Columnist Richard Fein: Too many realities that can’t be ignored

Richard Fein

Richard Fein


Published: 03-24-2024 11:18 AM

This column is about Israel, especially in the context of its war against Hamas in Gaza. I am an ardent supporter of Israel who believes that it is necessary to look at all the facts, not just those that make me comfortable.

Some facts: Israel has been under the threat of annihilation from the day of its birth. Even so, within its June 1967 border Israel is a democracy. This is unique among Middle Eastern countries. Israel’s Declaration of Independence includes laudable goals: ” [to] … foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex ...” Both Jews and Arab citizens have the right to vote. There are Arab members of the Knesset (parliament) and an Arab justice on the Supreme Court. Israel’s top leaders are not above the law. One prime minister and one president have served jail time after being convicted of a crime. A trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is moving forward even during wartime.

Israel has taken in Jews with many skin colors. About half of Israelis (or their parents/grandparents) fled from countries in the Arab Middle East. Over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted from Africa to Israel. However, Arab Israelis and Jews not of European origin do face discrimination and that is unacceptable.

The current war was started by Hamas when it attacked Israel on October 7 and massacred 1,200 people. As a consequence of the war tens of thousands of Israelis have been internally displaced. Half the country is a danger zone with potential attacks from four directions. It faces the risk of a regional escalation starting on its northern border. Israel is acquiring international pariah status resulting from the horrible suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. Its indispensable ties with its most important ally, the United States, are rapidly deteriorating. Overall Israel is less safe than it was before the current war started.

Grief: I am grieving for the civilian population of Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military operations and many tens of thousands more are injured, sick and homeless. I grieve even though the civilian death toll is high in part because Hamas uses civilians as human shields. The fatality numbers Hamas publishes ( about 30,000 so far) do not distinguish between civilians and Hamas soldiers. I grieve even though the tragedy in Gaza is not unique. Noncombatants have accounted for 90% of casualties in contemporary urban wars. Iraq’s Mosul and Syria’s Raqqa experienced that level of civilian casualties when the United States fought to destroy the Islamic State (ISIS) in those cities.

It is the death and suffering of innocent people that I grieve, not the exact number.

Appalled: I am appalled by Israel’s conduct in light of an unfolding catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are facing death by starvation and disease. According to the UN and humanitarian organizations Israel is impeding the flow of humanitarian supplies through arbitrary and inconsistent inspections. Israel could alleviate this catastrophe by opening more points along the border for humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza and/or by allowing aid shipments to be unloaded at its port in Ashdod. As of this writing, Israel has done neither. If Israel fully cooperated 500 trucks a day could enter Gaza. In February of this year the daily average was only 97.

I am appalled because two of the most important cabinet ministers, Itamar Ben-Gviv and BezalelSmotrich, have explicitly called for the forcible removal of Palestinians from Gaza.

I am appalled because Netanyahu is threatening to attack Rafah which would make the humanitarian catastrophe even worse than it is now. I am appalled by Netanyahu’s plan for the day after this war ends: indefinite Israeli security control of Gaza including a buffer zone within Gaza’s territory. Netanyahu opposes the establishment of a Palestinian State. Palestinians should not be expected to remain under Israeli rule forever.

I am appalled because some Israelis have blocked humanitarian convoys headed for Gaza without being stopped by the Israeli police or army. I am appalled because some Israelis have been hard-hearted about the humanitarian crisis. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, 68 % of Jewish Israelis oppose supplying humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

It’s not just Gaza. I appalled that Palestinians in the West Bank continue to be killed and their property destroyed by Israeli settlers without intervention by the Israeli police or army.

As a true friend of Israel I can be proud of its achievements, concerned about its many problems and still be appalled by Israel’s complicity in a humanitarian catastrophe. All of these are realities and none of them can be ignored.

Richard Fein holds a master of arts degree in political science and an MBA in economics. He can be reached at