On Sunday, in response to Hamas’ deplorable terrorist attack on Israel — killing civilians, rounding up Jews, kidnapping children, parading dead bodies through the streets — an emergency pro-Palestinian rally made its way through Philadelphia, beginning in Rittenhouse Square and culminating in front of City Hall.
Around 220 people participated, according to the Philly Palestine Coalition, some chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a call for the obliteration of Israel. Nour Qutyan, a spokesperson for the coalition, said the event was “not just about Palestine. It was about all oppressed people.” One speaker, atop a flatbed truck, proclaimed: “People are against genocide until it comes to Palestine.”
Meantime, Rutgers University professor and activist Nour Erakat appeared on MSNBC and offered up the full what-aboutism defense. “The root cause is Israeli apartheid and settler colonialism,” she said, adding that, for decades, the “whole world has stood aside and watched Palestinians die.”
But guess who departs from this justification defense for Saturday’s attack? Hamas itself, that’s who, an Islamic Jihadi terrorist group that essentially holds peace-loving Gazans hostage. Hamas has never recognized Israel’s right to exist. In fact, keep in mind that, since 2005, Israel hasn’t even occupied Gaza; it does, however, enforce a blockade around the area that the U.N. has begged it to lift due to its dire economic consequences.
With that as background, Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel was akin to 9/11, only worse; Israel is the size of Rhode Island, after all, so the percentage of its dead would translate to 30,000 souls lost when the Twin Towers came down.
Let’s be clear here: Professor Erakat and the protestors in Center City accurately point out the Human Rights Watch report that called Israel an “apartheid state” for its treatment of the Palestinians. And, yes, Under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the shame of Cheltenham — Israeli settlements have deliberately thwarted the possibility of a two-state solution. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has been despicable.
But none of that motivated Hamas’ attack. Its sole ideology is and always has been to kill Jews and eradicate the state of Israel, in the same way that Al-Qaeda’s motive 22 years ago was really a war on modernity itself. In that aftermath, Susan Sontag played the role of Professor Erakat in the pages of The New Yorker: “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”
I’m loathe to praise the nutbag Rudy Giuliani, but back then — before his morals went rogue — he had the perfect reply to the Sontags and Erakats of the world. When the Saudi Prince offered New York City $10 million in disaster relief but suggested that the U.S. “must address some of the policies that led to such a criminal attack … and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause,” Guiliani essentially ripped up the check.
Yes, Under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli settlements have deliberately thwarted the possibility of a two-state solution. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has been despicable. But none of that motivated Hamas’ attack.
“There is no moral equivalent for this terrorist act,” he said. “There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people.”
No moral equivalence. That should be the response of any human being to 9/11, Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, and Hamas’ barbaric attack on Israel. Just as there were no processions down Market Street rallying in favor of the 9/11 murderers, and no gatherings in Rittenhouse Square to make the case for Putin’s murderousness, so should there be no rally even flirting with seeking to justify the depravity unleashed by Hamas on Saturday.
For what’s at stake is not merely the future of Israel and scores of lives in the occupied territories, but the impending loss of long-held norms that have worked to guarantee international peace. As Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic:
The Hamas terrorists paid no attention to any modern laws of war, or any norms of any kind: Like the Russians, Hamas and its Iranian backers (who are also Russian allies) run nihilistic regimes whose goal is to undo whatever remains of the rules-based world order, and to put anarchy in its place. They did not hide their war crimes. Instead, they filmed them and circulated the videos online. Their goal was not to gain territory or engage an army, but rather to create misery and anger. Which they have — and not only in Israel. Hamas had to have anticipated a massive retaliation in Gaza, and indeed that retaliation has begun. As a result, hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian civilians will now be victims too.
This is barbarism
This is tragedy, folks. This is barbarism. Professor Erakat’s calls for context falls flat in response, but let’s go there. First, it’s imperative to concede that, yes, conditions in the occupied territories are shameful, and human rights abuses abound. A few years ago, the U.N. predicted that Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza would soon become unfit for human life. Supporters of Israel are often blind to the human rights tragedy in the country’s midst.
But Erakat’s argument is also conveniently ahistorical. The fact is that three successive Israeli governments prior to this one did aggressively seek to make peace with the Palestinians, only to be rebuffed, time and again. During Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s term, a two-state, land for peace solution was offered, brokered by then-President Bill Clinton; at the eleventh hour, then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was revealed to prefer political martyrdom over peaceful coexistence.
“There is no moral equivalent for this terrorist act. There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people.” — former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani after 9/11
Also under Barak, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Southern Lebanon, which resulted in the entrenchment of Hezbollah, also committed to Israel’s destruction. Even hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defied his own party and withdrew from Gaza entirely — creating the void that was ultimately filled by Hamas. Finally, under Prime Minister Olmert, Israel proffered a deal on Jerusalem and the West Bank, which didn’t even engender a counter offer from the Palestinians.
It is folly to suggest that all that has been needed these last decades is a different set of Israeli policies to achieve peace. Israel, keep in mind, is a country of merely 9 million people surrounded by entities who refuse to recognize its right to exist. And yet, time and again, it has sought to make peace, only to, Charlie Brown-like, have the football pulled back at the last moment. That doesn’t excuse the modern day human rights abuses of occupation, but it does help to put Saturday’s horrific attack into a context that the likes of Professor Erakat, at best, glosses over.
Sadly, what we’re likely to see in the coming days and weeks, as Israel launches the vicious reprisal Hamas knew would be coming, is a further blurring of the moral lines. Already, the New York Times and PBS headlines — Netanyahu Declares War — had a tit-for-tat feel to it. (The war was actually declared by Hamas’ terrorism, no?) We’ll start hearing about “disproportionality” and the plight of Gazans — without mention of the degree to which Hamas uses its population as human shields.
The rules of modern warfare are now terrifyingly up for grabs. Civilians are in play. House to house capture and torture? On the table. And engaging in both-sidesism only furthers the worldwide slide into barbarism and illiberalism. How low are we sinking? Go back to 9/11. A Rittenhouse Square rally taking the side of Mohammad Atta’s cause would have been unthinkable. Critique Israel? Yes, I’m with you. Side with marauding terrorists, though, like Hamas and Putin, and don’t kid yourself. You’re now on the side of dystopia and lawlessness, and you’re making of John Donne a prophet: The bell will, at some point, inevitably be tolling for thee.
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