"If I was an Arab leader I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal, we took their land. It is true that God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we come and we have stolen their country. Why should they accept that?"
That statement -- which would certainly outrage the current government of Israel and most of its supporters -- was made by David Ben Gurion (1886-1973), revered as the father of the State of Israel.
From the very beginning that issue has been at the heart of hostilities between Israel and the Arabs, particularly, of course, the Palestinians -- including the tragedy being played out in Gaza today.
Yesterday, I posted a blog calculating what would happen if the United States -- with 176 times more people than Gaza -- were to suffer the same proportion of casualties that the Palestinians have borne. As of today, that figure would have increased to 105,000 Americans killed, of which 26,400 would have been children.
(According to the UN, 75 percent of the casualties in Gaza are civilian).
My purpose in citing those statistic is not to say that Hamas is right. It's an attempt to make readers -- many of whom just don't want to know -- to make them understand how appalling the situation has become, in terms they might be able to understand.
Of course, Israel's leaders have to respond to the on-going, indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza. But Israel's sledgehammer reaction has been totally out of proportion.
To those who judge that statement naïve or hopelessly biased, 10 Israeli human rights organizations -- these are people living under the constant threat of those missiles from Gaza -- have condemned Israel's ongoing onslaught in the strongest terms, and raised concerns abut grave violations of international law.
O.K., you say, we acknowledge the horror of it all, but what the hell is Israel supposed to do, confronted with an implacable enemy like Hamas?
The answer is that slaughtering hundreds of Palestinians and wreaking horrendous carnage on one of the most densely populated places on earth is not the answer. It hasn't worked in the past. It won't work going forward. If, somehow, Israel manages to kill all the current generation of Hamas, they'll be replaced by their kids in even more radical form.
Hamas rocket attacks into Israel are a desperate riposte to the policies of Israel (backed by the United States) to keep the Palestinians at bay by whatever means necessary. That has led to Israel's (and Egypt's) stranglehold over Gaza, its economy, its people, and its government.
No one could accept such a drastic situation without ultimately striking back.
The attempt to throttle Gaza has included a campaign to wipe out Hamas -- Israel refusing, for instance, to return tax funds collected from the people of Gaza back to the government of Gaza to fund day-to-day operations. The upshot: because of Israel's strategies, and other political upheavals in the region, Hamas finds itself on the ropes. Thus, their desperate and near suicidal willingness to lash out.
That desperation, I repeat, is not just Hamas'. It also haunts the 1.7 million people living in what has been called an "open-air prison."
So what to do? A simple cease-fire with no preconditions, which is what American, Egypt and Israel have been advocating, probably will not work. It would mean a return to the status quo of Israel and Egypt maintaining their stranglehold on Gaza.
If Hamas were to accept such a deal, after their own huge losses and the horrors all the people of Gaza are suffering, they'd be committing political suicide. Which is just what Israel, the U.S. and the Egypt devoutly wish.
The problem is, as I've said, Hamas would probably be immediately replaced by something worse -- even more radical.
The only way to bolster more moderate voices among the Palestinians is for Israel to make it evident that more moderate policies can achieve something for the Palestinian people. Otherwise, forget it.
In Gaza, that would start with an easing of the blockade and a real agreement by Israel not to attempt to destroy the government of Gaza. Such an agreement would, of course, have to contain tight controls to make sure goods coming into Gaza were goods needed by the people, not to construct more rockets and secret tunnels. That would not be easy; it also would not seem to be an impossible task.
Israel and its backers also have to find some way to help restore Gaza's disastrous economy -- currently more than 50 percent of its people are unemployed. What does the world expect those people to do?
There are other obvious steps that Israel could take, beginning with ending the illegal settlements on the West Bank, to actually recognizing that, yes, Israel did take Arab land, and drove out the Palestinians in 1948 -- a fact recognized by Israeli historians, but still denied by Israel's government and its supporters.
Ah, but the Palestinians are not willing to negotiate. They've shown that over the years. Not true. Many of their leaders have been weak, corrupt and incompetent. But in almost every case, when there was a chance for serious negotiations over the years, Israel's actions -- particularly the inexorable expansion of the settlements, undermined the moderates, and only strengthened radical groups like Hamas. (Remember, it was Israel itself who helped found Hamas as a way of undermining the PLO).
But the problem is: just as Hamas cannot accept a cease-fire in Gaza at this point, without getting anything to show for the huge sacrifices the Palestinians have made, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would also risk political destruction if he made any significant concessions to Hamas or the Palestinians, after the sacrifices Israel is now making, particularly the loss of at least 29 Israeli soldiers.
And so the slaughter continues.
The tragic irony is that Israel, which has become one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, is unable to resolve the quandary that has bedeviled it since its creation.
(Thanks to retired Egyptian diplomat and journalist, Ezzeldin Shawkat, for the quote cited above from David Ben Gurion)