All responses to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians in assaults on the border between Gaza and Israel must begin with sadness. Irrespective of why they happened or who caused it, the loss of so many lives is a terrible tragedy. Our grief at the deaths of our fellow human beings should not be diminished by our views about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, or our collective differences in opinion on the Trump presidency. The waste of human life and the suffering of those involved require us to put aside our normal roles as antagonists in a political struggle and to first simply state that what happened is awful.
Yet, like so many other great tragedies, the reaction to the carnage at the Israel-Gaza border has not been driven by any recognition of our common humanity or sorrow. In this case, the grandstanding was as much, if not more, about American politics as the struggle between Jews and Arabs. And that is the point where our tolerance for this kind of cheap exploitation of spilled blood—no matter whose blood it is—should end.
Far from being peaceful affairs analogous to those marches mounted during the struggle for civil rights in the United States, the protests on Monday and Tuesday—and every Friday since March 30—were organized by Hamas terrorists. And they involved violence on a mass scale, including rock throwing, Molotov cocktails and incendiary devices in an attempt to incinerate the Israeli landscape.
Dubbed the “March of Return,” these riots, as its title indicates, are way of keeping alive the fantastical notion that the descendants of the Arab refugees of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence would somehow “return” to what is now Israel. Its goal is to reverse 70 years of history and eradicate the Jewish state. The clear intent of those storming the border fence was mayhem and the dispossession of Israelis, many of whom are the descendants of an approximately equal number of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes in Arab and Muslim countries during the same time period.
The fact that the terrorists that rule Gaza are exploiting those who charged the fence shouldn’t cause us to view their deaths with equanimity. Golda Meir famously said,
“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” The spirit that animated that statement—grief about war and a desire to avoid being put in the position where there is no choice but to cause suffering, even in self-defense—should not leave us.
Like the Palestinians who were staked out as human shields during Hamas’s armed conflicts with Israeli forces in the last decade, we should not be indifferent to their pain. Even so, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the Israeli Defense Forces were in the wrong. It’s easy to criticize the use of disproportionate force, but the idea that it is within the power of the IDF to stop mobs intent on destroying the border fence and advancing into Israel without it is a nonstarter.
To focus only on Israel’s alleged shortcomings—and not on those who planned the incidents so as to generate the maximum number of casualties—is morally irresponsible. Those who do so are encouraging (as they have in the past) Hamas by effectively ensuring that the terror group will continue to try to cause the deaths of as many Palestinians as possible in order to undermine Israel’s image.
But what is truly unforgivable is to treat the struggle between Israel and its foes as fodder in the never-ending battle between the Trump administration and its foes to win American news cycles.
That’s the only way to interpret the claims that it was U.S. President Donald Trump who caused the deaths of the Palestinians killed at the border.
Trump broke the rules the foreign-policy establishment laid down for American involvement in the Middle East when he ordered the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The same is true about his calls to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to cease paying terrorists, and to stop inciting hatred for Jews and Israelis in his official media and schools.
But whether you think the policies of the previous decades that helped nurture delusions like a belief in a right of “return” were wise or not, the one incontrovertible fact is that these issues long predated Trump. The notion that Hamas’s shift of tactics from rockets and terror tunnels (which have been thwarted by Israeli counter-measures) to a mass assault on the border was caused by anything he did is ludicrous.
Rather than lament the Palestinian deaths, all too many of those Americans who commented on them sought to exploit them in the same way that everything that happens in Washington is used to advance a point of view about Trump.
That’s the only way to explain things like the New York Daily News’ cover that showed Ivanka Trump unveiling the sign at the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem photo-shopped to depict her smiling at a picture of Palestinian casualties in Gaza. The headline “Daddy’s Little Ghoul” may seem appropriate to those who think anything is fair game with respect to the Trumps. But while his opponents are free to call him or his family monsters, treating Hamas’s practice of human sacrifice and Israel’s impossible border dilemma as if it were just one more political talking point is deeply wrong.
Those who think that they are helping solve a problem with no realistic solution in sight by engaging in moral preening at the expense of Israel are telling us more about themselves than anything else. And those who think dead Palestinians who have been deliberately sacrificed on the altar of the war against the Jews by their leaders are fodder for America’s political wars have lost their moral compass. Instead of bemoaning Trump’s failings, they should look in the mirror and contemplate their own.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.