My Date With Destiny

Reviewing major issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I recently had a debate—well, I can’t really call it a “debate,” it was just a massive argument—with a popular streamer named Destiny.1 Destiny has been highly critical of pro-Palestine activists in his videos. He has said repellent things, including mocking the death of Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer (killed with family members in a missile strike), and joking that he is “pro-genocide” and that “Palestinians can go live in another place.” A while back, when YouTube tried to get me to watch a video of Destiny in conversation with Ben Shapiro, I commented online that such a video sounded like my special personal hell. I implied that both men were deeply ignorant of the topics they confidently expound on in public. Destiny saw this comment and challenged me to come and defend myself on his program.

I was not eager to do this. While Destiny appears not to have read a single full book on the Israel-Palestine conflict, he’s a formidable opponent in one-on-one conversations. He’s very, very aggressive, and a quick thinker. I find his moral positions horrifying, and many of his factual statements are erroneous, but more than one person has been embarrassed in an argument with him. I don’t think his style is conducive to serious intelligent discussion, because he speaks so fast that you can barely think, interrupts constantly, and appears more interested in “destroying” you than in taking what you have to say seriously. In those kinds of conditions, the opposing party is likely to blurt out whatever pops into their head, without being able to give it much thought. That’s great if the goal is to try to make them look foolish or erupt in dumb rage, but it’s not really a good way to learn anything. I’m a writer and a “slow” thinker who likes to revise my thoughts before offering them to the public. Fast-paced debate is something I don’t care for, because inevitably I say ill-considered things in the moment and then realize later what the right answer was. 

Fortunately, I came away from the two-hour discussion with my dignity intact, and a number of Destiny’s fans emailed me afterward to say they thought I did well. Some even said they had subscribed to this magazine or wanted to support us. (You should, too.) As far as I can tell, there are no videos online called “Writer with FAKE BRITISH ACCENT gets OWNED and DESTROYED in Israel-Palestine Debate,” so I’ll chalk that up as a win. I don’t ever want to do a discussion with him again, though. 

As I say, the problem with these fast-paced arguments is that you’re responding with whatever you can think of in the moment, and you can’t do things like dive at length into the actual evidence. There were a number of moments where I claimed that one thing was true, Destiny claimed it was false, and we just had to go back and forth, each insisting we were right. I was not able to fully substantiate my positions in detail and show why I am confident in them. I’ll do that here, because the issues we argued over are actually incredibly important.

The stakes of the issue here are high: if I am right, there is a hideous crime against humanity occurring with full U.S. support, and we as Americans have a strong moral obligation to try to put a stop to it. If Destiny is right, we can all go back to playing video games. So let’s review some of the important disputes. I will show that, if we slow down Destiny’s arguments and actually evaluate them, they are dangerously ignorant. 

Starvation in Gaza: Is It Happening and Who Is Responsible? 

First, rather incredibly, Destiny downplays reports of starvation in Gaza. In his notes for a recent debate on the Lex Fridman program, he wrote: “it’s difficult to say for sure if anyone [in Gaza] has even died after October 7th thus far from malnutrition or starvation.” Now, that was written a few weeks back, before children began dying of starvation. But in the actual Fridman debate, Destiny and his debate partner, Israeli historian Benny Morris, continued to downplay the reports, with Morris saying “I have not seen one Palestinian die of starvation in these last four months, they’re always on the verge” and “There isn’t [famine] in the Gaza Strip.” In his conversation with me, Destiny continued to downplay the reports:  

People have been telling us that the Palestinians are starving to death for decades! People have been telling us since October 7th that no aid is going into the country, that it’s been kept on a caloric deficit. And now here we are, months and months and months in. Where are all the people dying from starvation? Something is not adding up here. The math doesn’t work. Something is not right about the story that’s being told. Where all of these aid deliverers complaining that Israel are blocking our aid trucks going into the country? These stories aren’t out there. They don’t exist like this[…] It is possible—literally, this is the opening of my stream—that we are approaching a famine status for people in Gaza. But guess what? That word doesn’t mean anything anymore. Because people have said that Gaza has been in famine and starvation mode for decades.

I found this jaw-dropping. Gaza’s worsening dire food crisis is well-documented. Cindy McCain of the World Food Program (certainly no Hamas apologist) puts it bluntly: “People in Gaza are starving to death right now. The speed at which this man-made hunger and malnutrition crisis has ripped through Gaza is terrifying.” Starving children are now pouring into Gaza’s hospitals (at least the ones that remain functioning after repeated Israeli attacks). The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) has declared that famine is imminent in Gaza and produced a carefully documented report on exactly what the people of Gaza are facing. The Global Nutrition Cluster reported in February that in Northern Gaza, approximately one in six children under age 2 are experiencing acute malnutrition, with three percent of those experiencing wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition. First-person testimonies coming out of Gaza are harrowing, with Palestinians describing the agony of trying to keep their children alive on animal feed, or facing impossibly high prices for basic staples.  

While Destiny acknowledged that it was “possible” that Gaza was approaching a famine, he waved the issue aside, saying that the “word doesn’t mean anything.” (Actually, it does. It means “catastrophe” or a “catastrophic level of hunger,” and quantitative measures exist for determining its level.) He did not appear to have read any of the assessments of the situation or have any actual arguments against their accuracy. Casting doubt on the presence of mass starvation in Gaza, while refusing to acknowledge or study the evidence, is morally reprehensible, because this is an urgent situation, and U.S. policy is significantly responsible for bringing it about. There was not mass starvation in Gaza prior to October 7,2 but there is now, and it is happening in part because the U.S. declined to force Israel to allow sufficient quantities of food into the strip. 

Separately from the fact that there is starvation in Gaza, there is the question of whether Israel is responsible for it. Destiny has not only downplayed the seriousness of the situation, but does not seem to think that a case had been publicly made that Israel is the cause of it. He asked Ryan Grim of the Intercept directly whether there had been any reports of Israel blocking aid. There have been plenty, and Human Rights Watch came to the conclusion in December that Israel had been “deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.” When I brought this up with Destiny, he was clearly unfamiliar: 

I’ll look more for it. I’ve seen the headlines and on Twitter and stuff, but I haven’t seen—Okay. I’m just curious. And I don’t ever do this to somebody. But I’m curious, can you point me towards an agency that I can look up that is saying that, like, right now Israel is blocking aid into the country?

I pointed him to the Refugees International report “Siege and Starvation: How Israel Obstructs Aid to Gaza,” which he was unaware of, since he does little research on the topics he has strong opinions about. The report, based on an on-the-ground investigation, documented “apocalyptic” conditions in Gaza and found that “Israeli conduct has consistently and groundlessly impeded aid operations within Gaza, blocked legitimate relief operations, and resisted implementing measures that would genuinely enhance the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

Starving Gazans to death is, in fact, a popular policy in Israel. A poll from February found that 68 percent of Jewish Israelis oppose allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel has had to be pressured by the United States, and as Senator Chris Van Hollen told the New Yorker recently, “The primary cause has been the continued restrictions on assistance by the Netanyahu government.” Since Israel has kept most land crossings closed to aid, we have got to the point where the United States has to facilitate (sometimes deadly) airdrops into Gaza as a measure to try to feed some people. 

Is There a Genocide? 

Destiny is highly critical of the use of the term “genocide” to describe what is happening in Gaza. Personally, I am ambivalent about having discussions on the applicability of the term “genocide.” There is a risk that one will get into a debate over whether the situation meets the legal standard for that particular crime, as if the question of something’s rightness or wrongness hinges on whether or not it is technically genocide. I am cautious about this because, while I am convinced the label “genocide” fits what is being done to Gaza, even if it did not constitute outright “genocide,” it would still be a hideous atrocity that requires severe moral condemnation. Thus, debates over that particular term are not especially relevant to whether or not U.S. policy is defensible. 

For instance, I have written before about how the United States has failed to reckon with the moral depravity of the Vietnam War. I don’t need to prove that it was genocidal to use napalm and Agent Orange on a largely peasant population—i.e., that we were intending to destroy the Vietnamese population—in order to argue that it was unconscionable. The effect of U.S. bombing was certainly genocidal; in 1967, Vietnam expert Bernard Fall warned that “Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity” was facing “extinction” as “the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.” But U.S. leaders, if they ever faced trial, would have claimed that their intentions remained pure as the driven snow. They were not trying to eliminate the peasants of Vietnam, but trying to eliminate Communism, and since the peasant villages were infested with Communism, the mass killing of peasants was a tragic but nonetheless unavoidable side effect, not a deliberate act for its own sake. 

According to international law, genocide requires “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” This kind of intent can be very difficult to prove, since history’s worst villains often claim to be among humanity’s greatest benefactors. As Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s forces were ravaging China, for instance, he claimed to be building a “co-prosperity sphere,” and perhaps he even believed what he was saying. But you can be capable of causing just as much harm by not caring about “collateral damage” as you can by actively trying to exterminate people, and I think there are many circumstances in which it isn’t morally better to see people as, essentially, disposable nonentities who can be “collaterally” killed in huge numbers than it is to kill them on purpose. 

To my mind, when a population is starving, if you deliberately slow down or block the delivery of food to them, it can be concluded that you would like them to starve—even if you proclaim that you are a great humanitarian who cares about the population’s best interests. In this case, while Israel claims it does not impede the admission of food into Gaza, groups actually responsible for feeding Gaza have shown this is not true. It’s also very clear that Israel’s war is making it unsafe to deliver food and is worsening the hunger crisis. Israel refuses to stop its attacks even if that means the population dies. Israel might claim that these deaths are a tragic but unavoidable byproduct of war, but it’s quite clear that in Israel, the prevailing opinion (except among Arab Israelis) is that people in Gaza do not deserve to eat.

Furthermore, despite the Israeli government’s official insistence that it is not blocking food aid, we have a mountain of evidence that high-ranking and influential Israelis take the position that the Palestinian civilian population should suffer. Enraged after the October 7 attacks—just as the U.S. was after Pearl Harbor and 9/11—many leading Israelis are not in the mood to make fine, careful distinctions between civilian and military targets. Just as a U.S. Air Force report infamously claimed that “there are no civilians in Japan,” many Israelis feel as if they have been attacked not just by Hamas, but by The Palestinians, and thus The Palestinians must be taught a lesson. We can find a colossal number of quotations making points like this. These are just some, as compiled by Norman Finkelstein and two researchers: 

When presented with all the evidence of Israeli officials openly calling for revenge on civilians and the flattening of the Gaza strip, Israel’s defenders tend to argue either that the quotes are taken out of context or that the people making them are not directly responsible for policy. Destiny, for instance, has zeroed in on a commonly-cited quote from Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, who said “it’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved” and who blamed “an entire nation” (the Palestinians) for the October 7th attacks. Destiny points out that Herzog nevertheless insisted the IDF would comply with the laws of war and try to minimize civilian casualties, and that this part of the quotation is often left out.

But it’s not really possible to deny that an attitude prevails in Israel, especially among its right-wing government, that Palestinians’ rights and lives do not deserve much consideration. Plenty of Israelis who hold positions of power and influence would like to see Palestinians expelled from the Gaza Strip, and its beautiful beaches turned into Israeli resorts. Even among those who doubt that ethnically cleansing4 is realistic, there is a strong view—as there was in the United States after 9/11—that the “security needs” of Israel should take precedence over humanitarian considerations. (I put “security needs” in quotes in part because Israel’s actions in Gaza actually undermine its long-term security, as even the hawkish, staunchly pro-Israel commentator Thomas L. Friedman understands.) 

In fact, we know that the thirst for revenge is not just rhetorical. The Israeli defense minister promised that all restraints on violence would be removed (presumably including legal ones), and we’ve seen the results. Universities, schools, and hospitals have come under attack. An astonishing 390 educational institutions have been attacked and destroyed. Amnesty International has investigated numerous cases of civilian deaths and shown that there was “no evidence of military targets in the area at the time of the attack.” Haaretz quotes a former IDF officer observing that Israel is attacking “innumerable targets, without asking whether it’s worth attacking them, and artillery is being used in places where it’s not really obligatory.” Indeed, the Biden administration knew as early as October that Israel was “regularly bombing buildings without solid intelligence that they were legitimate military targets.” Israel claims that it warns civilians of impending attacks, a claim Destiny has repeated. But Amnesty found that Israel was “not giving Palestinian civilians effective prior warnings—in some cases they did not warn civilians at all and in others they issued inadequate warnings.” The often-confusing, often-absent warnings are best understood as a “PR stunt” aimed at a Western audience.

As an investigation by 972+ magazine showed, cases in which whole families have been wiped out while sleeping in their beds were not mere tragic accidents. The Israeli army has files “on the vast majority of potential targets in Gaza — including homes — which stipulate the number of civilians who are likely to be killed in an attack on a particular target,” a number that is “calculated and known in advance.” After Oct. 7, the “criteria around harming Palestinian civilians were significantly relaxed” in a manner “contrary to the protocol used by the IDF in the past.” Multiple Israeli intelligence sources confirmed to 972+ that civilian targets like “high-rises and residential towers in the heart of cities,” as well as banks and universities, were being hit on the theory that “a deliberate attack on Palestinian society will exert ‘civil pressure’ on Hamas.” This comports with what the IDF’s spokesman has said publicly, which is that “the goal that has been outlined in the IDF is that on the day after the war, every being left in Gaza will understand the price of starting a war with the State of Israel.” 

There’s no doubt that this goal of making sure Gazans “understand the price” has been achieved many times over. Well over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, including many entire families. The daily death rate is higher than any other 21st-century conflict, and damage is comparable to the destruction of Dresden in World War II. But some of the survivors envy the dead. The bombings have produced “the biggest cohort of pediatric amputees in history,” since half the Gazan population is under 18. Amputations are often conducted without anesthetics. (These children certainly “understand the price”—although they likely have no idea why they’re paying it, and of course had no role in October 7th.) Sadistic Israeli soldiers have gleefully broadcast the destruction on social media, leaving no doubt that a lot of the chaos and misery arises from dehumanization and bloodlust and is not simply the regrettable “collateral” consequence of a narrowly-targeted military campaign. Israel is known for saying that its soldiers cry after they shoot. But in footage out of Gaza, there’s a lot more laughing than crying. As surgeon Yasser Khan, who worked in Gaza, noted, the damage inflicted by Israel goes beyond the killings, physical injuries, and lifelong trauma. The campaign is ending Gaza as a physical place, turning it into a long strip of rubble: 

Every single playground, hangout place, café, restaurant, 500-year-old ancient mosque, 500-year-old ancient church, destroyed. There’s schools destroyed, there’s stadiums, sports facilities destroyed, their hospitals destroyed, their cinemas destroyed, museums destroyed, archives, where they kept their archives, erased, destroyed, burnt, their homes, 80 percent of homes, are all gone now.  

Personally, I think the motivations here are quite clear. Many Israelis have long seen the Palestinians as  nuisances who would be better off dead or disappeared. But they could live with them so long as they were kept quiet behind barbed-wire fences. Once a group of Palestinians proved they were a threat, using their limited equipment (paragliders rather than helicopters) to break through the fence on Oct. 7th and wreak deadly, horrifying havoc inside Israel, many Israelis decided that the time had come to permanently end the possibility of violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, once and for all. The Netanyahu government has been criticized for lacking a “long-term” vision for Gaza, but I think the long-term vision is pretty clear: turn the place unlivable, and drive Gazans into Egypt if possible. (If Donald Trump comes into office, he may well facilitate this as part of a “deal” that will be spun as noble “refugee resettlement” and “humanitarian relief.” Jared Kushner already seems to be salivating over Gaza’s valuable waterfront property.) Those who remain will be kept in isolated, semi-destroyed ghettos under a brutal military occupation, perhaps with a Palestinian face put in charge for optical purposes. There will be no Palestinian state, and there will be no Palestinian equal citizenship. Both Gaza and the West Bank will be annexed fully into Israel, albeit slowly, fulfilling the longstanding Zionist dream of a Jewish state “from the river to the sea.” 

Is There Apartheid in Palestine? 

Since 1967, Israel has maintained a military occupation in Palestine. While the State of Palestine is formally recognized by three-fourths of the United Nations, in practice there is no sovereign Palestinian state. Instead, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are ruled over by Israel. But even though they live in Israeli-controlled territory, Palestinians do not have citizenship rights in Israel. Many of the world’s foremost human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israel’s B’Tselem, have concluded that the label “apartheid” is appropriate to describe the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They have each produced lengthy reports overflowing with evidence to justify their harsh conclusion. As B’Tselem explains:

Roughly 15 million people, about half of them Jews and the other half Palestinians, live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, under a single rule. The perception that there are two separate regimes in this territory – a democracy on one side of the Green Line, within Israel’s sovereign borders, and a temporary military occupation on the other – is divorced from reality. All of us, Jews and Palestinians alike, live in this area in a binational reality, under a single regime. However, not everyone will be permitted to vote in the coming elections, which will determine the government and our lives in the coming years. About half of the population – all the Palestinians who live in this area, whether they are citizens, permanent residents or subjects – are either fully or partially excluded from this decision-making process. One regime governs the entire area and the fate of everyone in it. This regime operates according to a single organizing principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. Under this regime, Jewish citizens have the monopoly on political power. 

In our argument, Destiny did not appear to dispute any of the evidence that B’Tselem, Amnesty, and HRW have produced. Nor did he seem interested in it. Instead, his argument is that the situation in Palestine cannot be described as apartheid, because there is no racial hierarchy. He points out that Arabs in Israel have the full rights of citizens and argues that the exclusion of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from full rights is “usually an issue of citizenship or not, it’s not a racial domination.” Essentially, they’re not denied rights because they’re Palestinians, but because they’re not citizens. 

But then we might ask: why aren’t Palestinians citizens? And here we run into an inescapable fact: if the Palestinians were Jewish, they would be entitled to full citizenship within Israel, but they’re not, so they don’t qualify for citizenship within the country that governs them. As B’Tselem notes: 

Jews living anywhere in the world, their children and grandchildren – and their spouses – are entitled to Israeli citizenship. In contrast, Palestinians cannot immigrate to Israeli-controlled areas, even if they, their parents or their grandparents were born and lived there. Israel makes it difficult for Palestinians who live in one of the units it controls to obtain status in another, and has enacted legislation that prohibits granting Palestinians who marry Israelis status within the Green Line.

Israel makes ethno-religious distinctions in immigration specifically in order to maintain a Jewish majority state, which is widely seen as more important than granting equal rights. Destiny’s argument that there is no ethnic component to the denial of rights therefore fails utterly. If rights are based on citizenship, but citizenship is granted based on ethnicity, then ethnicity factors into determining rights, and it’s simply incorrect to say that it’s citizenship rather than ethnicity that determines rights. Palestinians are kept from full participation in Israeli society precisely because they are Arabs rather than Jews. Yes, within Israel, some Arabs are given citizenship rights (although there are many ways in which they are second-class citizens, and half of Israeli Jews would like to expel them all, a number that has probably grown since 2015 when it was recorded). But Israel very consciously wants to make sure that too many Arabs don’t become citizens of Israel. There’s no way of getting around the fact that the regime is racial, and that the definition of apartheid (“the implementation and maintenance of a system of legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights”) applies.

Zionism, 1948, and the Obstacles to Peace

A major source of contention between myself and Destiny was over the origins of the conflict. The Israel-Palestine conflict of today can’t be understood without understanding the project of Zionism, the plan to build a Jewish state in what was then Palestine. Because the land of Palestine was, at the outset, inhabited primarily by Arabs, Zionism ran into a fundamental problem: it could never be democratic, because most of the inhabitants of Palestine opposed the idea of having a Jewish-ruled state in an Arab-majority land. This was understood easily by dispassionate observers. The U.S. government’s King-Crane Commission in 1919 concluded that Zionists “looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.” The Commission noted that “the non-Jewish population of Palestine—nearly nine-tenths of the whole—are emphatically against the entire Zionist program” and to subject them to it “would be a gross violation of the principle [of self-determination], and of the people’s rights, though it kept within the forms of law.” No military experts “believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms.” Leading Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky was forthright: “Zionism is a colonizing venture, and therefore, it stands or falls on the question of armed forces.”

This is part of the reason why, in my argument with Destiny, I resisted his characterization of the 1947-48 war that resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel—and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians—as a case of “aggression” by Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab states. As Benny Morris notes, Zionism was a “colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement… intent on politically, and even physically, dispossessing and supplanting the Arabs,” and Zionists saw partitioning the country “as a stepping stone to some further expansion and the eventual takeover of the whole of Palestine.” Leading Israeli economist Yoram Bar Porath correctly observed that “there is no Zionism, colonization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said himself that viewing violence by Palestinians as Palestinian aggression was misleading, because of the context: 

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves—that is only half the truth. As regards our security and our life we defend ourselves… [But] politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves … The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.”

Ben-Gurion concluded that “A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.” He knew full well that Zionism involved “usurping” the land of the Palestinian Arabs, which continues to this day. 

Plenty of Zionists have argued that the project of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine is so important that the dispossession of Arabs simply doesn’t matter. Arthur Balfour said that the cause of Zionism was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” But let there be no illusions about it. Among themselves, early Zionists frequently discussed how they were going to deal with the inconvenient problem of the Arab population, with a popular proposal being “transfer” of the population elsewhere. Benny Morris comments that “the transfer idea… was viewed by the majority of the Yishuv leaders in those days as the best solution to the problem” and says transfer “was inevitable and in-built into Zionism—because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a ‘Jewish’ state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of the Arab population.” Indeed, it’s a proposal that some, including Morris and Ben Shapiro, are happy to entertain even in the modern era.5 

Plenty of other issues came up in my argument with Destiny, and tempting as it is, I won’t go through them all laboriously point by point. I don’t have to, because a lot of the pro-Israel talking points he uses have been debunked at great length in a helpful book called Mythologies Without End: The US, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1917-2020 by political scientist Jerome Slater. (I interviewed Slater about it shortly after Oct. 7th.) Slater is particularly good at rebutting a point that was a major object of contention in my argument with Destiny, namely the old canard that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” and are themselves the reason that there is no Palestinian state, through their failure to accept “generous” and fair Israeli offers. Slater goes through the history of the few “opportunities” that actually existed, and shows that while Palestinian leaders certainly made mistakes negotiating, the most serious obstacle to peace is clearly Israel’s ongoing, century-long project of taking over Palestine and the ongoing occupation. (Rashid Khalidi’s The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine and Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle also supply a lot of supporting evidence that does not enter into the talking points of commentators like Destiny. Both are worth reading even by those who sympathize with Israel, because they provide powerful challenges to common narratives and facts that, at the very least, must be discussed and dealt with rather than simply ignored.)

Perhaps the most critical issue here, however, is the role of the United States. The U.S., as Chomsky documents at great length in Fateful Triangle and Middle East Illusions, has been a major obstacle to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. There is, he notes, a major international consensus on a two-state settlement, with Israel withdrawing to its legal international borders and ending its occupation and an independent Palestinian state being recognized. This settlement is endorsed by all of the countries of the Arab League, who have offered full recognition of and peace with Israel if Israel agrees to a fair compromise. Both Israel and the United States have rejected this peace initiative, because Israel does not wish to give up the territory it illegally possesses and does not want to recognize a Palestinian state. The United States has long protected Israel at the United Nations, being among the few votes against resolutions for a peaceful, just settlement of the conflict. Instead of using our immense power to demand Israel comply with international law, we fund and arm Israel to continue its constant violations of that law (and in doing so undermine international law itself, as when U.S. officials insist that Security Council resolutions don’t need to be obeyed). The U.S., even under Democratic administrations, has declined to put real pressure on Israel to agree to a just settlement of the conflict. Aaron David Miller, as U.S. advisor to Arab-Israeli negotiations from 1988-2003, said there was “a clear pro-Israel orientation to our peace process planning” and confessed that “not a single senior-level official involved with the negotiations was willing or able to present, let alone fight for, the Arab or Palestinian perspective.” Ron Pundak, in a balanced review of the diplomatic history, concludes that “the American government seemed sometimes to be working for the Israeli Prime Minister, as it tried to convince (and pressure) the Palestinian side to accept Israeli offers.” Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Adviser in the Obama administration, wrote in his memoir that Palestinians received “little more than rhetorical support from us” and that while it was clear that “Netanyahu wasn’t going to negotiate seriously” about peace, Obama “would always side with Israel when push came to shove.” Similarly, while Joe Biden has made some public noises critical of Netanyahu’s hideous assault on Gaza, he has also subverted U.S. law in order to continue arming Israel

The crucial U.S. role means that, as Chomsky has said, “If we talk about Israel, we should remember we’re talking about ourselves,” and Israeli crimes should really be discussed as “U.S.-Israeli crimes.” That’s why, while Destiny and I ultimately had nothing more than a heated online argument, the stakes of the dispute do matter. My purpose is to convince Americans that they bear a moral responsibility for the carnage in Gaza, and that they have an obligation to organize, protest, and pressure their government to stop facilitating death and destruction. (Destiny waved this away as “virtue signaling.”) I believe the facts show very plainly that for many decades, Palestinians have been suffering from a hideous injustice, an injustice carried out with the support (whether tacit or explicit) of the United States government. That decades-long injustice has reached its true moral low point with the obliteration of Gaza and the starvation of its population (which is accelerating as I write). This is not an abstract issue for “debate bros” to score points about. This is one of the most urgent moral issues of our time, and every one of us has an obligation to do what we can to try to change the politics of the issue. The recent campaign to vote “uncommitted” as a protest against Joe Biden’s complicity in the bombing of Gaza has genuinely alarmed Democrats and is probably part of the reason why the Biden administration stopped vetoing ceasefire resolutions at the UN. (Although arguably its current stance is worse, since it has switched to simply insisting that such resolutions don’t matter.) The pressure needs to be escalated. Millions of Palestinian lives are at stake. Whether people live or die, whether they are maimed for life or get to keep their bodies intact, depends on what our country’s government does, and what our country’s government does depends on our choices and actions in this moment. Those who lived through the Vietnam War and did what they could to stop that terrible crime can look back on their lives without regret. The Americans of 2024 should all want to make sure that, decades from now, we ourselves are able to look back on one of the worst atrocities of our era and know that we did all we could to stop the killing. 

For more on the Israel-Palestine conflict, consider listening to my interviews with Noura Erakat, Rashid Khalidi, Nathan Thrall, Ben Burgis, and Jerome Slater. There is a chapter on the conflict in my forthcoming book with Noam Chomsky, The Myth of American Idealism: How U.S. Foreign Policy Endangers The World

  1. Destiny is a mononym, like Sting or Madonna. This is a thing among streamers, apparently. 

  2. Israel just kept Gazans “on a diet” without letting them starve. 

  3. Note: There is a great deal of debate over whether the phrase “human animals” connotes the same thing in Hebrew as it does in English. But that’s actually not the most damning part of the quote. The crucial part is the admission that collective punishment is being imposed and the Defense Minister’s endorsement of a plan to starve people. 

  4. Note: Destiny has argued before against the use of the term “ethnic cleansing” in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, suggesting that its usage is imprecise and it is not applied in other contexts other than Yugoslavia. In fact, the term has been applied in the context of Ireland, the United States, Turkey, the German population of Eastern Europe, and a host of other cases. In addition, Israeli historian Benny Morris, in an interview explicitly defending the original ethnic cleansing of Palestine and arguing that Israel might someday need to do more of it, noted that “cleansing” was the term applied in 1948 by the first Israelis to describe what they were doing to the Arab population. 

  5. Strangely, in his debate with Finkelstein/Rabbani/Destiny, Morris misrepresented his own prior writings on the subject, by suggesting that because transferring Arabs was not a public part of the Zionist agenda, it was not a central idea. But in The Birth of The Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Morris writes that “in private, the Zionist leaders were more forthcoming” and “most advocates of transfer kept their thoughts to themselves or restricted them to private letters and internal Zionist deliberations” because “talking about transfer would needlessly alienate or at least complicate the lives of Palestine’s new governors and perhaps put off potential Jewish supporters of Zionism as well.” Thus “the Zionist public catechism” was that “there need not be a displacement of Arabs to make way for Zionist immigrants or a Jewish state” and “on no account must the idea be incorporated in the movement’s ideological–political platform,” yet “the logic of a transfer solution to the ‘Arab problem’ remained ineluctable” because “without some sort of massive displacement of Arabs from the area of the Jewish state-to-be, there could be no viable ‘Jewish’ state.” It’s impossible to reconcile what Morris writes in Chapter 2 of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited with what he and Destiny tried to argue recently. 

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