The lie that Gaza was an “open-air prison” prior to Hamas’s launching of the current war has outlived its usefulness. So now we are told that, actually, Gaza was in fine shape but then the Israelis destroyed it, turning it into an open-air prison. Lather, rinse, repeat.
There’s a deeper point here than the hypocrisy of Israel’s critics and their parroting of talking points that they eventually acknowledge to be untrue. The story contains a lesson about this conflict, and others like it, and the damage done by the long-debunked idea that poverty causes terrorism.
But first, yes, the hypocrisy. IDF reservist Roi Yanovsky has written a piece for the Jerusalem Post on what he saw in Gaza City, though various social-media accounts have long been posting photos and videos from the Strip that undermine the prevailing narrative.
“Pre-war Gaza was a modern, beautiful, developed city — with large, furnished houses, wide avenues, public areas, a promenade, and parks,” Yanovsky writes. “It looked much better than any other Arab city ‘from the river to the sea.’ Gaza City reminds me more of Tel Aviv than the awful slums that some people try to make it out to be.”
Despite the normality of the city—again, Yanovsky is talking about Gaza City, home to about 600,000 Palestinians—every neighborhood Yanovsky’s unit searched “had staged and ready-to-operate Hamas combat zones—weapons, tunneling, explosives, rocket launch zones, all inside normal family homes, some already built with openings in the walls to enable moving easily between buildings.”
The belief that poverty is the root cause of terrorism served as an obstacle in the early years of the war on terror. The writer Peter Bergen has spent a good portion of his career trying to clear such cobwebs from the discourse. As he wrote a few years ago, “terrorism experts have long known that terrorism is often a bourgeois endeavor.”
And not just terrorism experts. Alan B. Krueger, the late Princeton economist and chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, has done a series of studies and lectures on the subject. Some of his research is relevant to the ongoing discussion about rebuilding Gaza. For example, using data from the prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, Krueger broke down by professional occupation the responses to a question about supporting violence against Israelis. Profession is not a perfect stand-in for income, but it’s a strong one.
“First, the least supportive group is the unemployed,” Krueger writes in his book, What Makes A Terrorist. “Seventy-four percent of the unemployed said they support or strongly support armed attacks against Israeli targets. Compare that to merchants and professionals, 87 percent of whom supported the attacks. The greatest degree of expressed support (90 percent) came from students, a finding that is not surprising, considering that students are often the most radicalized segment in a society. Bear in mind also that these students are age 18 and over, and so are primarily college students. Housewives responded similarly to the overall population, with 82 percent indicating their support.”
Broken down by education, “the expressed strength of support for terrorism seems to be rising with education level among Palestinians.” Similar patterns were observed in questions about whether violence against Israelis was helping to increase Palestinians’ rights.
This doesn’t apply only to the Palestinians, of course. And the pattern holds when the target is someone other than an Israeli. This is a common finding. Regarding Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, and Pakistan, “people with a higher level of education are in general more likely to say that suicide attacks against Americans and Westerners in Iraq are justified.”
The West’s often-patronizing approach to the Palestinians in Gaza isn’t all that different from the nonsense justifications of antisocial violence we see in the States. “Riots are the language of the unheard” we’re told by activists with massive platforms and by the people running and attending Ivy League institutions.
Those cheerleading the Palestinian “resistance” from thousands of miles away are ghoulishly egging on educated youth to take up new, brief lives as cannon fodder for their make-believe revolution. Of course, no one made the Palestinians turn to terrorism. Gazans had plenty to lose by pursuing their forever war against the Jews. Some Westerners may be learning that for the first time now, but Palestinians in Gaza knew the choices they were making. Money was never the motive; hatred was.