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Is this what civilization has come down to? 

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What rights do Palestinians possess? Are they citizens of any nation?

The answers to those questions are murky at best, particularly right now with war raging in Gaza.

Technically, under Israel’s Nationality Law, Palestinians are legal citizens of Israel. They hold “passport citizenship,” but not “democratic citizenship.” That means they have access to Israeli courts, the ballot, and government, but not social and economic rights like social security, education, welfare, and land and water resources of the state of Israel.

Is that what they want? Probably not. Do they have a choice? Emphatically not.

It’s not a perfect comparison, but Palestinians occupy a position in their homeland similar to that of Indigenous Americans in the western hemisphere after the European invasion. People of a different ethnicity took over much of their territory and continue to expand that takeover by steadily building settlements on land reserved for Palestinians after World War Two, relegating them to second-class citizenship.

United States history is replete with indiscriminate killings of unoffending Native Americans by whites in revenge for raids by warlike tribes, although those Native victims had taken no part in those particular raids. They were massacred by the white interlopers who desired to clear the tribes from lands adjacent to their settlements.

As an alternative, the whites sometimes burned the Native settlements and destroyed their crops. And sometimes the white government leaders adopted laws that called for the removal of Natives to poorer sites farther from white settlements.

The similarities between the Americas of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and Israel-Palestine of the 20th and 21st to make me uncomfortable.

Settlers on the American frontier often chose to retaliate against Natives who resisted white settlement in order to protect their families and their property. Once they had built their homes in the wilderness, that decision followed as a matter of course.

Were there many examples of whites leaving Natives at peace on substantial tracts of their ancestral homeland, where they could live as they chose? Sadly, no.

In general, whites believed that Native Americans possessed few rights worthy of respect, either by European nations or by the United States. The “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” claimed by the Declaration of Independence as God-given human rights did not extend to people of color, and those included Native Americans.

Israelis claim the right to defend themselves and their country, and to strike back at Hamas for its murderous attack on Israeli civilians last October. Most of the world agrees. Israel is currently doing that, razing most of Gaza and killing or wounding thousands upon thousands of Palestinian civilians in the process.

Do Palestinian citizens have the same right to defend themselves from Israel’s destruction of their cities and infrastructure, and the killing of more than 30,000 of their people who are not Hamas fighters? Some Americans find that to be a difficult question to answer.

Back in 1948 the newly created United Nations ended the British mandate over Palestine and declared the existence of two separate areas of the region, one to serve as a Jewish homeland and the other as a homeland for Palestinians.

The Palestinians and their Arab allies resisted the partition, and launched several military attacks on Israel, always resulting in their own defeat. Israeli victories have enlarged Israel’s territory and increased its domination over Palestinians and their land.

And for decades Israel has continued to build more settlements for Israeli Jews in Palestinian territory despite worldwide condemnation of that activity. The settlements, plus Israel’s strict control of Palestinians’ economy and ability to move about in their own territory, pretty much assure that peace is unlikely. A sizable number of Israelis, including some in leadership, openly call for incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza into the nation of Israel.

Israel’s hawkish Netanyahu government openly proclaims its firm opposition to a two-state solution for the region, and Netanyahu says he intends to occupy Gaza militarily for an undetermined period of time following the current operations against Hamas. Israel has forced Gaza residents several times to move from place to place during the war, each time destroying the cities where Gazans made their homes. There are very few habitable places left.

Other than Hamas fighters, Gaza residents have no power to resist their own and their homeland’s destruction. They are now pushed up against their southern border with Egypt, which refuses to give them asylum. There is nothing left for their families to return to in the northern and central parts of Gaza. Food, water, medicine, and the other basics of life are very hard to come by, and supply shipments seem to be tied up in red tape and slowdowns. Widespread starvation is a very real — and imminent — possibility.

And there are people, including some Americans, who claim the whole mess is God’s will as prophesied in the Bible.

The best outcome of the situation would be a single state in which Jews, Muslims, and others govern themselves democratically, with equal rights for all. The second best outcome would be two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, living in peace. Neither of those dreams is antisemitic; many Jewish Israelis favor one or the other, as do many Jews in the United States.

The worst outcome is the current state of affairs.

If you lived in Gaza, what would you think, and what could you do? How could you protect your family? Is this what civilization has come down to?

Rick Morain is a reporter and columnist with the Jefferson Herald.

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