The Challenge of Revolution
There have been hundreds of years of argument about what Simone Bolivar – the great liberator of South America – wanted as his political legacy. Fundamentally the question has been: was he a democrat or a dictator? The most convincing argument I’ve heard was that Bolivar expected the spontaneous establishment of a free and functioning society as soon as he pushed out the Spanish. What he got instead was chaos. His dictatorship was an attempt to build up society so it could be free.
The dichotomy between the reality Bolivar expected – and the reality Bolivar encountered – should be familiar to anybody in our modern age.
The United States toppled Saddam Hussain and expected the spontaneous creation of a free society. That is not what occurred. When Khaddafi and the Taliban were toppled the outcomes were the same. When the West allowed the Mullahs to take over Iran they may have expected freedom from the Shah to be replaced with freedom, period. Instead, a cult of violent and expansionist messianic Muslims took over the country. The Egyptians overthrew Mubarak, and then the Muslim Brotherhood took over. They went back to dictatorship. After the fall of the wall, Russia descended into chaos and then slipped gently into an ever-strengthening dictatorship. Indeed, if we look back through history, most revolutions do not lead to greater freedom or a healthier society.
Chaos and dictatorship are the norm, not the exception.
Danger for Palestine
All of this is relevant today because, around the world, protestors are chanting for the end of the Israeli mission in Gaza and for a ‘Free Palestine.’ It is important to ask what a ‘Free Palestine’ would look like.
Would it lead to the chaos of a Libya so dysfunctional that heavy rains brought down a dam that hadn’t been maintained for 20 years (killing 20,000 people only a few months ago – not that anybody cared)?
Would it lead to dictatorship?
Or would it lead to freedom?
The first approach to this question is one that assumes that Israel continues to exist – the Palestinians just gain governance of a territory of their own. We can already know what would happen in that case because it has already played out. Gaza was freed from Israeli occupation in 2005. Israel hoped, like the U.S. in Afghanistan or the world in Russia, that a free and peaceful society would suddenly emerge. Instead, Hamas emerged. It started with rockets on the very day the Israelis left and continued until and after Hamas won the Palestinian elections a mere five months later. They won elections and they followed up by throwing their political opponents from the tops of buildings.
If Palestine were free – today – it would be a country where gay people would face executions. It would be a country Christians would flee. It would be a country that would dedicate its budgets to tunnels and rockets and war at the cost of its own citizens.
Of course, those protesting around the world don’t want the Jewish State to exist. They want Palestine, “from the River to the Sea”. They want Israel erased. The majority of the Israeli Jewish population is not, of course, descended from European ‘colonialists’. They are descended from refugees from Arab and Muslim nations. These protestors want to follow the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands with the genocide of Jews from their homeland. The supporters of this plan imagine a free, almost utopian, society will emerge with the genocide of the Jewish population. “Justice will lead to peace.”
They imagine they will see a government that fulfills their progressive ‘Queers for Palestine’ dreams.
The historical record suggests another reality.
In Haiti, in response to some of the harshest slavery in world history, a slave revolution drove out the French. Then the Haitians killed every single white person on their territory. It was an anti-settler-colonialists dream. But it was not a dream for Haitians themselves. The society, freed of its oppressors, never became free. It remains by the far the poorest and often the most violent of all countries in the entire Western Hemisphere. 200 years have passed since the revolution and Haiti has still not found its way to political maturity and freedom.
In Algeria, the French colonialists were driven out. But the people never became free. One dictatorship followed another in a pattern that remains even today. There was another revolution as recently as 2019. But now, once again, protest is prohibited and dictatorship is all that remains.
In South Africa, white rule was removed. Now, a country blessed with extraordinary wealth is mired in crime, corruption and an inability to even supply electricity to its own people. Just do a video search for armored car heists in South Africa. It is like an action movie – except it isn’t fun.
A Somali revolution that started in 1978 eventually led to the collapse of the Somali government in 1991. The collapse of the government did not lead to peace, but to a civil war that is still ongoing and has taken an incredible toll.
All these examples show that freedom from an oppressor often does not lead to freedom for the oppressed.
Of course, not all revolutions follow this path. Some find their way to freedom and stability. Poland, Czechia, the Baltic States and East Germany are free and function reasonably well. Rwanda overthrew the violent Hutu leadership and while it, too, is not a free country, it is far better than it was. The United States, although it was long stained by the sin of slavery, did not devolve into chaos and dictatorship after the revolt of 1776.
A Free Palestine, cleansed in the blood of eight million Jews, could follow the path worn by Germany, Poland, Rwanda and the United States.
But it won’t.
It will follow the path of Haiti, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya.
The reason is simple: the countries that blossom after revolution are those that had a pre-existing civil societies prior to revolution. They step into a new, free reality, because they had already developed and internalized the traits necessary for freedom. Critically, they had social institutions capable of self-governance – prior to overthrowing their oppressors. They had the building blocks of the rule of law, rather than rule by force. Those social institutions have the social (not military) power to curtail the excesses of those who hold the weapons.
Ask Palestinians about their social institutions. They may hate Israel, but they know that both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are deeply corrupt and rule through violence. While some pockets of Palestine have social institutions, such as clans not involved in criminal enterprises, they would be swept aside by the likes of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
This is why a ‘Free Palestine’ would be very unfree. Not only would a genocide of Jews occur, but Israeli-Palestinians (who can now vote, sit in the Israeli Parliament and be Chief Justices of the Israeli Supreme Court) would find themselves living under a violent tyranny. Gays would be thrown from buildings, minorities would be violently persecuted and the country would devolve into chaotic civil war. Removing the Jews from the equation would not make reality any better.
So is there hope for those, like myself, who want a Palestinian to be free?
The answer is: yes.
That hope must simply be qualified by the reality that such freedom will not spontaneously erupt simply because the Jews are eliminated. In fact, the elimination of the Jews will make it less likely to occur.
The hopeful reality is that there are countries that have started with dictatorship and then found their way to peace, stability and at least some kinds of freedom. South Korea and Taiwan are vibrant democracies that were forged through dictatorships. India is a vibrant democracy that suffered a violent start (including as many as two million deaths and the transfer for 14 million people). Rwanda has emerged from one of the worst slaughters of the second half of the 20th century (Congo was far worse) to earn the third highest rule of law index score in all of Africa (behind only Botswana and Namibia and ahead of South Africa and Egypt). The UAE, still a dictatorship, enjoys the second highest rule of law score in the entire Middle East (behind only Israel).
In other words, societies can evolve and become increasingly free and law-abiding. Of course, South Korea and Taiwan had strong social structures in place. They had the long-established Confucian traditions that defined much of their society. In the UAE, the absolute dictators of the Emirates recognized the value of the rule of law and managed to impose it on a tribal society – creating the framework for a rush of expatriates (and, sadly, slaves) to their cities.
In some way, the Tutsi government in Rwanda has the most remarkable story. They managed to move on from the Hutu genocide of three quarters of a million of their people. They didn’t respond with a massive massacring of Hutus. Yes, they suppress free speech and hold close political control. Nonetheless, a thirst for revenge has not driven their government.
If this sort of even-keeled resolution of issues was a part of the current Palestinian culture, then peace would already have been made.
So, can Palestine evolve a civil society? Can Palestine learn to be free?
The answer is: probably, but not by themselves.
The keys to a truly free Palestine are four-fold: honor, anger, civil society and structure.
There is a fundamental dividing line between cultures. There are those cultures that are fundamentally driven by honor, and those fundamentally driven by law.
In an honor-based society, personal, family and clan honor are not only critically important but are used to justify violence. The Torah talks about society before the Flood as being obsessed with honor – and overwhelmed by violence. Street violence in the U.S. is often driven by a need to redress disrespect.
Arab society, and particularly Sunni Muslim society, is in large part an honor society. Yes, there are laws, but the legal system is explicitly writ small. Within the religious system there is no precedent and no courts with ultimate overriding authority. Instead parties to legal disputes appeal to legal scholars for Fatwas and then bring them before judges. The judges compare the fatwas, and perhaps the status of those issuing them, and make one-time judgements. There is a lot of practical leeway – leeway which enables extremes such as mass sex slavery of women and public beheadings under the Islamic State. Because consistency is not a critical part of the legal system, there can be only a limited rule of law (Shia courts function differently).
At this point, for many, Palestinian honor demands that the Jews of Israel be genocided. This might seem reasonable to Westerners; at least those who support such an action. After all, 75 years ago many Arabs were driven from Israel. But cast it from the other perspective. The application of a very similar sense of honor would demand that because the Egyptians and Iraqis and Moroccans expelled their Jews, Jews are honor-bound to run commando teams into these countries and behead civilians within them until a Jewish need for honor is satiated. Cast from this perspective, the application of the rules of honor seems insane.
Nonetheless, it is a powerful force.
So how can this need for honor be tamed and or redirected?
The answer is all around us. Despite their need for honor, Sunni Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE have found their way to peace. Saudi Arabia may not be far behind. How have they done this? In every case, their governments discovered that the price of honor was simply too high relative to the returns.
First, Egypt and Jordan were soundly defeated, time and again. Egypt was the first to make peace. It wrapped itself in the cloth of victory, celebrating their defeat in 1973 as if it were the greatest of successes. And then, after lying to themselves about their honor being assuaged, they found their way to a cold peace. Jordan looked to the Oslo Accords as an excuse to discontinue the war – pretending their honor had been assuaged. Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE had less skin in the game and were thus persuaded by the relative benefits of peace and trade.
The first step in the path to addressing the dangers of honor is making the price of honor too high to be worth the returns. The Palestinians are closer to the conflict. Their honor has been more directly threatened, and so overwhelming that sense of honor will require a firmer establishment of its costs.
Of course, military defeat at the hands of Israel will not change the fundamental role of honor in Arab society. Shia Muslims remain angry about the death of Ali, almost 1500 years ago. No, for peace to emerge, another source of honor has to be developed. The UAE provides a wonderful example. The Emir of Dubai, in particular, discovered that there is great honor in development and that development is greatly accelerated by peace and the rule of law. His honor is now being met by launching spaceships to the moon, building ridiculous skyrises, buying the largest planes in the world and sharing his deep ‘wisdom’ with Western visitors eager to ascribe their admiration to some cause other than profligate spending.
Clan warfare is no longer critical to their honor. It has been redirected.
In current Palestinian society those who conduct terrorist attacks against schools and beat in baby’s skulls with rifle butts have streets and town squares named after them. They are called heroes and martyrs. The ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority government pays their families stipends that total hundreds of millions of dollars a year – and the amount paid effectively rises with the level of terror committed. This has to be quashed. Within this society, honoring killers is a form of incitement to genocide. Thus, the Internet has to be filtered, posters removed, squares renamed and this sort of propaganda utterly suppressed.
I am fundamentally a fan of free speech, but every one of these celebrations is not an act of free speech but an act of incitement. Go ahead and criticize the Jewish state and state the case for Palestinian freedom. Honoring murderers is another story entirely.
An honor society requires a source of honor. So even as the celebration of murderers is quashed, something else has to take its place. Thankfully, there are worthy targets of honor. Those who advance peaceful Palestinian society, from artists to poets to bureaucrats, have to be praised. At the same time, the great Muslims of the past – who engaged in acts of great cultural and scientific achievement – should be praised. They should be honored, and at the expense of those who just engaged in conquest, subjugation and religious oppression. This praise cannot come from Israel, but the shifting in priorities can occur. This is where structure will become critical.
A close cousin of honor is anger. Palestinians are angry about their history. From a wider Arab perspective, that anger is unreasonable. Arabs drove 99.5% of their Jews out of their countries. Baghdad was a third Jewish in the 1930s – only four Jews remain. They then followed up by stating and attempting to genocide the Jews who had gathered in Israel. They very nearly succeeded. The displacement of the Arabs from Israel was entirely reasonable given their ongoing attempts to genocide the Jewish population. In the great Arab-Israeli conflict, the genocide of Jews and the prevention of that genocide have long been the driving motivation of each party.
From a broad Arab perspective, the problem is one of honor – a Jewish state should not exist in a place where there has been Arab-Muslim rule. It is insulting. But the Palestinian perspective, writ onto a smaller canvas, is very different. Certainly, they committed pogroms in the 1920s and 30s. Certainly, they supported a campaign of genocide. Nonetheless, they were the only ones to actually lose their lands. Furthermore, instead of being welcomed by other Arab states, they were left in refugee camps where their society turned more and more angry at their predicament. Jewish refugees from Arab lands were taken in by the nascent Israeli state. They moved on. Arab refugees were given no such welcome. They weren’t allowed to move on. They were meant to be a thorn in Israel’s side, and they have been. Yes, they have joined in the actions of attempted genocide – but unlike the Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese and others, the Palestinians were actually displaced.
They have a reason to be angry, even as they subscribe to genocide.
While their need for honor can be redirected, can their anger be deflected?
There are those who have moved on from righteous anger. There are children of Holocaust survivors – millions of them – who harbor no ill-will to Germans. I have Boer friend who did not tell his children the crimes the British committed against his family – because he did not want his family’s anger to be sustained (his own brother decided to pass the family anger on to his own children. Today, my friend’s nephew finds himself living a bitter life mired in hate.) The Vietnamese are now allies of the United States.
However, these people come from other cultures, cultures that have learned to move on from anger rather than sustaining it for thousands of years. When Arab Muslims taunt Jews with the chant “remember the Qurayza (or Khaybar)”, they imagine this massacre of Jews by Mohammed continues to rip at the collective heart of the Jewish people. I’d wager 99%+ of Jews have no idea what they are talking about (I couldn’t remember the name when I wrote this article – I had to look it up). Jews move on. Jewish culture doesn’t sustain anger. By and large, Arab Muslim culture does.
This idea of holding on to ancient anger plays a critical, but often forgotten, role in the Torah. Amalek becomes angry when Abraham does not rescue them from Kedarlaomer. They carry their resentment for hundreds of years and launch a cowardly attack against the baggage train of the Jewish people upon the Exodus from Egypt. We are commanded to eliminate the memory of Amalek. Of course, just by remembering the command, we preserve the world’s memory of them. Thus phrase ‘the memory of Amalek’ is not about everybody else forgetting Amalek – it is about eliminating Amalek’s own ability to remember. In other words, it is about enabling them to move on. One generation out of Egypt, Jews are commanded to treat the Egyptian with kindness. Of all the commandments, this is one we actually internalized. Part of our fundamental mission is to bring the possibility of moving on from anger.
So how can the anger of this conflict be dissipated?
The answer exists in Islamic law: with money.
In Saudi Arabia murderers are sentenced to death. However, the families of those who were murdered can accept diyah from the murderers’ families and choose to commute the sentences. Acceptance of the diyah is an agreement to drop a claim to vengeance. In Saudi Arabia, third-party donors can and do step in to enable these payments. Israel could pay diyah to Palestinian families who have lost people in the conflict. At the same time, Palestinians could pay diyah to Israelis for the murders they have committed.
I do realize the law raises questions about the applicability of diyah when it comes to non-Muslims – and some argue it should only apply to cases of accidental death. Nonetheless, the concept (and the obvious flexibility in the Saudi application of it) creates an opportunity for a balancing of the books.
The greatest question in the process of diyah is the sums necessary to achieve settlement. In 2012 in Egypt, the government paid families $16,500 each for those who were killed in anti-government protests. At the other extreme, Saudi cases are routinely being settled for sums north of $1 million each.
As with the resolution of questions of honor, the resolution of questions of anger through diyah or other means also ultimately rests on structure.
Civil Society and Structure
Not every Palestinian city or town is equal when it comes to terrorism. For years, Jericho was fundamentally at peace with Israel while Jenin has been a central hotbed of terror. Beit Lechem is not Gaza. What distinguishes these places?
One of the core distinctions has to do with clan. Where people were displaced into refugee camps – particularly from cities where clan structures were already weak – social order has been weak, and terrorism has flourished. Terrorist organizations have built loyalties among people who are displaced in more ways than one. Jericho the city has been at peace with Israel – but the refugee camps at its southern end has not.
One of the factors that enabled the UAE to so quickly shift from war to peace was the top-down tribal structure of the UAE. Once the decision was made at the top, it flowed down through the social structure of the society. A state of war became a warm peace, almost overnight. The clans can achieve this. In the West Bank, some clans could be leveraged to deliver improvements.
The clans could support:
- The refocusing of honor on civic achievement and peaceful cultural pride.
- A settlement on the scope of diyah payments in each case and from each side. A court could decide the appropriate scope of payments based on circumstances (e.g. active firefights vs. accidental deaths vs. terrorism or unjustified uses of force).
- The gradual integration of clanless residents of refugee camps into functioning social structures.
Israel could further support this process by supporting the clans themselves with financial, trade and legal improvements of their status visa vis Israel.
Many clans would not join in such arrangements, but for those who would, a road to a better reality would be established (it must always be remembered that this is the Middle East. Problems are not solved, situations are only improved.)
The Gaza situation is entirely different. Not only have the Gaza clans been consistently at war with Israel, but they also have a very different position in society. Many of them were family-based criminal organizations that made a business of taking advantage of Gazan refugees. Most importantly, the position of the clans has been greatly weakened. Their structure presented a threat to Hamas and so Hamas made a point of destroying the most prominent clans in Gaza, from the Al-Bakr and Al-Masri to the Hilles and the Doghmush. As the Financial Times put it: “Hamas demands that its members place their political affiliation above all else – even above family and kinship.”
A clan-based improvement of Gaza is almost entirely out of the question. Even if they were to be resurrected, they would not be partners in peace and the establishment of the rule of law.
A more appropriate corollary for Gaza is post-war Japan. Japan was also an honor-based society whose people had been convinced to carry out hopeless suicide missions against the American military. The American occupation government punished the Japanese military, banned former military officers from taking political leadership, reduced the power of rich landowners and began the legal transformation of Japanese society. But Japan was a far more homogenous society than Gaza is today. Prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Japanese had had 300 years of internal peace. After a brief period of internal conflict during the Restoration, they went to war – but not internally. A rebuild of Japanese society was thus far simpler than a rebuild of Gazan society.
Nonetheless, there are lessons to be learned. In Gaza, all the existing leaders and social structures have to be swept aside and the refugees camps have to be completely dismantled. The entire education system has been dedicated to Jew hatred. Textbooks for children teach hate and have such material as accusations that the Jews infect Palestinians with cancer, conspired against Mohammed and have bought the UAE. These same educational institutions exist in West Bank refugee camps, but at least there are alternative social structures in place. In Gaza, the entire society is one of poison.
This is why nobody wants to accept Gazans in their countries – even temporarily. Egypt will not accept them, neither will the Saudis, the Emiratis or anybody else. Their society is entirely poisoned and all their Arab kinsmen know it. None of Israel’s neighbors (with the exception of the sub-national army of Hezbollah) actually want a free Palestine “from the River to the Sea” – it would be a nightmare for the region far more dangerous to the Arab world than Israel itself. Even the Syrian regime would be deeply threatened by such an outcome.
This poison is the reason why the resolution of the issues in Gaza thus has to be far more forceful.
First, there must be no road to honor through the murder of Jews. No signs, no mourning tents, no social media posts. Nothing. Those who caught celebrating such murderers must themselves be prosecuted and they must be isolated so their poison can be contained. Their actions are not the actions of free speech, but direct encouragement and incitement to genocide.
Second, new school systems – perhaps run by the UAE or Israeli-Palestinians – have to be established. Their curriculum has to be monitored by Israeli authorities. The UN has shown it actively encourages and enables hate and terrorism.
Third, exposure between cultures has to be dramatically enhanced – not exposure of Arab employees to Jewish employers but exposure of Arab children to Jewish children. One Gaza man established a system of Zoom calls between Arabs and Jews. I took part once. A few of my kids met his niece and they spoke in English. Make this concept a regular part of curriculums throughout Israel. Mandate Zoom calls between every segment of the population (or phone calls in the case of the Haredim). Use interpreters to facilitate these conversations.
Monocultures, whether Arab or Jewish, are dangerous and ultimately deadly.
Fourth, those who will accept diyah payments in order to conclude their fight with Israel should be welcomed to do so. Courts similar to those to be established in the West Bank should be established in Gaza. However, they should be manned by Israelis and Arabs from outside Gaza. Give people a way to formally and religiously renounce the state of feud.
Finally, enable self-rule of Gaza in every area that is possible. While you may restrict genocidal teachings, don’t suppress Islam as a whole. While regular sweeps may suppress weapon-making workshops, encourage the growth of a domestic construction industry. Explicitly specify the rights of Gazans and, bit by bit, if the poison is leached and if the society maintains the peace – expand those rights. Give Gazans control over ever increasing areas of self-governance – starting with municipal issues and civil law courts and moving towards ever greater self-determination. All of this can only be done under the terms of a direct and hands-on occupation. Without close monitoring, the reality will be a return to the Gaza of today. You can not start with complete self-governance – that is the trap that led to the election of Hamas.
While the lack of complete freedom may seem like a curse to those living in liberal democratic societies, sometimes it is critical to enabling people to live the fullest possible lives. Singapore is not a free society, Dubai is not a free society – both have fundamental inequities – but they manage to create peace and opportunity for their citizens and most of their residents. They could both take an active role in rebuilding Gaza society. Taiwan, South Korea, Rwanda and the UAE all went through periods of unfreedom to get where they are today.
I support a free Palestine. I support the freedoms of all people. But history has shown us that the most effective paths to freedom are often not the most direct. Freedom requires the creation of civic institutions and civil society that refocus anger and the seeking of honor. The West Bank has such institutions in some areas. Gaza does not.
Creating the conditions where Gazans can enjoy true freedom will require a complete rebuilding of Gazan society. Indeed, such a rebuild will ultimately be necessary in parts of the West Bank as well.
Anything short of this will lead only to horror – not least of all for the Palestinians themselves.
The opportunities for failure are manifold. Such a process is far from guaranteed to work. But unless we want endless war and and ever-suffering peoples, we ought to seek a path out of our current reality.
If you enjoyed this piece, you will love The City on the Heights, a thriller I wrote that focused on the creation of more integrated cultures in the context of the Syrian Civil War.
To reach more of my Hamas war coverage, visit https://www.josephcox.com/category/hamas23/