When I read about the current situation in Gaza, I feel two very powerful, completely conflicting emotions.

On the one hand is, not exactly schadenfreude, but vindication. Israel has taken it on the chin for decades (sometimes fairly, in my view) for how they have treated the Palestinians. We can talk about how the press has conveniently ignored how much more poorly the Palestinians are treated in places like Jordan and Egypt, where the press is, to put it mildly, not exactly “free.” We can talk about how Israel is held to a completely different set of standards than any other country in the world in how their treat their religious minority. But even so, I don’t think anyone can deny that the Israelis and Palestinians haven’t exactly gotten along in an area of the world that’s not much bigger than New Jersey. And the Israelis, being the ones in charge of the area, have taken a large portion of the blame for Palestinian behavior.

But the point here is, now the Palestinians largely have autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank. And there is, for all intents and purposes a civil war raging in Gaza. And one of my powerful, conflicting emotions as a supporter of Jews in Israel is, “See, all you people who have been harshing on how the Jews have been governing the Palestinians! They can’t even govern themselves!” Total vindication.

But counterbalancing that is an equally powerful emotion: sorrow for the Palestinians. And I am not completely ignorant of history. I am well aware the United State Constitution did not spring, lo, full blown from the brow of Thomas Jefferson like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. It was the product of generations of western thought, and Jefferson himself was the product of of years of education and debate, living in a period and a place that allowed him to midwife this incredible system. Not to denigrate the work of the founders; their effort was profound, and I personally believe that Jefferson and Franklin were–and I do not use this term lightly–geniuses. But it is absolutely critical to consider the period of time and the cultural matrix in which they were embedded.

And the Palestinians? Have the Palestinian leaders been going to their equivalent of Harvard or Oxford, and educating their children in the principals of democracy and abstract thought, for generations? Or have they been scrambling to survive (in some cases), or (in others) filling the heads of their children with fundamentalist ideas about paradise in the afterlife if they become revolutionaries or suicide bombers? Even if a Palestinian Jefferson or Franklin exists–and he or she probably does–does he or she have the leisure to sit and think Great Thoughts, or is he or she simply trying to get through the day alive without getting caught in a Fatah/Hamas crossfire on the way to the market?

And so while I feel strongly that the current chaos in Gaza helps show the world that perhaps the Israelis haven’t been the brutal bullies that the world press tends to portray them as, I simultaneously feel incredible sorrow for the Palestinians as they struggle to put together a nation. They don’t have generations of democratic thought to build on. They don’t have peace and prosperity to lean against. They have chaos; they have autocratic leaders; they have schemers and connivers who have been funneling foreign aid into offshore accounts for personal enrichment; they have the authoritarian rulers of neighboring countries, co-religionists who one would expect to help them, who are instead using them as a political football for their own countries’ purposes. And I feel nothing but sorrow for the Palestinians themselves.

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