They did not, significantly, demand that Gaza and the West Bank be freed from Israeli control. No Palestinian leadership—to the degree that there is any—seems to be calling for that. Or has ever called for that, to my knowledge. No, what they would like is the entire country under their control, not that it ever was, but they did live there, or at least their parents or grandparents did, once upon a time.
But that was in 1947. And it has been 47 years since Israel, getting a jump on the latest Arab attempt to destroy it, instead destroyed the Egyptian air force and seized the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. The Sinai was given back to Egypt in return for a sort of peace, but the Gaza Strip was kept along with the West Bank and Jerusalem.
If they had pushed the Palestinians off the land then, by force, the world would have forgiven them, to the degree it can ever forgive Jews, long ago. By 1992, 47 years after the end of World War II, Germany was everybody's pal, Europe's most upright citizen, and all was forgotten. But that wasn't Israel's style, and the middle road, neither conquering the land nor abandoning it, created an ever-growing population of permanent victims, four million and counting.
Which is enough history to delve into, because while history usually helps in the understanding of current events, in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian stand-off, history is of limited use. No one can even agree what happened, never mind what should happen. The Palestinians see a history where their nation is seized from under their noses by crafty Eastern European Jews, and Israel sees a rebarbative people who bat away chances for peace time and time again.
Neither can be deemed correct. What I used to ask was: What happens now? Assume, for argument's sake, that history actually occurred, in some form, leaving us to the present day. Where do we go from here?
But even that question is naive. The answer, plainly, is nothing. Nothing happens. Or, rather, more of the same. They're going nowhere.
None of the signs demanded union with Egypt or Jordan, which also border the Gaza and the West Bank. Somehow, this isn't their problem. You remember when Egypt and Jordan were demanding the return of those territories? Neither do I.
Nor did the protesters demand an independent country. They decry "War on Gaza," which began, most recently, after weeks of missile attacks deep into Israel, and display their grievance to the world, in the hopes that the world buys it, which of course it does. Hating Jews is always in fashion, and there were plenty of pale, black-clad young kids, their faces covered, Sandinista-style, so that the government doesn't come get them personally, for striking their blow on the world stage, marching as part of their youthful Occupy Chicago lark. To them, oppression of the Palestinians, if that is the proper phrase, is the only wrong on the globe, except of course for life here with mom and dad.
One of the keys to approaching the problem, in my eyes, is to remember that the world hated the Jews before. Before there was an Israel, and before there was a single Palestinian refugee. The Germans did not believe that Jews who had lived for centuries in Germany belonged there either. So the Palestinian complaints have to be given a bit of context. If Palestine was up for grabs in 1947, when the British buggered out, and the Palestinian forefathers wanted it so badly, you have to ask why they didn't take it themselves, why they let a ragtag mob of Polish refugees—in their estimation—take control of their land. The Palestinian national narrative presumes an element of bungling on their own part.
That said, the four million Palestinians are real, and live in their limbo, self-imposed though it may be. Myself, I'd prefer Israel pulled out and declared them a state, unilaterally, at least once. They've taken steps in that direction, but they need to do it 100 percent, to illustrate the Day After Problem, which is: they pull out, the Palestinians start attacking them, because that's what they do, and they have to go back in and stop it. That seemed where they were going, with the wall, but Israel has its own growing population of fire-eyed zealots, the folks who kidnapped a Palestinian teen recently and burned him alive, in retaliation for the three Israeli teens who were murdered last month. It was a depraved act, which made the situation worse. Though there is something almost anesthetic about the far right Israeli settlers and Ultra-Orthodox black hats. By rendering Israel increasingly alien to its American supporters, it allows for a certain distance. Many American Jews increasingly regard Israel with a squint and a muttered, "This is not the place I loved, not anymore."
But we fight that. Being Jewish, I support the Jewish state, even though it becomes more and more unpalatable with each passing year, as its own Jewish fanatics deform the country's modern values. If the present state of Muslim society can be explained by a revenge culture, then Israel has allowed itself to be pulled into it. Now the Palestinians are facing an enemy more like themselves. "When fighting monsters," as Nietschze said, "be careful not become a monster." Israel should have listened.
Still, I can't pretend there is a false equivalence. Even were I not Jewish, one is a friend to the United States and an advocate of peace and democracy of some kind. The other claims to be oppressed but shows no interest in working to end that oppression, not an end that doesn't involve being elevated to a status that they never enjoyed and never can enjoy. In 1947, Britain controlled Palestine, then the Jews took over. The Palestinian Arabs, as they were called, had a chance for their own land, and batted it away, losing some land in a vain grab for it all.
That has been their strategy this entire time, to their misfortune, and Israel's, and the world's. No amount of protest will change that. They're sticking with it, tossing down their losing hand, again and again, reshuffling the cards in their hand and ending up, again, with nothing. Only more time lost, and still more suffering. It hardly merits thinking rationally about by third parties because rational thought is such a trivial factor in all this passion and hatred and revenge and bloodlust. The end is nowhere in sight. I'm not sure there's much value in even paying attention to it anymore.
In 2011, I had lunch with Oril Gil, then the consul general in Chicago, to talk about the Israeli strategy toward the Palestinians. It was not encouraging.