This is an excerpt from Arguable, a Globe Opinion newsletter from columnist Jeff Jacoby. Sign up to get Arguable in your inbox each week.
The plight of innocent civilians in Gaza, who are suffering greatly in this war caused by their Hamas rulers, is genuinely terrible. The distress of families displaced by attacks on their neighborhood can’t help but evoke pity. Images of babies killed in airstrikes are heartbreaking. Israel’s warning on Thursday that residents of the northern Gaza Strip head south to avoid the coming violence has sent many thousands of people fleeing in search of safety. Who could look at such upheaval and fail to be moved?
Apparently, the entire Arab world.
To begin with, the Hamas high command has demanded that the residents of the north ignore the Israeli alert and remain in the path of maximum danger. For years the use of civilian shields — launching rockets from population centers, positioning military equipment in hospitals and schools, embedding gunmen in crowded neighborhoods — has been a Hamas strategy. Such behavior is morally vile, not to mention a stark violation of international law, but Hamas is not deterred by either law or morality. So while Israel urges Palestinians to evacuate the area where fighting is likely to be intense, Hamas has been broadcasting orders to the contrary and placing roadblocks in evacuation routes. The more civilians in the war zone, the more civilian casualties — and the more casualties, the more opportunities Hamas will have for anti-Israel propaganda.
Egypt shares a border with the Gaza Strip (which it ruled from 1948 to 1967), but it has balked at allowing Palestinians to cross to safety. “It is important that the people remain steadfast and present on their land,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi intoned last week. The country’s foreign ministry called the Israeli evacuation order “a grave violation of the rules of international humanitarian law” — as if warning civilians of a coming attack so they can protect themselves is somehow beyond the pale.
“After an emergency Arab League meeting on Wednesday, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said all Arab states agreed to confront any attempt to displace Palestinians from their homeland,” reported Reuters. In other words, the 21 Arab countries in the region, any or all of which could open their hearts and their borders to shelter Gaza families, are united in refusing to do so.
Such behavior is odious. During Syria’s civil war, millions of people fled the country and were admitted by Turkey, Germany, and other nations. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians escaped the Russian invasion and found haven in Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere. More than 1 million stateless Rohingya people fled Myanmar when fighting erupted in 2017 and found relative safety in Bangladesh. Millions of people from Afghanistan have been displaced — an estimated 8.2 million Afghan refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency, have made their way to more than 100 different host countries, with Iran and Pakistan leading the list.
But the Arab states that routinely profess their solidarity with the Palestinians will not take them in, even on a temporary basis. This is the inverse of the Jewish refugee crisis of 1948, the year of Israel’s War of Independence, when, across the Arab world, Jews were forced to flee for their lives. “Jews In Grave Danger In All Moslem Lands” The New York Times reported that spring. Within months, pogroms, expropriations, and expulsions had driven as many as 850,000 Jews from communities where their families had dwelt for centuries. Most made their way to the fledgling state of Israel, which accepted them as a matter of policy.
Israel is not preventing any other country from providing safe haven to Gaza civilians. It has already said that after Hamas is defeated, residents will be free to return to Gaza City and other communities in the north.
But Hamas — some of whose top leaders don’t even live in Gaza — wants the images of Palestinian children suffering and dying in the rubble. It wants the Arab Middle East to do nothing for the civilians. It wants the number of casualties to climb.
Just as Hamas is responsible for the innocent blood shed so profusely in Israel, it is responsible for the innocent blood being spilled in Gaza. The Arab governments that decry the Israeli siege and airstrikes triggered by Hamas’s staggering war crimes are not innocent bystanders. By refusing to open their gates to Palestinians in need of shelter, they are aiding and abetting Hamas in its evil.