Along with quantum physics and determining college football’s national champion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has earned a reputation for complexity. Bring it up, and even those among us who’ve made careers out of opining on the latest developments are likely to smile politely and wait for the first opportunity to change the topic of conversation to something more cheerful, like the mysterious disappearance of bees. This month, however, the intricacy of the news from the Middle East has given us a rare treat: a stroke of clarity.
What to make of the skirmishes along the Israeli-Gazan border? If you observe the facts alone, the picture is not too difficult to understand. Here’s what we know: Scores of Palestinians, many of them violent, have marched on the border fence on several occasions during the past few weeks, attempting to violate it and enter Israeli territory. Some were flashing swastikas; many were burning Israeli flags. Hamas is rewarding these efforts by paying hundreds of dollars to anyone injured in the clashes, a significant monetary reward in an economy Hamas itself has destroyed by funneling every dime to build terror tunnels rather than hospitals, schools, and infrastructure. Of those killed, an overwhelming majority are Hamas militants; and the purpose of all this, said Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader, is simply to affirm “that our people can’t give up one inch of the land of Palestine,” which is why “the protests will continue until the Palestinians return to the lands they were expelled from 70 years ago,” and which also happens to mean the destruction of the Jewish state.
Now, pretend you had no preconceived notions about the conflict, and try to observe these facts dryly. A sovereign nation, having withdrawn from a territory 13 years ago, awakens one morning to attacks by the emissaries of the terrorist organization that has since taken over and which declares that its wish is to cross the border and that its goal is obliteration. Under these circumstances, extreme precautions aren’t just permissible; they’re necessary.