Ross Douthat: Israel and Outremer

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[Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times.]

Watching the Israeli government’s botched, bloody attempt to enforce its blockade of Gaza, I kept thinking about Outremer.

That’s the name — French for “beyond the sea” — given to the states that the Crusaders established in the Holy Land during the High Middle Ages: the principality of Antioch, the counties of Edessa and Tripoli, and the kingdom of Jerusalem.

Out of a mix of amnesia and self-abnegation, we tend to remember the Crusader states only as deplorable exercises in Western aggression. (Never mind that in an age defined by conquest and reconquest, they were no less legitimate than the Muslim states they warred against — which had themselves been founded atop once-Christian territories.) The analogy between Israel and Outremer is usually drawn by Israel’s enemies: “Jews and Crusaders” is one of Osama bin Laden’s favorite epithets, and Palestinian radicals often pine for another Saladin to drive the Israelis into the sea.

But Israel’s friends can learn something from Outremer as well. Like today’s Jewish republic, the Crusader kingdoms were small states forged by military valor, based in the Middle East but oriented westward, with distant patrons and potential foes just next door. Like Israel, they were magnets for fanatics from east and west alike. And when they eventually fell — after surviving for longer than Israel has currently existed — it was for reasons that are directly relevant to the challenges facing the Israeli government today....

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