In the short term Israel is losing the international public relations game. The only stable, Western-style, liberal, pluralistic, rights-defending democracy in the Middle East is losing in public opinion to an Islamic Fundamentalist foe that primarily uses terrorism to promote its external goals. How can that be? Quite simply it is because of images like the one I posted above.
Let's rewind 11 years to 2003. Back in 2003 we in the West were much more used to seeing images out of Israel/Palestine like this one:
This photo in particular lodged itself in my mind. I was 22 when I saw the news about the Hebrew University Bombing on Mount Scopus. I had listened to radio broadcasts, I had even seen TV news coverage of the conflict, but I had never seen an image that hit me as hard as this one. Here was a young woman, my age, who was crying in shock and pain. A girl who had been unfortunate enough to be eating lunch in the cafeteria at her school when Hamas set off a bomb that killed 9 and injured around 100.
Prior to this photo coming out I had been steadily feeling more sympathy for the Palestinians. I kept hearing about Israeli brutality, and Israeli assassinations of Palestinian officials. I didn't have very much knowledge about the conflict at the time. All I had to go on was current news from the Seattle PI, and primarily the background that NPR provided. There was always some context provided, but if you study this conflict long enough you realize the amount of context needed cannot be contained in a book, let alone an article. Until Mount Scopus I really was only seeing the force imbalance between a powerful IDF and a rock throwing resistance made up of mostly teenage boys. The image of the girl screaming in the aftermath of the Hebrew University Bombing made something clear to me that had not been clear before. Israel was not fighting the rock chuckers in the street, they were fighting an enemy that considered the bombing of schools an appropriate tactic.
But it was hard to find the bombers, much easier to find the teenage boys who lived in poverty in an occupied territory. Boys whose entire lives had been characterized by a grinding occupation. Where their rights were disregarded at will by an enemy that had taken their lands and homes and followed up with a half century of oppression. (I have a hard time imagining that if I had been raised Palestinian that I would not have been throwing rocks in a best case scenario, or blowing up schools in a worst case scenario.) What was Israel supposed to do? Simply allow an enemy that would settle for nothing less than the eradication of Israel to conduct terrorist bombings with impunity? Israel fights back, as any nation facing a very real existential threat must.
But now we return to the present. A month ago things were rocky, but hopeful. There was peace talks going on, though they had little chance of success. Fatah and Hamas were agreeing to work together. But then three teenage Israeli boys went missing. Then they were found dead. If things had stopped there it would likely have led to an uptick in sympathy toward Israel, and there could have still been a chance of the peace process continuing. But it didn't end there. A Palestinian boy was kidnapped and murdered. Then footage surfaced of Israeli Police beating the dead boys cousin. Then Hamas started firing rockets.
Now, instead of a peace process and talk about the kind of situations that lead to the kidnapping and murdering of children the news is full of images of a helpless Gaza being battered by a massively more powerful Israel. The boys that were murdered are forgotten in the ensuing wave of reprisal violence, and outright military violence. It's not three dead Israeli boys anymore, it's Hundreds of dead Palestinians and Dozens of dead Palestinian children. The events that led to this upsurge in violence are completely lost in the horror of one-sided ongoing slaughter of Palestinians. True, Hamas does continue to fire rockets on Israel. At the time I am writing this the balance of attacks is 1,147 Hamas attacks to 1,603 Israeli attacks. But those numbers don't reflect the force imbalance, the casualties do. At least 194 Gazans dead (this is the number from the NYTimes, most numbers are higher) to 1 Israeli killed by a Hamas rocket.
The Gaza strip is 28 miles long. All of those Israeli attacks are hitting a very small target, a very crowded target. No amount of precision could keep from striking civilians in that setting. The Hamas attacks, launched from Gaza, have struck the span of Israel. 270 miles of area, and not a single place safe from attack. The news can't show the Israeli casualties of an attack that rains explosives down over the entire country, because Israel has gotten very good at protecting itself from the constant threat. But Gaza is another story. Gaza can't protect itself. Hamas can scare Israelis, but they cannot do anything to protect their own people. What Hamas can do is have Israel slaughter Gazans.
As Israel beats and bloodies a defenseless Gaza the world sees children torn apart day after day. Israel seems less and less legitimate. How can an occupying force that kills civilians by the hundreds possibly be legitimate. Palestinians in general and Gaza in particular gain sympathy, Hamas wins. International pressure to end the violence builds on Israel, Hamas wins. If Egypt reopens tunnels to Gaza, Hamas wins. Hamas might face the world with impotent saber rattling, but internally it is a charitable organization. Hamas runs schools, supplies food, does all the things that a functioning government is supposed to do. They are the only people actually leading in Gaza, and they are the elected government. Any external pressure against Israel benefits Hamas, and when relief supplies get into Gaza, Hamas wins.
So that's the short term. That's why Hamas doesn't back down from a fight they cannot win, and allows their people to be slaughtered by an enemy they cannot destroy. Because the more people Israel kills, the stronger Hamas becomes.
And let's be clear here. I hear the term "genocide" thrown around a lot in reference to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, but that is absolutely ridiculous. If it was a genocide, the conflict would be over. If the occupation was an attempted genocide it would be the most ineffective genocide in history. Israel is not trying to perpetrate a genocide, while fighting against an enemy that wants to "push the Jews into the sea." Israel is a country that could commit genocide against the Palestinians if they so desired, but doesn't want to. Hamas wants to commit genocide (or at least says they do), but is incapable of doing so. But when one side in a racial conflict is doing all the killing, it looks an awful lot like ethnic cleansing. Which brings us to how Hamas might win it all.
Demographics. The ethnic makeup of Israel and Palestine. The Jewish population of Israel is not growing as fast as the Muslim Arab population. But by itself that would not mean the end of Israel. Within Israel proper the balance is overwhelmingly in favor of Jews. Israel is 75% Jewish. Even though the Arab population is growing faster, a time when Israeli Arabs outnumber Israeli Jews is so far off to be irrelevant. But Israel does not just occupy Israel, it also occupies the Palestinian territories. With those territories included the population is 50% Jewish and 47% Muslim Arab. But Palestinians are not limited to the former British Mandate of Palestine. There are 1.5 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the surrounding countries. If you include them the balance is 53% Muslim Arab Palestinians to 45% Israeli Jews. Even if you take out the specter of the nations surrounding Israel which are committed to eliminating the Jewish state of Israel, the Palestinians still outnumber the Jews.
Now I want to pause for a second, and point out something. 1.5 MILLION Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Where do these refugees come from? Do they come from recent conflicts, or recent Israeli actions? No, they come from 1947. There was only half a million of them at the time, but in the 60 years since Israeli independence, the host countries have not so graciously kept those refugees in camps. More than three generations of people born and raised in camps in countries where they are not citizens, can't vote, and can't own land. Living in a country like the US where refugees are treated like human beings who have a right to live and make new lives it can be hard to realize that such is not the case for Palestinian "refugees." Rather than helping Palestinians build new lives, their so-called allies ensure that they have no hope for living with dignity other than the destruction of Israel. An old David Horsey political cartoon sums it up nicely:
Now, you might point out that it doesn't matter what the demographic makeup of a different country is. But as people like Dennis Prager like to point out, there has never been a Palestinian state. Palestinians are a people, and a "nation" in the sense that the Jews are a nation. In the same sense that the Jews were a nation throughout their time in diaspora when there was no Jewish homeland or state. The country that truly administers the Palestinian people is Israel.
You might think of Israel as a Jewish state. In fact one of the main conditions that Israel sets for terms of a peace agreement is that the Palestinian authority acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. But Israel does not have a constitution. Israel is not officially a Jewish state. Israel, and its courts have functioned by ruling based on undefined "Jewish Principles." In recent years those principles have led to the courts ruling increasingly in favor of Palestinians in the occupied territories as having rights. The courts have increasingly been acknowledging that Israel is the de facto rulers of the Palestinian territories. If things continue on their current trajectory Palestinians are likely to get the vote. Meanwhile, it doesn't look likely that Israel will finally hammer out its constitution. If that happens then Israel will likely cease to exist.
But that is only one possible ending. But I have a hard time imagining other long term results that do not result in the destruction of Israel if peace is not found before in either a two-state or one-state solution. All Hamas has to do to realize its goal of the destruction of Israel is keep peace from happening. Long-term, Israel can win every battle, and stand strong against every military attempt to destroy it, and still lose the war.
So if you wonder why Hamas keeps the fight going when it's only their own people dying, it's because they're winning.
P.S. One last image