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Hamas Uses Israel’s Humanity Against It
Israel abides by the laws of war and looks out for the security of its people. Hamas does neither.
IF THERE’S ONE THING THAT WE’VE LEARNED about our culture in the age of social media, it’s that we have the memories of goldfish. Our critical faculties have atrophied as we consume clips of information (mostly visual) packaged to appeal to our lizard brains. We are forever in the moment.
Hamas is banking on that. Its sadistic attack on Israel constituted an encyclopedia of war crimes: targeting civilians, rape, parading of corpses, burning people alive in their homes, torture, killing children in front of their parents and vice versa, beheading babies, kidnapping, and more. But Hamas knows that those atrocities will fade quickly from memory. They will be replaced—they are already being replaced—by images of Palestinian civilians fleeing from their homes, or weeping over the bodies of their lifeless children, or surveying their smashed neighborhoods. After a few days of this horror, even people of goodwill will begin to forget their sympathy for Israel and demand that the killing stop. “What good does it do?” they will ask. “How can Israel claim moral superiority when its only answer to the suffering of its own people is to inflict the same thing on its enemies? Aren’t both sides equally at fault?”
Those questions deserve answers. First, cards on the table. I am a Jew and feel the suffering of Israelis more personally than that of any people on Earth with the exception of Americans. On the other hand, I am not a shill for the Israeli government (or any government) and have been quite critical of Netanyahu. I also like to think I'm a humane person who hates to see any fellow human beings suffer.
But both sides are not equally at fault here. Despite the onslaught of horror we are seeing, let’s try to remember some facts.
George Orwell said, “To see what’s in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” That struggle is what we do here at The Bulwark. Join us.
Casual news consumers will be forgiven for assuming that Gaza is under Israeli occupation because cheerleaders for Hamas keep invoking the “occupation.” It’s important to stress that even if Gaza were occupied, it would not justify Hamas’s crimes against humanity. Odd that Hamas defenders invoke the concept of “disproportionality” when decrying Israel’s self-defense, yet recognize no limits on Palestinian savagery. Even if IDF soldiers were patrolling the streets of Gaza City every day and imposing hardships and roadblocks and indignities on the residents there, it would not remotely justify what happened here. But they were not.
The Palestinian territories are divided. The West Bank is ruled by the Palestinian Authority (and overseen by Israel). Gaza, by contrast, has been autonomous since 2005, when the Israelis pulled out of the territory completely, uprooting 9,000 Israeli settlers.
Imagine what might have been if the residents of Gaza had focused on building their own society instead of making war on their neighbor? They had autonomy. They had, and have, international support from Iran, Qatar, Turkey, and others. They could have developed the economy, encouraged tourism, and invested in education.
Does anyone really think that Israel would have attacked Gaza if Gazans had dedicated themselves to peaceful actions for the past 16 years? A flourishing, free Gaza would have been a signal to wary Israelis that a two-state solution might really be possible. The whole region would look entirely different.
Well, some object, what about the blockade? “Palestinians have broken out of their open air prison!” exulted demonstrators in New York. Israel did not impose a blockade on Gaza in 2005. That happened only in 2007 when Hamas took power. Egypt, no fan of Islamist fanatics, also imposed and maintained a blockade on weapons or materials that could have military uses to Gaza. And besides, Israel was recently lulled by Hamas into thinking they were softening, and accordingly issued permits allowing 18,000 Gazans to work in Israel and the West Bank. Some prison.
And in any case, the blockade was obviously ineffective. Hamas managed to smuggle in and manufacture thousands of rockets, which they have been shooting over the border at Israel ever since. They’ve invested in a massive network of tunnels, and, as the world saw last week, spent God knows how much on training commandos. What should Israel have done for the past 16 years? Accept the hail of rockets with no response?
On NPR, an understandably distraught Palestinian dental student cried that “We have no bomb shelters here.” She was contrasting her situation to that of Israelis, who do have bomb shelters. Indeed, in the southern villages that border Gaza (now smoldering ruins), each home had a “safe room” in which the children slept every night.
But why are there no bomb shelters in Gaza? Because their leadership did not invest in them. Hamas wants its citizens to die at the hands of Israelis. Not only are there no bomb shelters, Hamas deliberately placed its missiles and other military equipment in hospitals and schools to guarantee the maximum number of civilian deaths. They do this because they know—even if many members of Students for Justice in Palestine don’t—that Israel holds itself to certain standards in war. They know that Israel is constrained by not wanting to cause civilian deaths and takes steps to avoid them. For example, in previous wars, before hitting targets in Gaza, Israel has engaged in “roof knocking”—dropping a piece of metal on the roof of a building to warn residents to flee. Hamas uses Israel’s morals against her.
So isn’t Israel also committing war crimes by making war on civilians now?
No. It is Hamas’s fault that Israel must hit civilian areas to get at the terrorists (and indirectly Iran’s fault for funding and supporting the whole enterprise). The entire war, with all the suffering on both sides, is the fault of Hamas. That is not to say that Israel should descend to the level of her enemies, but that urban fighting with its attendant suffering is unavoidable because of the choices of Hamas, a jihadist terror organization that seeks to wipe Israel from the map.
Israel must fight back. As President Biden put it, “Israel has the right, indeed the duty, to defend herself.” The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens.
In a better world, the Gulf states, Iran, Turkey, the European Union, and the United States would come together to provide humanitarian relief to Gaza’s people. They would send supplies and money to Egypt to house and care for hundreds of thousands of people who would wait out the war in Sinai or Cairo. Antony Blinken seems to be urging something of the sort with the more reasonable actors in the region. The worst, like Iran, will of course do nothing to relieve the suffering they have caused.
This war is and will be a catastrophe for both Israel and the Palestinian people of Gaza. But only one side is to blame.