Around the County

Israeli-Palestinian equation: ‘We’re all martyrs now’

By Pat Stuart
Posted 11/9/23

It’s a boil on the backside of the world. 

It’s the cesspit of international power politics. 

It’s the graveyard of diplomats. 

I heard these comments …

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Around the County

Israeli-Palestinian equation: ‘We’re all martyrs now’


It’s a boil on the backside of the world. 

It’s the cesspit of international power politics. 

It’s the graveyard of diplomats. 

I heard these comments and similar over and over during the years I spent working in the CIA’s Near East Division, specifically engaged with the Palestine situation. That was when the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) spoke for most Palestinians, when Yassir Arafat ruled it, and when Camp David gave everyone hope for a resolution. Next came the seeming miracle of the Oslo Accords, which succeeded in delineating the lines of a two-state solution. Of course, it was too good to be true — the issues that turned the Oslo agreements into a travesty leading directly to now.

It’s those same issues — those grievances, fears, wounds and suspicions — that won’t go away. They can’t. They existed long before the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel. They’re so deep-rooted on both sides they serve as primary motivators and an ideological foundation for movements like Hamas, for the actions and strength of Zionist land appropriation on the West Bank, and for the draconian policies of Israel over Gaza. Those, too, serve only as openers. 

It’s why Hamas killed indiscriminately on Oct. 7. It’s why Israelis felt no particular guilt about pushing 80% of the 2 million people in Gaza into poverty and keeping them there for decades. It’s why Israeli pilots return hour after hour to bomb thousands of Palestinians, knowing that if they actually hit and kill one Hamas fighter for every hundred or more women and children (one child is dying every 10 minutes according to Save the Children), that’s OK. Grievances. Revenge. Fear. Reprisal.

“Why, Pat?” a Palestinian-American friend asked me a few days ago. “Biden and his people know everything that has happened. They understand. They could stop this if they wanted. Why do they hate us so much?”

This particular woman’s husband’s family made a living for centuries from olive groves in northern Gaza — all gone now, taken without compensation, most of the family moving to the West Bank. Those still in northern Gaza refused to leave after Oct. 7, convinced that if they did, they would never be allowed to return. 

Are they alive? I don’t know. If they are dead, they will have joined my friend’s husband — shot by Mossad years ago outside a hotel on a Paris street.

But is this friend right? Can Biden stop the current iteration of violence? Unlikely. That said, our recent administrations have been deeply complicit in the Israeli policies that brought us to this situation. As for hatred, there is plenty of it to go around, but it’s doubtful it motivates our policies. Or I don’t think it does. 

It’s just been too easy to ignore the reality on the ground, the unrelenting misery of a people under siege. It’s been too easy to think that bribing and pressuring Israel’s neighbors to join Israel at the negotiating table would solve the core problem. Still, our diplomats do understand the realities.  

As for the White House, our elected officials locked themselves into an “Israel at any price” policy theme in 1948 and have barely looked beyond it since ... certainly not during Camp David or Oslo. It’s more a case of balancing domestic interests with oil/gas policies. In the process, though, they’ve given up billions of dollars, entangled us in Middle Eastern wars, and turned our one-time Arab allies into enemies. Think about it.

Mostly politicians and the elected just want to keep the lid on. Like their friends and close allies in Tel Aviv, they tell themselves that Palestinians just have to be pacified and kept behind walls and barbed wire in their ghettos.

As though that has worked!

Now, President Biden is revisiting the need for a two-state solution as though he can turn back the clock. Well, he’s right that it is the only possible/eventual/unlikely solution. It’s also his way to get at least one foot out of the bed he so very totally climbed into with Israel on Oct. 8, of denying accusations that his administration is complicit in genocide. But is a two-state resolution even/ever achievable? I’m a skeptic.

Why? Because Israel will not destroy Hamas whose political leaders aren’t even in Gaza. Because Hamas will never agree to the kind of terms Israel would demand. Because Zionist settlers will never agree to leave the West Bank. Both Zionism, as its practiced now on the West Bank, and Islamic fundamentalist nationalism are ideologies, both thrive on guns and killing and hatred. 

As you hear more and more: “We’re all martyrs now.”