Liberal Democrats’ Gaza Test


By dr. French Cronje

Since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, opinion in Western liberal democracies has tried to draw parallels between the actions of Israel and Hamas.

Life in such democracies has become so comfortable and safe that their entire cultures have evolved to evade or even deny the unpleasant choices necessary for some free societies to survive. The proposal of parity is reviving more difficult forms of Western anti-Israel sentiment as Israeli bombings send the death toll in Gaza into the thousands.

However, opinions of equivalence, let alone Israeli damnation, are intellectually weak. It rests on misnomers and notions which, once disproved, reveal a stark choice on which the survival of Israel will rest.

  1. The Palestinians are fighting for land that was taken from them by Jews in 1948

As the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, Judaism dates back to the covenant Abraham made with God 3,500 years ago. Jews have since lived in the area that is today Israel. After the crushing of a Jewish revolt in 135 CE, the territory of Judea (part of the Roman province of Judea, which took its name from the 6th century BC Jewish Kingdom of Judah) was renamed Syria-Palestine by the Romans.

Over the next nearly 2,000 years, the Roman occupation gave way to Byzantine Christian, Arab Muslim, Christian Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman and British wars and occupations. Throughout that history, there has never been a nation-state called Palestine established on the territory that makes up the pre-Roman Jewish state and the modern-day Jewish state of Israel.

  1. The current conflict was caused by Jews who refused to share land

In 1917, while the First World War was raging, modern-day Israel, Lebanon and Jordan were promised to the Jews as a future Jewish state. Violent Arab opposition shied away from that offer until Zionist revolutionaries finally pressured a weakened British administration in 1947 to ask the United Nations (UN) for a settlement.

The UN proposed a greatly reduced state with Arabs controlling much of what is today the West Bank and Gaza and Jews the balance of what is today Israel. In November 1947, the UN voted with a two-thirds majority in favor of such a division. After the British left in 1948, the Jewish People’s Council (a representative body) declared the State of Israel in that reduced territory – land that amounted to 0.4% of the total Middle East.

  1. In 1967, Israel launched a war of aggression against the Arab world and stole land

Violent Arab opposition to the Jewish state continued unabated after 1948. In 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Syria and Jordan to stop an attack aimed at the final annihilation of Israel.

The Arab armies suffered heavy losses and Israel occupied territory in the West Bank (formerly occupied by Jordan), Gaza (formerly occupied by Egypt), the Golan Heights (formerly occupied by Syria) and the Sinai (also formerly occupied by Egypt) itself. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982, Jordan gave up its claim to the West Bank in 1988, and Gaza was handed over to the Palestinians in 2005.

Contemporary Israeli strategists believe that the surrender of the West Bank at this time would produce an almost immediate terrorist takeover, as happened after the Gaza handover in 2005 (see below), which turned the West Bank into a staging ground for a future invasion in Israel. They further believe that a handover of the Golan Heights will enable a future ground invasion by Iranian proxies from Syria and Iraq.

  1. The attack on October 7 was in response to an Israeli occupation of Gaza

However, there was no occupation in Gaza for almost 20 years.

  1. The Hamas attack in response to an Israeli blockade was from Gaza

Shortly after Israel handed over Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005, Hamas defeated Fatah (a political rival) in Palestinian elections, after which a war broke out between the two groups. Hamas won that battle in Gaza and began arming itself in pursuit of the self-proclaimed goal of destroying Israel.

In response, Israel has imposed strict security protocols on goods entering Gaza, while the Egyptians, who share a border with Gaza and who have the destabilizing sectarian influence that Hamas can have on Egypt, have done the same.

  1. Israel has turned Gaza into an open-air prison

After the Israeli handover of Gaza in 2005, the Palestinian leadership, benefiting from large Western aid flows and goodwill, was able to transform that area into a thriving economy on the Mediterranean coast. Instead, they used most of the funds and materials received for killing Jews. For example, water pipes were used to build rockets, while concrete was used to build bunkers and tunnels from which Jews moved not to be attacked.

  1. While Hamas once desired the destruction of Israel, it has since modernized

After it was designated as a terrorist group by Western governments in the 1990s, Hamas severely limited its political, economic and military operating space. In mitigation, it backtracked on its most murderous orders. As a result of a parallel Iranian strategy, many Westerners, and even some Israeli strategists, began to believe that Hamas did not seek war with Israel – a fatal miscalculation.

  1. If Israel would negotiate with Palestinian leaders and release prisoners, violence would stop

Various, better and worse, “two-state” style settlement agreements have been proposed from those in 1947 to Camp David in 1978, to the more contemporary examples of Oslo in 1993 and 1995, the Wye River in 1998, Camp David in 2000, the Roadmap of Peace in 2003, Annapolis in 2007, and Deal of the Century in 2020.

Most were rejected by Arab or Palestinian leaders. Prisoner releases occurred at regular intervals. The man who planned a large part of the attack on 7 October was himself a beneficiary of such a release because he had previously been in Israeli custody for the murder of Jews.

  1. Israel’s response to Hamas is disproportionate

Hamas is one of about 10 Iranian surrogate terrorist groups spread across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt as part of an Iranian “ring of fire strategy” to slowly encircle Israel and then invade and wipe it out. Sufficient deterrence to prevent an invasion depends on Israel demonstrating that any group that attempts such an attack will itself be wiped out. The issue of proportionality must be assessed accordingly.

  1. Israel punishes Gaza residents collectively

A first point is that many Gazans initially chose Hamas to lead them, knowing that the group sought war with Israel.

A second is that opinion polls show that Hamas is a popular Palestinian group and further that several pluralities and majorities of Gaza residents supported the war against Israel.

A third is that large crowds of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and even in Western capitals celebrated Hamas’s attack on October 7.

A fourth is that, by contrast, there was no popular protest against Hamas in any Middle Eastern capital.

A fifth is that the actions of Israel’s military, while causing the deaths of thousands, are calculated to destroy Hamas, while minimizing the loss of civilian life, while those of Hamas are calculated to maximize civilian deaths. .

A sixth is that Israel, in pursuit of its military goals, will offer safe passage for Gaza residents to any Arab or Western society willing to offer sanctuary – none of which has so far.


Qualified only by measures taken due to the extraordinary security environment in which it exists, Israel is a Western-style liberal democracy and offers its citizens a degree of political, religious, economic, sexual and social freedom unmatched in the Middle East and equal to most Western societies.

With the misconceptions out of the way, a clear issue emerges. Is Israel’s actions in Gaza an acceptable price for preserving its democracy? Or are their actions unacceptable and should Israel instead be handed over to its adversaries?

For people living in Western liberal democracies – societies not unlike Israel – decency and intellectual rigor require that they state clearly where they stand on this choice. This must be done in a way that does not expose them to an impossible intellectual contradiction between the value of the freedom they enjoy in their own communities and what they are willing to grant to Israel.

  • Dr. Frans Cronje is an independent political and economic advisor and is chairman of South Africa’s Social Research Foundation (SRF). He writes as chairman of the European-based BRE-DE-RE initiative which aims to identify and counter threats to freedom in democratic societies.