Middle East

Palestinian Terror: the Metric by which Israel is Judged

The notion that people are motivated solely by the desire to satisfy their egoistic needs, to avoid pain, and to maximize pleasure is anything but a holistic truth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I have yet to understand how it is that war was declared on Israel from Gaza, that Israelis were attacked, massacred, and taken hostage, and yet within 48 hours, this prompted an immediate surge of hostility against Israel.” This was the statement made by two British and French travelers on my recent trip to Italy.

By now, we’ve all heard something to this effect from otherwise rational observers, which reveals a historical pattern that is, unfortunately, all too familiar. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a remarkable reversal of cause and effect whereby each instance of Palestinian terrorism and violence is interpreted not as an expression motivated by deep-seated hatred or ideology, but rather as evidence of Israeli oppression.

In other words, Palestinian terrorism and violence become the measuring stick by which one judges Israel. The more cruel and brutal the acts of terror and violence are, the more egregious Israel’s sins against the Palestinians are perceived to be. The more barbaric the atrocities committed against Israelis, the more irredeemable Israeli evil becomes. The longstanding, pervasive antisemitism in the Islamic world has no bearing whatsoever. The logic is as twisted as it is persistent.

The fact that the Palestinians could produce an endless supply chain of suicide bombers during the Second Intifada, and that they would deliberately target non-combatants, killing over 1,000 people, was considered proof that they had been pushed well beyond the brink of sanity by the Israelis. The Palestinian national project, Hamas’s declared objectives, and the desire for a Palestine ‘from the river to the sea’ were dismissed as if they had no bearing on the violence. People preferred to think that the Second Intifada was an act of resistance against Israel’s military occupation—the very occupation that would have ended just weeks before the violence had Israel’s peace offer at Camp David not been rejected by the Palestinians themselves.

Viewed through this lens, one could almost anticipate a justification of the October 7th massacre. In fact, should the Palestinians launch an even more brutal aggression in the future, surpassing the horrors of October 7th—if such a grim scenario is even conceivable—it is almost certain that many will attribute it to Israel’s war against Hamas in 2023. Few will acknowledge the possibility of a deeper underlying issue. Few will recognize that such an act would represent yet another declaration of war on Israel and the Palestinians will be depicted as noble victims merely reacting to Israeli aggression, devoid of agency.

I’ve come to find the starting point of this twisted logic almost understandable. There is an assumption, especially among liberals, that all individuals are fundamentally driven by a uniform set of needs – freedom, security, dignity, equality, and the right to acquire property. We view these needs as universal, almost as if they were immutable laws of human nature. We suggest that once these needs are met, all individuals will become patrons of Starbucks, seekers of goodness, and champions of peace. It’s a seductive narrative, promising a utopia just within reach.

It is therefore easy to see how one may think that people would never merely resort to violence – the sort we saw from Hamas on October 7th. People wouldn’t do this, couldn’t do this, unless they have been subjected to some unendurable misery. It is far more comforting to believe that they must have been driven insane by their own trauma and that the violence was not for their own political doing.

Ruth R.Wisse wrote in If I am Not for Myself that: “Given the asymmetry between the hunter and his prey, it is easier to resent the Jews than to oppose the antisemite. Liberalism may have been the kindly offspring of Christianity in Europe, but antisemitism was its nastier step-child, and the struggle between these two impulses continues in the modern world. Just as Christianity failed to live up to its own teachings in the treatment of the Jews, so, too, the failure of liberalism is most evident in its betrayal of the Jews to the will of their enemies.”

The notion that people are motivated solely by the desire to satisfy their egoistic needs, to avoid pain, and to maximize pleasure is anything but a holistic truth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People have other needs as well: for spiritual content in their lives, for transcendence, membership in a collective, meaning, and significance. They will usually find these in tradition, religion, the collective myth, or the national story – which differ from place to place and from culture to culture.

The danger of ignoring these non-material, culture-specific needs is that it leads to a distorted understanding of the political and geopolitical situation, which, in turn, fosters moral blindness. This blindness eventually opens the door to potential radicalization and has left many completely deluded to the masochistic fantasy of jihadism. People can now transform the barbaric violence of the victimizer into a perverse kind of moral currency at the expense of its victims.

Consider Russel Rickford, a history professor at Cornell, who described the Hamas attacks as “exhilarating” and “energizing”; and Nina Farnia, a professor at the Albany Law School, who praised “Palestinian resistance” and called the Palestinians “a beacon to us all.” The loss of compass and conscience by this wacky crowd is today capable of normalizing even murder and the kidnapping of children.

In the New Left Review, in Britain’s leading Marxist journal, Tariq Ali praised the terrorists for “rising up against the colonizers” and implied, bizarrely, that the murders resulted from Palestinian frustration with Israel’s recent enormous pro-democracy demonstrations.

Joseph Massad, a tenured professor at Columbia who teaches Middle Eastern studies was unable to contain his enthusiasm: the attacks were “innovative,” “astonishing,” a “major achievement,” “awesome,” “incredible,” and “a stunning victory”; he wondered with excitement “if this is the start of the Palestinian War of Liberation.” Again, this is the character who teaches Middle Eastern studies at an Ivy League institution. So why be surprised when you see students cosplaying as jihadists in the university quads.

Hamas. Photo by Wikipedia

Some student organizations have ties to the region and, presumably, know precisely what’s going on here, such as the inaptly named Students for Justice in Palestine, the most bloodthirsty of student groups, who declared “Glory to Our Martyrs”; described the massacre as “a historic win”; and demanded, “Do not let Western media call this terrorism. This is DECOLONIZATION.”

Advocates of relativism and champions of theory, sequestered in academic ivory towers or hunched over tables in cafés, who risk their lives on Facebook and X, all recite the mantra that Hamas’ cruelty is the product of occupation, dispossession, and oppression. They argue that if Israelis had only behaved more humanely toward those who acted without humanity, the events of October 7 would not have occurred.

Within this blind spot, there remains a blatant refusal to take the murderers and their cheerleaders at face value, to listen to what they actually say. When the attackers mention their victims, as seen in a video where one brags to his parents from inside a kibbutz about the people he just killed, they don’t refer to them as “colonial-settlers”; they simply call them “Jews.”