It’s ironic that the Hamas of Gaza initiated violence that rained 4,000 rockets on Israel in the last weeks, while across the world, Israel’s response to defend itself has called down disdain and hatred on its head. Israel is called a genocidal bully, an apartheid state, and a nation instigating crimes against humanity, while Hamas is praised and extolled.
The message, I suppose is, you have no right to protect your population when an enemy is out to decimate you and rockets deluge your cities. It is a mistake to equate Hamas with all the Palestinians. They are a radical Islamic political group in power in Gaza, a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean and they would like to take control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority rules. They victimize their own people, causing riots and unrest, and the Palestinians deserve better than Hamas. The United States lists them as a terrorist organization. Their 1988 charter calls for Israel’s utter destruction, the murder of Jews and blames them for both the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars.
That charter reads, “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
My husband Scot and I were two of very few visitors in Israel during the war in 2014 when Gaza sent 300 rockets plummeting into Israel. We stood outside the Damascus gate one frenzied night, with a crowd of Hamas supporters as they watched a large screen where the speaker called for the blood of Jews to fertilize the fields.
For Hamas, maps of the area contain no such nation as Israel. It is all Palestine. Among them is no desire for two-state solutions or peaceful co-existence. Israel is ever aware that it is in an existential plight, where its very survival is on the line. While I may not agree with all of Israel’s decisions in the face of its plight, the complications of survival are very real. They know, too, what it is to be passive before an enemy who has your destruction as its aim. The Holocaust is in recent memory, and I have sat on a patio at a bed and breakfast while the owner recounted to us how she lost every member of her family at Auschwitz.
A T-shirt that you can buy in the markets of the old city says it all, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
With the current uneasy truce, a spokesman for the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas warned, “The decision to resume rocket attacks on Israel remains an option.”
Because I know Israel well and consider it a second home, I contacted three friends as the rockets recently flew to be sure they were safe—one is a Jew, another an Armenian Christian and the third is a Palestinian. My affections include a wide variety of people in this place I love and I have sought to understand their context. Yet in the face of the false rumors and morally absurd pronouncements against Israel that have swept the news and flooded social media, I cannot stay quiet before these accusations without clarifying several points.
Israel is tiny, a speck on the globe about the size of New Jersey, and home to the largest population of Jews on the earth. Protecting them is Israel’s cause and reason for being.
While Latter-day Saints have faced nothing akin to the persecution of the Jews, our history of being driven from one place to another, with its accompanying losses, can give us some sense of what religious persecution means.
This latest round of 4,000 rockets that showered Israel is different than the 300 that were aimed at the nation in 2014 in part because the bad actors of Iran, who also seek the annihilation of Israel, are helping to supply munitions and in part because so much of the world is beginning to turn against Israel. Critical social justice theory, which is quickly becoming the ideology of so many western nations, sees the world in terms of the oppressed and the oppressor, and though the Jews have had centuries of oppression and then an attempt to annihilate them during the Holocaust, it is their very strength today that makes them easy for some on the far left to hate. Woke contempt for Israel is staggering.
Victor Davis Hanson asks a good question, “The left in general believes we should judge harshly even the distant past without exemptions. Why then, in venomous, knee-jerk fashion, does it fixate on a nation born from the Holocaust while favoring Israel’s enemies, who were on the side of the Nazis in World War II?
“It was not just that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, was a Nazi sympathizer. Egypt, for example, welcomed ex-Nazis for their hatred of Jews and their military expertise, including infamous death camp doctor Aribert Ferdinand Heim and Waffen-SS henchman Otto Skorzeny. The Hamas charter still reads like it is cribbed from Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.’
“The left claims it champions consensual government and believes the United States must use its soft-power clout to isolate autocracies. But the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas refuse to hold free and regularly scheduled elections. If an Israeli strongman ever suspended free elections and ruled through brutality, U.S. aid would be severed within days.
“If history and democratic values can’t fully explain the apparent hatred of Israel on the left, perhaps human rights violations do. But here, too, there is another example of radical asymmetry. Arab citizens of Israel enjoy far greater constitutional protections than do Arabs living under either the Palestinian National Authority or Hamas.
“Is the left bothered by the allies of Hamas? After all, most are autocracies such as Iran and North Korea.” It doesn’t seem to be.
This woke contempt of Israel is playing out in a distorted version of reality that is being spread online and amplified by some politicians, entertainers and influencers. This is just another area where the nation has become increasingly polarized. The shift away from supporting Israel “is dramatic; it’s tectonic,” says pollster John Zogby, who has tracked US views on the Middle East for decades. In particular, younger generations are considerably more sympathetic to the Palestinians.” Recently calls have arisen in Congress from people like Cori Bush of St. Louis to cut off funding to Israel. “The ‘defund the police’ slogan now has a foreign policy companion: ‘defund the Israeli military.’” Of course, the Squad in Congress are rooting for Hamas.
This growing contempt for Israel plays out everywhere. One news station reported,
“Several women who belong to a Chicago-based Facebook group for mothers told CBS Chicago that they were kicked out of the group for voicing their support for Israel after the group’s moderator posted a message declaring the group’s ‘strong stance against the terroristic acts being committed against the Palestinian people.’”
Gal Gadot, the Israeli actress who plays Wonder Woman posted, “Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation,” adding: “Our neighbors deserve the same,” for which she was lambasted. She said, “My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people. This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for too long. I pray for the victims and their families. I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end. I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace. I pray for better days.” Fury flew at her for this comment with one labeling her, “Genocidal Barbie.” The problem, of course, was not her words, but her nationality.
For those who don’t know the complicated story, it is distorted in ways, even by the mainstream media to enflame hatred toward Israel.
One reporter, Jessica Hornik Evans, took a crack at adding editorial suggestions to correct a recent AP story, which she added in italics to the story.
“’The frenzied shouts of an auctioneer at Gaza City’s main fishing port brought a welcome reprieve from the din of gunfire and explosions as life begins slowly returning to normal following 11 days of hostilities between Hamas and Israel’ that were solely instigated by Hamas and in which Israel acted defensively.
“’Israeli security forces prevented fishermen from sailing during the conflict’ to prevent terrorist infiltration from the sea.
“’Gazans take pride in their seafood, and the return of fishing buoyed hopes that the ceasefire will hold,’ though Gazans know that the ceasefire, and thus their livelihoods, depends on their own leaders’ abstention from further rocket attacks.
“’Meanwhile Sunday, hundreds of municipal workers and volunteers began clearing rubble from Gaza’s streets. The work began outside a high-rise building that was flattened by Israeli warplanes during the early days of airstrikes on Gaza, which Israel launched in response to rocket barrages on Israel population centers.’
The writer’s editorial comments were larger than the AP report itself here. The AP said:
“’We live in death every day as long as there is an occupation,’ he said, referring to Israel’s rule over Palestinians, including its blockade of Gaza.”
“(1) They “live in death” because they are ruled by Hamas, a terrorist death cult.
“(2) There is no “occupation” of Gaza; Israel withdrew completely from the territory, to the last Jew, in 2005.
“(3) In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority exercises a high level of autonomy; Israel’s “rule” consists of stymieing anti-Israeli terror and cooperating with the PA itself to prevent a Hamas takeover of the territory.
“(4) The blockade of Gaza was imposed by Israel — and Egypt (the other noted Zionist nation) — after Hamas took power, so that Hamas would not import or smuggle in even more weapons than it already produces within the Strip.
Israeli writer Matti Friedman, wrote of the distortion in media and in social networks.
“In the spirit of 2021, exciting video clips are ripped from their context here and injected into ideological circulatory systems to prove whatever needs to be proved. Explosions in the Al-Aqsa Mosque could mean that Israeli police are firing tear gas inside, desecrating the holy site, or that Muslim rioters are shooting off the stores of fireworks they hoarded inside to use against the police, desecrating the holy site. An Israeli driver hitting a Palestinian man near Lions’ Gate on Monday might be attempted murder, or a driver losing control of his car while escaping Palestinians who were trying to kill him. A video of Israelis dancing at the Western Wall as a fire burns on the Temple Mount is evidence of satanic intent, or of the coincidence that the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations at the wall were going on at the same time that one of the firecrackers set off by Palestinian rioters ignited a tree in the mosque compound above.
“The subtleties seem beside the point when the villains and the heroes are so clear.”
The terrorist group, Hamas, is strengthened and benefitted by this flawed and biased reporting and the narrative that Israel is a genocidal, apartheid nation. It initiated the barrage of rockets into Israel for what is sometimes called its CNN or Dead Baby Campaign since it is geared as much as anything to win the world’s support and pose itself as the savior of Palestinians in its battle for political control against the Palestinian Authority, which currently administers the government in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hamas’s drive for power among the Palestinians is a substantial motivation.
Because of Israel’s so-called iron dome, which is sufficient, but not perfect, most of those rockets don’t land and damage Israel, as much as throw the population into a panic, and in this case, killed fewer than 40 Israelis.
In return, Israel targeted the vast underground network of terror tunnels, damaging 60 miles worth, where rocket capacity to strike at Israel is kept and weapons and troops are moved to direct attacks against Israel. They terminated Hamas leaders who have been directing the offenses against Israel.
Israel goes to great lengths to warn the civilian population where it is going to bomb, telling them to get out of buildings and to evacuate homes. They use cell phones to alert residents and knock on the roof, a term that means drop non-explosives to warn those living inside.
When the building that housed the AP was bombed, because it also contained a Hamas headquarters, the AP said they were lucky to get out with no one hurt, to which Benjamin Netanyahu responded that luck had nothing to do with it. They were warned.
One conversation where the Israeli military gave a warning to evacuate a building was broadcast by Sky News Israel, meanwhile, routinely calls building supervisors in Gaza to warn them to evacuate buildings before bombing them. One such conversation, broadcast by Sky News, and went like this:
Israeli military: “Listen, we are going to bomb the building.”
Palestinian building supervisor: “You want to bomb? Bomb whatever you want.”
“No, brother, we need to do everything we can so you don’t die.”
“We want to die.”
“But you have a responsibility for children’s lives.”
“If the children need to die, then they’ll die.”
“God forbid. God forbid. What do you want to die?”
“This is how we reveal your cruelty.”
More than 230 Gazans died in this recent 11 days of conflict and some were women and children and non-combatants. This is a deep tragedy, that Hamas could avoid. It purposely launches rockets from population centers, from hospitals and nurseries, knowing what bad-optics it is for Israel when it, in turn, bombs the source to take out the rocket launchers.
In these actions, Israel hopes to buy some years of security by degrading Hamas’s military capacity, and certainly in this 11 days, Israel knocked out some strategic targets. Yet it would be hard to call the effort a complete advantage since so much of the world is gradually turning against Israel and no one can be sure when the rockets from Hamas will come again.
Well-known constitutional scholar and ardent Israel supporter Alan Dershowitz said about every five years Hamas finds some pretext to send its rockets. The pretext doesn’t matter as long as it stirs up the population and they gain power.
This time, they saw a perfect storm or opportunity and what wasn’t already there they created. Ambassador David Friedman told The Hill, “We saw this again last week when Hamas used the ‘siege of Al-Aqsa’ as a pretext to start a war against Israel. There was no siege. During the holy month of Ramadan, tens of thousands of Muslims prayed peacefully at the Mosque every day. But when Hamas saw the need for a pretext to elevate its standing among the Palestinians, it proclaimed the Mosque to be under attack and fomented a riot. The riot led to stones being thrown toward Jews praying at the Western Wall below, and explosive devices and more stones leveled against the riot police. It was ugly for a day or two. But it is quiet now and, once again, there was never a ‘siege.’”
The ambassador noted, “Israel has always given preference to the rights of Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount. In June 1967, when Israel reunified Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, Israeli soldiers briefly planted a flag on the Mount and proclaimed ‘the Temple Mount is in our hands.’ Moshe Dayan, the commanding general, directed the soldiers to immediately remove the flag; he was not interested in provoking a religious battle with the Muslim world. Since then, the religious practices on the Temple Mount have been administered jointly by the Kingdom of Jordan and the Palestinian Waqf.
“Just to reemphasize this critical point, although the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, Israel does not permit Jews to pray there — only Muslims.” Palestinians refer to the occasional visit by Jews to the Temple Mount as “incursions,” in which the Jews “storm the Temple Mount.”
Nonetheless, fiery rhetoric does fire up an ancient hate. As Matti Friedman wrote when Gaza was sending its rockets in 2014:
“For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad? Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist? Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew. It was their role in Christian tradition—the only reason European society knew or cared about them in the first place.
“Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my grandparents. One thing I have learned—and I’m not alone this summer—is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.”
This woke world has an international target.
Anti-Israel sentiment for some becomes the old, and never really rooted out, anti-Semitism. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League talked of recent assaults of Jews, speaking of “the brazenness, the audacity of these assaults in broad daylight. We have seen people basically say, if you are wearing a Jewish star, you must be a Zionist and you should be killed.
“We have seen people hurling bottles and objects at homes with mezuzot on the door that were identifiably Jewish. We have seen people driving cars or marauding through Jewish neighborhoods and yelling, ‘We’re going to rape your women,’ right, or yelling things like ‘Allahu akbar,’ and literally then wreaking physical violence on people.
“And one of the incidents that was captured was in broad daylight in Times Square, a group of people beating and bloodying a Jewish man whose only crime was he was wearing a kippah, to the point where he was left unconscious in the street while people kicked him,[and] bloodied him.”
Hating Israel is woke. It is popular—and it is unfair. It is this injustice toward a nation that can burgeon into enmity toward an entire people that has urged me to write. Certainly the Jews have known unending persecution through the centuries, and I have watched this impulse revive. I don’t want hating Jews or Israel become the thing to do.
Some may wonder, can I not see the Palestinian plight? Oh, indeed, I can. Do I suppose that Israel always acts fairly or with compassion toward the Palestinians? No. Israel, in an existential plight, relentlessly aware its survival is on the line, sometimes acts defensively and Palestinians are often the victims. I think that Israel sometimes makes desperate and unfortunate choices. Yet, it is also not the vicious, genocidal bully it is painted to be, and Israel is by no means an apartheid nation. That is simply a fiction.
We spend several weeks a year in Israel, leading tours. When Gaza is not hurling rockets, Israel is safe and we feel the peace that comes from studying and remembering the Prince of Peace while we are there. While I have painted here, the tactics of a terror organization, Hamas, and its deadly efforts to stir a population to anger and annihilate Israel, what we remind our fellow travelers is that they don’t have to take sides between the Palestinian people and the Jews. Most just want to live peaceful and happy lives like the rest of us. Our care for all and their plight is required of us as disciples of Christ. At the BYU Jerusalem Center, Jews and Palestinians work happily together as friendly community.
It is the fear that you are a threat to me, that you will destroy me that raises rancor—and both sides feel it. The Lord has better plans for us.
Bonnie CaldwellMay 30, 2021
It would be good to get the Palestinian perspective from someone like Saher Qumsiyeh, who teaches at BYU-I. Her book, Peace for a Palestinian, is an excellent read. We met her, as I’m sure you have as well, when we visited the Jerusalem center and also attended the Bethlehem “twig”.
Mark DonaldsonMay 29, 2021
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we of all people should recognize the turmoil caused by those who hate Jews and Israel as a sign that we are truly living in the latter times. We know the Savior will one day return and set his foot again on the Mount of Olives and ultimately recognize the Jews (Judah) as a chosen people...along with the other tribes of Israel. When I place my support for Israel and the Jewish people, I believe that I am standing up for a people who have been bullied and picked on unjustly for centuries. Last, I also hold that if I support the political party in America that supports Israel and the Jews, then I belong to the right party.