If you spent the last several years ignoring events in the Middle East and you’re just now tuning in, the images on your television screen might suggest to you that the bad old days are back. Palestinians are rioting, and they are being met with force by Israeli police. Rockets are raining down on Israeli cities, and the Jewish state is retaliating against targets in the Palestinian territories. The woefully uninformed could be forgiven for thinking that a familiar cycle of violence is repeating itself in the region. Ignorance is a valid explanation for such a reaction, but it is no excuse.
The sequence of events that produced this violent spasm isn’t the same as in past decades. This particular flare-up began with a court case. It followed a years-long effort to adjudicate claims made by Israeli settlers seeking to evict six Palestinian families from homes they’ve occupied in East Jerusalem since the end of the war that followed Israel’s independence in 1948. The settlers claim that they paid for and own the land, which had been expropriated in wartime. The Palestinians argue that all this legalese is a smokescreen masking Israeli expansionism. It is not for us to decide who is right; this is a matter before Israel’s independent judiciary. That process was not even allowed to conclude before the violence began.
A contrived campaign to rally East Jerusalem’s Palestinians against the effort to “Judaize” their city sprang up even before Israel’s supreme court was set to issue a ruling on the matter—which just happened to coincide with the canceling of West Bank elections once the ruling Palestinian Authority came to believe it would lose them. Last week, clashes erupted after Friday prayers on the Temple Mount complex. Palestinians armed with rocks and explosive devices attacked Israeli police from within the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Israeli police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. As the violence spiraled, the court suspended proceedings, pro-Israel activists canceled a potentially inflammatory march through Arab sections of East Jerusalem, and Israeli police curtailed Jewish citizens’ access to the area. But the unrest continued through the weekend and into this week.
Hamas, the terrorist entity that governs Gaza, took the opportunity to fire off a tremendous volley of rockets into Israel—the largest display of indiscriminate force since 2014. Israel’s advanced anti-missile defense system, the “Iron Dome,” put on a science-fictional display as it intercepted rocket after rocket over Israeli cities. But the barrage overwhelmed the nation’s defenses, taking the lives of Israelis who emerged from their shelters.
In response to these attacks, Israel targeted Hamas military sites in Gaza, many of which are located in densely populated areas of the Strip or even inside occupied buildings. In one instance, Israel leveled a residential building in Gaza City, but only after a series of telephone warnings and “roof-knocking” ordnance alerted its occupants. Nevertheless, Hamas reports that this conflict is producing Palestinian civilian casualties. That’s tragic, though we cannot be sure how many are attributable to Israeli action since a significant percentage of Hamas’s unguided rockets land inside Gaza’s borders.
These are the facts of this case, and they do not matter one whit to the congressional progressives for whom Israel can do no right.
“Many will tell you Israel has a right to defend itself, to safety and security, but are silent on whether Palestinians have those rights too,” Rep. Ilhan Omar insisted while declining to elaborate on which of the above hostile Palestinian actions constitutes self-defense. “Israeli airstrikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism,” she continued, inverting acts of aggression and retaliation. “Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians.”
Omar added that it was unconscionable for Israel to resort to such defensive measures during Eid, the Islamic holiday that marks the beginning of Ramadan. She’s not alone. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez invoked a similar pretext to castigate New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang for speaking out in Israel’s defense. “Utterly shameful for Yang to try to show up to an Eid event after sending out a chest-thumping statement of support for a strike killing 9 children, especially after his silence as Al-Aqsa was attacked,” the congresswoman insisted. She added that his conduct wouldn’t be tolerated in neighborhoods without a significant Muslim population. “But then to try that in Astoria? During Ramadan?!” her puffery continued. “They will let you know.”
If Ocasio-Cortez and Omar were truly speaking on behalf of Arab interests, you might expect to hear some of those Arab interests echo their sentiments. But the region’s Arab states have long since moved on. The Abraham Accords definitively decoupled the Sunni Arab states’ geopolitics from Palestinian affairs; they have moved with stunning alacrity to normalize relations with Jerusalem without a resolution to the Palestinian conflict. The usual dogs that are not barking in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Rabat, Khartoum, and Amman should communicate to these progressives that they’re speaking only for themselves.
It isn’t so much the Arab world but an undiscriminating popular-front mentality that seems to animate much of the activist class’s obsessions. “As someone who has been brutalized by police, I continue to stand in strong solidarity with Palestinians rising up against military, police, and state violence,” Rep. Cori Bush insisted. “Congress must stop funding human-rights abuses by the Israeli military.” In all fairness, when it comes to public security, there aren’t many core functions of a modern state Bush doesn’t want to defund. It’s nevertheless noteworthy that the congresswoman seems incapable of distinguishing between non-lethal crowd-control tactics and the riotous crowd operating from within religious sites those forces were seeking to calm.
The high priest of American socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has also resorted to a noxious moral equivalence: “Once again, we are seeing how the irresponsible actions of government-allied right-wing extremists in Jerusalem can escalate quickly into devastating war,” he wrote. The notion that Israel’s government actually wants Israelis to die in a deadly rocket barrage is particularly craven. It’s an ugly presumption that colors coverage of the conflict in even mainstream media outlets.
Astonishingly, the New York Times reported, the bloodletting has “nevertheless bolstered” both Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, “the distraction of the war, and the divisions it creates between the disparate opposition parties currently negotiating a coalition to topple him from power, have given him half a chance of remaining in office, just days after it seemed like he might finally be on the way out.” The insinuation that, if he did not engineer the conflict, Netanyahu surely welcomes it, is a repulsive sop to the paper’s parochial progressive readership. But at least Sanders managed to make a note of the “Israeli children” languishing in bomb shelters. His leftwing compatriots couldn’t even muster that perfunctory nod in the general direction of decency.
The world has passed these progressives by. The Arab world is not erupting over the hostile actions engineered by Hamas and its Iranian backers, whom they regard as the real threat to their security. Nor do progressive arguments about oppression and the rule of law resonate—the rule of law was suspended mid-process as an intended consequence of the insurrection in Jerusalem. What progressives are arguing is pure will to power. And if it’s a contest of power they wanted, they’re sure getting it.