting and defenseless in the face of such a constant military-level threat. However—to indulge in a bit of cliché—it is a safe bet that, were the Palestinian regimes ever to genuinely stop attacking Israel, for a trust-building period of a few years, and sue for peace, a peace would soon follow. A true Palestinian state likely would as well. It happened with Egypt, Israel’s foremost enemy during its first 30 years of existence, and it would happen with the Palestinians as well. It has become popular to forget this, but Israel has placed serious who-gets-what packages on the table at least seven times during statehood negotiations. In my read, the primary barrier to at least four of those becoming reality was the plain irascibility of Palestinian leadership.

In both the Palestinian and black American cases, the critical final point is this: Achieving what is presumably every sane person’s end-game goal—actual improvements in the lot of currently troubled communities—will require total rejection of trendy oppressor v. oppressed narratives and demand a hard focus on what the actual problems in each case are. In reality, most issues in modern black America have far less to do with contemporary racism—Nigerian Americans do not experience them, and such issues did not exist when racism was more intense—than with excuse-making about crime and a distinctly disengaged attitude toward school and study. And, in reality, the farther-away issues of Palestinians have far less to do with “unchanging, unprovoked Israeli oppression” than with rule by bloodthirsty terrorist kleptocrats who literally refuse to make peace.

In neither case will resolving these issues be easy even once we recognize and bluntly name them. However, doing so will remain eternally impossible if we do not.

Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

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