“Evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin.”
– G.K. Chesterton.
Images coming out of Gaza should horrify any viewer with a grain of humanity. Decent people around the world have been moved to help relieve the suffering. For many, outrage against Israeli policy has seemed a reasonable way of expressing support for Gazans. After all, it is the Israel Defense Forces that are bombarding Gaza. But if one really hopes to alleviate Palestinian suffering, this outrage bears serious scrutiny.
It may have exactly the opposite effect.
There are two competing movements among Palestinians today. One, in the West Bank, is taking responsibility for Palestine’s future. It is not about Israel. It is about Palestine. It is building Palestinian society and the Palestinian economy. It invests in infrastructure and institutions. Its universities produce one of the best-educated cadres of leaders in the Arab world. Its GDP growth exceeds China’s. Its leaders are social and business entrepreneurs whose vision is a Palestine of independence, responsibility and peace. They view Israel as a resource. They recognize that the prevailing narrative of victimhood is counterproductive to their national goals. Some have embraced Israeli business partners. A number of Israelis, this writer among them, have joined forces with these entrepreneurs, investing heavily in the Palestinian economy, recognizing that a strong, independent Palestine is an Israeli interest – and vice versa. Israel constitutes the most viable cultural and trading partner for Palestine, and the potential synergies between Israeli and Palestinian economies are tremendous.
Israel also represents what Palestine can be. Having started at roughly the same time as most of the countries in the region, Israel’s development has taken a radically different course. Its innovation-based economy is a massive net contributor to global growth.
It has built some of the world’s leading universities and research institutes. Cultural life is rich. Israeli citizens enjoy freedom and democracy. The narrative of victimhood must have seemed compelling in Israel’s early years. 700,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries could have embraced the identity of refugee. The battered remnants of European Jewry had an even stronger claim to the title. Israel’s leadership wisely charted a different course, eschewing blame, looking to the future, and pursuing the Zionist vision vigorously.
Some Palestinians have looked past historic enmity to embrace the example. Considering the current dysfunction in the rest of the Middle East, with violence on a scale that, thankfully, neither Palestinians nor Israelis have known, its lessons are timely, and the fateful choice Palestinians face is stark.
A second movement is pulling Palestinians toward the tragic dysfunction endemic to the region. Hamas has cultivated an identity rooted in victimhood. Israel is at the center of its identity, and Israel’s destruction is its vision. Justified or not, the identity of victimhood is the most enduring obstacle to Palestinian ascendance.
It replaces hope and vision with an agenda of self-destruction. In 2005, Israel evacuated all Israelis from the Gaza Strip, leaving behind real economic infrastructure. This infrastructure was destroyed by Hamas, in support of the victimhood narrative. With an international airport, an open border with Egypt, and unfettered access to the Mediterranean (the Israeli/ Egyptian blockade of Gaza only began in 2007, in response to rocket fire on Israel.), the Palestinian leadership in Gaza had the opportunity to put abundant international aid to constructive use, and create a hopeful vision for its people. This opportunity was wasted in favor of hoarding instruments of violence.
Victimhood is the foundation for Hamas slogans like “We love death more than the Jews love life.” Victimhood is the sales prop used to validate the disastrous policy of rocket fire on Israeli civilians. Take Israeli civilians out of the equation for a moment, and this policy is still catastrophically irresponsible.
Fire rockets at any nation, and it will defend itself.
This is not an Israel-specific point. Fire from within your own civilian centers, and this defense will result in terrible destruction. This is not an Israel-specific point. Post-9/11 civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in the tens of thousands. If Hamas fired its rockets into Egypt, Palestinians could expect a similar, if not much more severe, response. In this sense, Israel is interchangeable, its specific identity irrelevant.
Countries will defend their citizens, whether you believe they have the right to or not. That can be taken as a law of nature.
Events in the Middle East put Palestinians at a crossroads.
Following fanatical Islamists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad will lead them down the human-development path that much of the region has already taken. ISIS, al-Qaida, and others are leading societies back to the medieval sensibilities of the seventh century.
As appalling as conditions are in Gaza, they can get much worse. Look at Syria or Iraq. Demanding vision and responsibility from Palestinian leaders will create dramatically different outcomes for Palestine, as a brave community of true Palestinian heroes in the West Bank is demonstrating. Today’s challenge to all Palestinians is to take responsibility for their future. Recognize blame and victimhood as the threat they are to a hopeful future.
And for most readers, those outside the region who consider themselves Palestine supporters, consider Israel’s interchangeability. Israel will continue defending itself, like anyone else would, like you would. You demand physical security from your government, and have been willing to pay the price in horrific civilian casualties in areas where your government has fought. Israelis demand the same of their government, and this will not change. By laying the blame for the terrible cost of this defense with Israel, you reward Hamas’s policy of intentionally targeting civilians, and of cynically using civilians as human shields. Your blame of Israel emboldens Hamas, which has rejected all five of the proposed cease-fires to date. It abets Hamas’s plans for the next deadly round.
Hamas will restock its arsenal of rockets, and dig new attack tunnels, diverting massive financial and human resources away from the Palestinian future and toward violence and death. We will be back here two years from now, as we were two years ago, with Hamas attacks calculated to kill Israeli civilians, an Israeli defense hitting intentionally embedded targets, producing catastrophic Palestinian casualties.
A community of armchair pundits around the world will disingenuously preach restraint and proportional response. To borrow a Soviet term, these pundits, along with many news anchors, correspondents and social media opinion-makers are Hamas’s “useful idiots.” They may believe they are serving the Palestinian cause, but they are really serving Hamas’s vicious agenda, dealing savage blows to the Palestinian future. By blaming Israel in this crisis, Hamas’s useful idiots help to force suicidal radicalism on the Palestinian people, at the expense of responsible leadership.
They are complicit in the ongoing tragedy that is, but need not be, Palestine.
The author is CEO of Clarity Capital, a New York- and Tel Aviv-based asset management firm. He is the chairman of Koret Israel, the country’s largest non-profit lender to Arab- and Jewish-owned small businesses and micro enterprises. He is an active investor in the Palestinian economy.