On September 11th, 2001, the Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda carried out one of the most dramatic terrorist attacks in history on the United States. It knocked down two phallic symbols of U.S. capitalism and killed nearly 3,000 innocent people.
The Americans could have sought out the perpetrators and brought them to justice or simply killed them using intelligence, high tech and special forces, instruments at which they are masters. But that is slow and discreet. Revenge was called for and thus more flamboyant methods. Hence the War on Terror.
The U.S. went full-out military, invading two countries. The end result was over half a million dead, mostly civilians, and terrorism was worse than ever. American shock and awe in Iraq unleashed the forces that created ISIS, the worst terrorist organization in history. And the war in Afghanistan left the world’s most extreme Islamist government in power.
And al-Qaeda? Well, by the time the Americans had marched through Afghanistan the extremists were long gone. Nonetheless, they did get the mastermind of the attack. How? With the use of intelligence, high tech and special forces, of course.
Now Israel has experienced its 9/11 with a terrorist attack by the Islamist group (and government of Gaza) Hamas. The Israelis, too, are masters of intelligence, high tech and special forces for tracking down their enemies, perhaps even better than the Americans. In fact, they have been killing leaders of various Islamist groups, including Hamas, for years.
But, like the Americans, they believe a much stronger message is in order. Some collective punishment is required, and maybe a little revenge. So, like the Americans, they have gone full-out military and inflicted horrific death and destruction on Gaza. Shock and awe redux.
We cannot know where this will end. But one thing at least is becoming clear. It may end with Hamas, or its successor, stronger than ever, just as American militarism left extremists stronger than ever.
Since the violence started, the group’s popularity has surged among Palestinians. The October 7 attack, seen by Israel and its supporters as brutal terrorism, is seen quite differently by many Palestinians and their supporters. West Bank activist Fadi Quran explains: “This idea that Gaza, after 17 years of blockade, was capable of challenging the blockade, challenging the military occupation, was seen as an inspiring act of resistance.”
Quran, who does not support Hamas personally, reports that “The nonstop violence is really radicalizing all Palestinian society. Basically, the people do not feel safe around anyone who even professes support for Israel.”
A poll conducted by the Arab World for Research and Development found that over two-thirds of West Bank Palestinians supported the attack. Pollsters now claim that surveys of Palestinians show a majority of Palestinians believe “if they want to become independent and free of Israeli occupation, they must resort to armed struggle. And when they look around at who can deliver armed struggle, they look at what Hamas had done on October 7.”
And why would they not support it? Years—generations—of negotiations between Palestinians, Israelis and diplomats from the U.S. and elsewhere have brought the Palestinians nothing—no state and no relief from Israeli occupation.
That they have achieved nothing is hardly surprising. Many Israelis, including the current government, intend to absorb all Palestine into Israel. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently stated at a press conference in Tel Aviv that he was “proud” he had prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israel is now following an established pattern. Resistance from the Palestinians is met with collective punishment, a euphemism for state terrorism, which only serves to increase Palestinian rage—and so the cycle continues.
Israel and its supporters seem to have no plans for the endgame in Gaza. One thing they agree on is that Hamas must go. Joe Biden has said so as has our own prime minister. True to form the interests of Israel come first. But if democracy has any place in the equation, who rules Gaza should be decided by Palestinians and Palestinians alone.
If anyone should go it is the Netanyahu government. Its policy of expropriating ever more Palestinian land while oppressing and humiliating the Palestinians has done nothing but nurture groups like Hamas. For any hope of a secure and peaceful future for its own citizens, Israel needs to dump Netanyahu and his racist colleagues.
As for Israel’s patron, the United States, Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times, advises, “It’s time for the U.S. to tell Israel to put the following offer on the table to Hamas: total Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, in return for all the Israeli hostages and a permanent cease-fire under international supervision.”
That would be a good start.