The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the world’s chronic illness. It’s our herpes, our diabetes, our Crohn’s disease. There is never going to be a resolution. Not in my lifetime, not in this age. Maybe a hundred years from now, but not within a time frame that matters to any human presently drawing breath.
Every five or six months, the world is forced to pay attention to this endless quagmire for one reason or another. More often than not, the flashpoint is Gaza. Gaza shells Israel, Israel kicks the shit out of Gaza; Gazans attack Israeli soldiers, Israeli soldiers shoot Gazans, etc., etc. And every time, world leaders and NGOs put on their carin’ caps and give high-minded speeches about finding a solution.
Maybe it’s time we admit that there’s no solution. Maybe we should accept that the region is the equivalent of an Abramovic and Ulay performance-art piece. Like any chronic illness, the problem can go into remission for periods of time. But the underlying disease is always there, under the surface, ready to show itself again. 2018’s most recent relapse involved Gazans declaring a “Great March of Return,” amassing at the border demanding the right to enter Israel to reclaim real estate from seventy years ago. Israeli troops responded by creating one hell of an “IRL” carnival arcade duck-shoot. And now, as the world turns its attention to the Korean Peninsula (and a crisis that might actually one day have a resolution), the Palestinians go back to planning their next futile Cavity Creeps-style assault, and the IDF stocks up on ammo for its next overwhelming show of disproportionate force.
On and on it goes.
The Palestinians are never going to give up their “right of return,” and the Israeli government, regardless of which party is in charge, is never going to allow millions of Palestinian “refugees” to march into Israel and plop themselves down wherever they want, claiming Israeli land as their own. The Palestinians are not going to give up the fight. The Israelis are not going to give up the fight. The Palestinians have religious fanaticism and a willingness to die; the Israelis have religious fanaticism and nukes. The Palestinians have their beloved terrorism; the Israelis have their beloved AIPAC. It’s a stalemate. And anyone who doesn’t see it as a stalemate is deluded. You can spend all day watching feel-good videos of Jews and Arabs singing swarthy Semitic versions of “Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends,” but the fact is, Israel is not going to recognize the “right” of Palestinians to reclaim 1948 land, and the Palestinians are never going to finally admit that they lost a war and go away.
I made my sympathies in this conflict known in a column from January 2017. The Palestinians fought, and they lost. No different from how Mexico fought the U.S. and ended up losing the Southwest. No different from how Germany invaded Russia, declared war on the U.S., and lost a shitload of territory when the war didn’t go as planned. When you fight, you risk losing. Even Palestinian-friendly sources admit that it was the Arabs who initiated the fighting in the first Arab-Israeli war. They took their shot, and they failed. And this is a vital point to remember—even if Israel did go back to pre-1967 borders, even if every settlement was removed from the West Bank, that would not change the “right of return” demand on the part of the Palestinians and their descendants who “lost their land” in 1948.
For seventy years now, the Palestinians have made a massive pain in the ass out of themselves because they want a “do-over” of the war the Arabs launched in 1948. “Oops…we didn’t know this would go so badly for us. Could we maybe pretend the whole thing never happened?” Gazans are the Hillary Clinton of Arabs; “I’m never going to let the world forget that I lost something I wish I’d won.” Today’s Palestinians (and Palestinian apologists) bray about how Israel must be forced to follow “international law,” yet it was the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states that explicitly rejected the partition plan that had been approved by the U.N. in 1947. Rather than following “international law,” the Arabs attacked.
“Remember that whole ‘fuck international law’ thing? We’d like a do-over on that, too.”
Egypt is one of the nations that initiated the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. And if, today, Gaza is an “open-air concentration camp,” Egypt could, in a heartbeat, throw open the gates and shower the inhabitants with roses and Eid sweets. But no, Egypt treats Gazans like enemies. In the words of Gaza activist Muhammad Shehada,
By now, it’s almost a punishable offense to be a Gazan in Egypt; Egypt’s population, subjected to interminable state propaganda, fear contact with Gazans as if they had the plague, or a contagious moral defect. And Gazans are the Egyptian regime’s easiest targets for arbitrary arrests.
Egypt, Shehada says, “vilifies Gaza as the devil.” Prior to 1967, when Gaza was under Egyptian control, torture and random imprisonment of Gazans by Egyptian forces were the norm. And these days, the small trickle of Gazans who are allowed to cross into Egypt are routinely shaken down for bribes and valuables. So Gaza’s misery comes from Muslim nations, too. But Israel gets the hostility because, ultimately, Gazans don’t want “freedom”; they want to retake what was lost in the war. They want an impossible goal, and leftists in the West encourage it. Prominent pro-Palestinian British journalist Sarah Helm, writing in The Independent, said of this year’s “Great March of Return,”
Nothing has ever frightened Israel more than the demands of Palestinian refugees for a right to return to their pre-1948 homes. And no group of refugees has a stronger case than those of Gaza who live within a few miles of their former villages.
Is distance supposed to matter? Plenty of Mexicans live within a stone’s throw of San Diego. Hell, some Germans live so close to Alsace, they felt the breeze generated by Anthony Bourdain’s swinging corpse. But so what? When you lose a war, saying, “Jeez, I live so darn close to the territory I lost…can I have it back?” doesn’t cut it. Buy binoculars and live vicariously through the lives of the people who fought harder and better.
Helm does make one important point, albeit dishonestly. She claims that early Israeli leaders believed that, over time, the Gazans would stop obsessing about their lost land. Helm supports her assertion by fabricating a David Ben-Gurion quote (“The old would die and the young would forget”—he never actually said that) and, in a different Independent piece, misattributing a quote to Ben-Gurion (“Time will cure and all will be forgotten”—those were actually the words of Yosef Weitz). But Helm’s point is still valid; early Israelis did assume that Gazans would eventually move on after their defeat. That has not happened. Indeed, time has only increased their longing for that ’48 “do-over,” and now that longing is at the point where it’s a permanent roadblock to peace.