Israel Must Crush Palestinian Hopes
The bitter truth about Arab hatred of Jews and how to model anti-Israeli sentiment
A common argument made against the kind of war that Israel is waging in Gaza is that it is creating more terrorists, which it will have to deal with at a later time. If you, say, drop a bomb that kills a leader of Hamas and another five civilians also die, each of them has friends and relatives who will end up angrier at Israel. Other Palestinians will hear about it on the news and likewise become enraged. If your goal is to stop attacks on Israel and create the conditions for peace, you should find ways to kill fewer civilians and decrease the overall repression faced by the populations of the West Bank and Gaza.
Among pro-Israel types, there’s a different view. Palestinians simply hate Jews. One may argue that it is part of their religion, or that they can’t let go of the past. Israel killing and oppressing Palestinians might not help, but it doesn’t really make that much difference. This would suggest that there isn’t much of a tradeoff between eliminating terrorists and achieving peace. Israel may decide to refrain from hurting Palestinians out of humanitarian concerns, but it should not be deceived into believing that fighting a less aggressive war will bring benefits in the form of Palestinians hating them less.
Finally, there is another model, which I call “Lose Hope.” Palestinians start out hating Israelis, and anger is a reaction people have when they feel like they have enough agency to change their situation. This positive change might be years or decades down the line, and in the short term the Palestinians look forward to immediate victories, like the attack of October 7. Here, the more Israel makes clear that the Palestinians will never achieve their goals, the less trouble they will have with them. In addition to the direct benefit of eliminating terrorists and stopping them from attacking you, fewer are actually created by each one you kill, as long as it is clear you are willing to go as far as it takes to neutralize the threat.
The three models are graphed below.
These models are usually implicitly held by people taking different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think we can advance the debate forward by making them explicit, and checking which models are more or less consistent with the evidence in terms of how Palestinians react to events and what we have seen in other conflicts in the world.
None of these models captures all of reality, and each can be more or less true at any particular point in time. You might get a logarithmic relationship up to a certain point, and then see a Lose Hope effect. Alternatively, it’s at least theoretically possible that you could start out with Lose Hope, but as you move across the x-axis you get a linear or logarithmic dynamic as people are pushed to the edge. It’s also possible that before 1948, the Linear Model was correct, but once Palestinians were expelled from their land the amount of hatred was fixed and one of the other two models became a better way to understand the conflict. Or set the date to 1967, or any other time you wish. You can also of course shift the lines up or down at will, or adjust their shapes. The point is not that any of these models perfectly explain the world or represent universal laws of politics, but that they are useful heuristics when thinking about what path Israel should take.
I believe that, as of 2023, the Linear Model of oppression is simply an inferior framework for understanding the world, relative to the other two models. In fighting the war in Gaza, Israel should not worry about “creating more terrorists” or anything similar, because the increase in Palestinian hatred will either be small, or actually decrease as their hopes and dreams are crushed. Moreover, as I’ll explain below, the Lose Hope Model is not only unquestionably true under certain conditions, but Israel needs to work towards those conditions if it ever wants to settle its problem with Gaza and the Palestinians more generally.
Palestinians Are Maxed Out on Anti-Semitism
In his memoirs, Jared Kushner writes that when Trump decided to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the State Department informed him that US approval in Gaza had dipped to 6% as a result. When he asked them what the US approval rating had been before the move, he was told it was 9%. What this story demonstrates is that anti-American sentiment has reached some kind of maximum among the Palestinians, and although one could argue for trying to make things better, it doesn’t appear that they can get much worse. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was considered quite inflammatory at the time, but its effects on attitudes towards the US turned out to be negligible. A more recent poll shows Israel and the US with approval ratings of 0% among Palestinians.
If there is any conflict in the world where one group hates another at something close to a theoretically maximum level, it is this one.
The people in Gaza and the West Bank seem to hate Jews a lot more than say Russians and Ukrainians hate one another, or Americans hate any of their foreign enemies. A poll taken after the current war began shows that the majority of Palestinians support the events of October 7. It is difficult to imagine Russians parading random Ukrainian women they captured in the streets, battered and unconscious, and regular citizens coming out and spitting on them. We’re not supposed to play the Hitler card, but I agree with historian Andrew Roberts that a careful study of Nazi propaganda will show much less hatred towards Jews than what one regularly hears from Hamas spokesmen. Hitler’s famous speech in which he predicted “the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe” is remembered because he was rarely that explicit, and even that was conditional and framed as a prediction rather than a threat. Meanwhile, Hamas in its charter promises talking stones and trees telling Muslims where the Jews are so they can kill them, and its members regularly reaffirm the same message.
Of course, just making a comparison to Nazis doesn’t settle a debate. Even though it’s politically incorrect to do so, one could point out that their systematic mass killing of Jews did not begin until after the Second World War had begun, showing that the way Nazi ideology manifested itself depended on political considerations and psychological dynamics that responded to real world events. The same is certainly true for Hamas, and any other extremist movement. That said, I’m not sure this consideration helps the argument of those who want Israel to compromise with the Palestinians. Even when Israel has an overwhelming military advantage over them and can determine what goes in and out of the enclave they control, Hamas doesn’t suppress its genocidal intentions. One could alternatively argue that Hamas and other militants would mellow out if they had more power relative to the Jews, but this is not an experiment I would encourage Israel to run.
The Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI) puts out videos from Arab television, and it’s worth browsing through them to get a glimpse of the political culture of the region. Some of their more interesting clips come from a Palestinian kids show called Pioneers of Tomorrow that ran from 2007-2009, which involved scenes starring a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfour who taught children about the glories of martyrdom. Little kids would call in and talk about how they looked forward to sacrificing their lives for the Palestinian cause. You can watch clips of the show here and here.
Beyond polls, individual incidents, and cultural products, the entirety of Gazan society appears to be built around resisting Israel and achieving political ends. Observers have pointed out that Hamas came to power in 2006 and hasn’t held an election since, but there appears to have been no pressure from within Palestinian society to moderate with regards to Israel, or even put forward demands to gain independence, and surveys show that public opinion in Gaza remains uncompromising and militant. While Hamas may have lost some popularity over the years since winning the election of 2006, there is little evidence that Palestinians dislike them for being too extreme, and the approval ratings of groups that are even more radical are actually higher. Dictators face pressure from public opinion all the time, and in the case of Palestinian leaders and what posture to take regarding Israel, it is always towards being more belligerent and never in favor of taking steps to make people’s lives better.
One reason we so often see regression towards the mean is that values reach theoretical maximums and minimums. A human being with a 160 IQ had to be very lucky in terms of the genetic roll of the dice and the environment that they grew up in, and the likelihood of any other particular individual getting so fortunate is low. Current Palestinian anti-Semitism is so extreme because it required a combination of factors to all be pushing in the same direction. These include the history of the region, but also the fact that the dispute is over land considered sacred, and Muslim ideas about martyrdom and Jews. The fact that Arab Christians were kicked off their land and did not, with very rare exceptions, become terrorists, shows the religious nature of Palestinian grievance. Israelis can’t change the past, nor the religion of the Palestinians, nor the nature of the land that the two sides are fighting over.
Given all of that, it is questionable whether more oppression on the part of the Israelis can make things much worse. Palestinians by and large reject Israel’s right to exist, deny the Holocaust, and celebrate the slaughter of innocent Jewish civilians. In what ways do we expect things could possibly get worse? Perhaps instead of denying the Holocaust, Palestinians will start believing that Jews murdered millions of Germans during World War II? Already, 75% of Palestinians support October 7, which involved torturing Israeli civilians to death. If that number goes to 82%, will that make a big difference in terms of Israeli security? I’ve seen some say that Palestinians actually deny that civilians were killed on purpose in the operation, but that doesn’t help the case of people arguing for the Linear Model of anti-Israel sentiment, since it assumes public opinion is disconnected from reality and can be manipulated at will by Hamas or other militants. If Palestinians can’t accurately perceive the state of the world, it’s difficult to see how Israel being more humane towards their adversary can result in good public relations.
The Irrationality of Anti-Israeli Sentiment
In addition to the likelihood that the Palestinians are close to having maxed out on anti-Semitism, we should consider the fact that anti-Israel sentiment is so irrational as another reason why the Linear Model is highly unlikely to be correct. This is true whether we are talking about the international community or the Palestinians themselves.
The Linear Model assumes that there is something Israel could do in order to placate Palestinian hatred. But it fails to acknowledge that by historical standards, they have been treated shockingly well by an enemy they are in a constant struggle against. Before the most recent war, Israel had killed fewer than 5,000 Palestinians over the last 30 years. Even in the current conflict, it has taken more pains to avoid civilian casualties than Muslim governments do in most other conflicts, despite being more threatened than they usually are. If being restrained could make Palestinians less angry, one has to wonder why it hasn’t worked thus far, and why Arabs don’t hate any other governments of the region, including Hamas and the PA, nearly as much.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen perhaps over half a million people killed in the Syrian civil war, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Kuwaitis slaughtered by Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and perhaps a million or more Muslims arrested and detained in Xinjiang. None of this provokes nearly as much outrage as what Israel has been doing, either on the Arab street or at the UN.
Remember, Israel had to do something after October 7. Those who have been arguing for a less aggressive response hold that there is some important delta in terms of increased hatred between killing, say, 500 Palestinians and killing tens of thousands, or expelling 100,000 people from their homes versus expelling a million. Yet nothing about the previous history of the conflict makes me think that this is likely to be true. The idea of a Jewish state is deeply offensive to Palestinians, for reasons based in religion and history. Every additional act that Israel commits rubs salt in the wound, but at some point you must reach some kind of limit beyond which there is no point in restraining yourself. It seems to me we’re long past that point, not because Israel has been particularly bad from a historical perspective, but because Palestinian society is uniquely hateful.
The same applies to the attitudes of the international community. Imagine that you’re living in a town where the police are always arresting you for jaywalking and trying to make sure you get a long prison sentence. At the same time, they ignore the crimes of murderers and rapists. It would be irrational to think “well, if only I stopped jaywalking, they would leave me alone.” It’s clear that the cops are out to get you, and the jaywalking is just a pretense.
From 2015 to 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted resolutions on Israel 140 times, and on countries of the rest of the world put together only 68 times. Similarly, from its creation in 2006 to 2022, the UN Human Rights Council adopted 99 resolutions against Israel, but only 61 against Syria, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela combined.
It’s difficult to understand this by referencing Israeli behavior. What you have is a confluence of prejudices coming together at the UN. There is most obviously the Muslim world taking the side of its co-religionists. Combine that with leftist and third worldist dislike of societies seen as powerful and successful, along with old fashion anti-Semitism, and you get an international community that cares more about the sins of Israel than those of everyone else in the world combined.
There’s a 2014 story in Tablet in which a former AP reporter writes that the organization had 40 staffers working on Israel and Palestine when he was there, more than Russia, China, India, and sub-Saharan Africa combined. Sins committed by Israel are endlessly harped upon, while those of others, including the Palestinians themselves, are ignored. He blames this on Western anti-Semitism, though I’m inclined to think it’s more anti-white or anti-Western bias, and that Israelis would get covered in an even more hostile way if they were Nords.
I think even Israel’s critics would acknowledge that hatred of that nation is disproportionate relative to what it has done when compared to much of the rest of the world. But they seem not to appreciate what this implies about their theories regarding what Israelis can do to make Palestinians and their critics abroad hate them less. An irrational hatred based on identity and historical grievances is unlikely to be pacified through concessions.
Other Conflicts Support the Lose Hope Model
Thus far I’ve been making the case that Palestinian hatred of Israelis is close to maxed out and also irrational, and an increase in oppression is therefore unlikely to create much more of it. But I think there’s also an argument that it is Israeli vulnerability that brings hatred, consistent with the Lose Hope Model.
The muted response to the Chinese war on the Uyghurs is instructive here. Precise estimates are impossible, but perhaps 1 or 2 million Muslims have been locked up by Chinese authorities since 2017. Starting the year of the crackdown, the birthrate in Xinjiang fell off a cliff, in what appears to be the result of a deliberate program of secularization and population control.
You would think that this would draw outrage from the Muslim world. But we’ve mostly seen silence, with the UN Human Rights Council voting to not even debate the issue last year. Unlike the case of Saddam Hussein, this isn’t an instance of Muslim-on-Muslim violence. Rather, it’s infidel-on-Muslim violence, which you might think the Islamic world would be particularly interested in.
I think what’s going on here is that there’s no enjoyment in taking up a cause that is hopeless. If Uyghurs start throwing rocks at Chinese tanks or whatever, they will be brutally crushed. People talk about the romance of the lost cause, but for that you at least need an audience to perform in front of. Uyghurs suffer in silence, and the Muslim world largely doesn’t care because the whole thing is too depressing to think about. I don’t condone the Chinese treatment of Uyghurs the way I support Israel waging total war on Gaza, because the threat involved is in no way comparable. But one can’t deny that it has worked, and Muslim terrorism in China has been brought down to zero.
When fighting Israel, in contrast, you get to not only throw rocks at tanks and usually live to tell about it, but even lob rockets at their cities without being wiped off the map. You can try to pull off events like October 7, and perhaps live to glory in your victory if your enemy is too squeamish to bomb mosques, hospitals, and schools. Palestinians can hope that there will eventually be a political outcome in their favor, decades down the line, as a result of the Arab population continuing to grow, the international community becoming even more hostile to Israel, and developments in drone and rocket technology making life in Israel unbearable enough that investment declines, the economy begins to stagnate, and many citizens of the country leave due to a combination of security and economic concerns.
In addition to the sad case of the Uyghurs, the change in Arab attitudes towards Assad since 2011 also demonstrates how weakness can inspire hate. At the start of the Syrian Civil War, the countries of the region armed insurgents fighting against the government. The entire Arab world treated Assad as a pariah. In early 2012, despite longtime support from Damascus, even Hamas itself endorsed the rebels fighting to topple the Syrian regime. After Assad, with Russian and Iranian help, did what it took to stabilize his government and extinguish all hopes of overthrowing it, everyone basically went “oops, never mind.” In May, the Arab League welcomed Syria back into the fold and individual countries have been reestablishing diplomatic relations. Members of Hamas visited Damascus late last year, with one of its officials calling it a “glorious and important day” in which both sides decided to “move on from the past and look to the future.”
None of this is to say that the outrage against the Assad regime in the early 2010s wasn’t genuine at the time. But there’s a psychological story we can tell here, in which people get angry when doing so is useful. If someone who is about the same size as you comes and slaps you in the face, you might get mad and hit him back. If he is a professional boxer, there’s a good chance that you’ll know better than to even get angry in the first place. Anger requires both grievance and some hope of taking action to change your situation for the better. When there’s no hope, it either never forms or dissipates.
From this perspective, anti-Semitism among Westerners and Arabs feed off one another. Palestinians know that they can only continue fighting because of widely accepted human rights norms. Leftists in the US and Europe hold Israel to higher standards than other countries. That gives Palestinians even more hope of victory, and their resistance inspires more Israeli reactions, which gets liberals even more agitated. This cycle explains why there is so much hate directed towards Israel coming from international institutions.
The Dishonesty of the Linear Model Position
Overall, I think that we’re in a world of the Logarithmic Model right now, which means that Israel should just keep killing terrorists and trying to destroy Hamas because the increase in hatred among the Palestinians will be small. This war will probably end with Palestinians hating Israel a little bit more than before but having their ability to hurt the Jewish state degraded to an even larger degree, leading to a net gain in Israeli security. That won’t get us towards a two-state solution but that is impossible anyway because Palestinian hatred of Israel is based mostly on religion and historical grievances that can’t be erased from memory.
In the long run, I think there is a good chance that Israel can end the conflict by breaking Palestinian will, which may require constant brutality towards Gaza and making everyone understand that the Palestinian cause is hopeless as every generation of Israelis is more hawkish than the one that came before. This may even happen in this war if Israel is brutal enough, but international pressure, mostly American, will likely stop things before we get to that point.
One thing that I find strange about those who adopt the Linear Model of anti-Israel sentiment is that they never seem to conclude that things have gone too far and that Palestinian hatred has reached its maximum. We’re not even in the first two months of the war, and Israel has already killed more Palestinians than have died in every other conflict between the two sides of the last several decades put together while displacing around half the population of Gaza. Yet the people who thought a war like this would increase Palestinian hatred for Israel never say “now that you’ve started this thing, you better finish it, because they’re going to hate you forever.” No matter what has happened in the past, they think that more oppression or killing by necessity increases Palestinian resistance, presumably with no limit. If there was one Gazan left, I guess he would be so filled with rage that he would die of a heart attack before he could threaten Israel’s security.
I think that what’s going on here is that the argument that Israel can’t kill its way to victory is a debate tactic. People who are pro-Palestine can see how throughout the world disputes are often settled by violence. When they say “Israel can’t win by military means alone” what they’re really saying is “we don’t want them to,” because they don’t think it is worth it. Yet they feel a need to appeal to the self-interest of Israelis and make arguments that are convincing to Westerners who support Israel and don’t care that much about the Palestinians. They of course convince themselves of this too, and set aside what they presumably know about Xinjiang, the Russian experience in Chechnya, the Syrian Civil War, and countless other conflicts that were settled by the stronger side simply imposing its will on the enemy.
The problem with hampering the Israeli war effort through appeals to human rights norms is that it simply ensures that the conflict continues indefinitely into the future. Are Palestinians being well served right now? Would living under occupation for another 75 years do them good? The way I see it, for Israel to survive there will have to be separation between the two sides at some point, and it would be better for it to happen now than later.
During and after the Second World War, Japan and Germany saw their governments destroyed, and the political ideology that the previous regime had relied on in each country extinguished. Both peoples were better off for it in the end. I think the next generation of Uyghurs will be some of the most loyal members of the Chinese Communist Party. This is a less hopeful example since Chinese totalitarianism is bad, unlike liberal democracy. But it shows that when people are given no other options they adjust to their new reality.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine Palestinians giving up their political dreams. But the idea that Japan would become a pacifist society content to manufacture electronics and watch anime while renouncing all geopolitical ambitions must have seemed just as improbable in early 1945. What ended World War II wasn’t the two atomic bombs that the US dropped, as Japan still had the capability to go on fighting. It was knowledge that there would be a third, a fourth, and a fifth if it didn’t surrender. If there was a way Israel could guarantee with 100% certainty that it wouldn’t stop until Hamas was destroyed, I think Palestinian resistance would decline. As things stand, there’s still a good deal of hope out there that Western pressure will eventually force Israel to stop short of regime change in Gaza. In which case, we would simply find ourselves in the same situation as before October 7.
Unlike the Palestinians, Japan already had a state, so in this case moving on means trying to make Gazans into refugees, in many cases not for the first time of course. This will be tough for one or two generations, but eventually lead to a more humane outcome for all involved. Right now, even Westerners seem outraged by the idea of population transfer. One might ask why in every other conflict in the world, we consider it a self-evidently good thing to get civilians out of war zones. What’s special about this particular conflict is the attachment that Arabs and Westerners feel to the cause of Palestine. But it’s an evil cause, which clearly emphasizes hating Jews more than making its own people better off.
As long as hope for a two-state solution exists, the idea of reducing the Palestinian population in the region conflicts with larger political goals. Gazans themselves, living off of international charity and romanticized as warriors, feel no urgency to call for their leaders to let them leave or demand that the rest of the world welcome them in. The end of the Palestinian cause would reduce the terrorist threat inherent in accepting people from Gaza as refugees and make other countries potentially more welcoming.
Eventually, I think that we can get to a place where emptying Gaza becomes seen as a realistic option both within and outside the region. But it will require Israel to extinguish all hopes of Palestinian statehood first. The US can be useful here by continuing to provide support to Israel, refraining from putting pressure on it on humanitarian grounds, and trying to incentivize other nations to accept Palestinians as refugees.
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