Western liberalism, despite its many admirable qualities and causes, its antiracism, defense of women's and gay rights, advocacy of the welfare state, and opposition to national or colonial oppression, frequently fails to understand Islamic radicalism in general and its Palestinian expression in Hamas in particular. This is the lingering influence of the Enlightenment, which infused Western society with the idea that religion is passing away, that people are essentially reasonable, and if they engage in violent struggles it must be because they have been wronged over some tangible material benefit they have been denied. All that is needed to fix things is to supply the missing material needs. Marxism is an extreme example of this viewpoint. This amounts to historical ignorance or collective amnesia of Europe's own past with its centuries of bloody religious wars.
Where this involves the conflict between Hamas and Israel there is also an element of the deep cultural antipathy toward Jews that is the inheritance of Western Christendom. This reappeared with renewed virulence during the seven-week Israel-Gaza war that ended August 26, with physical assaults on Jews, firebombing synagogues, trashing markets that sell Jewish food products, and crowds shouting "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas!" These outbursts took place primarily in Europe, in France, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany, but individual Jews were assaulted in several cities in the United States.
We have also seen the consolidation of a pro-Hamas Left in the United States that calls for the U.S. to sever its ties with Israel and brands Israel as committing war crimes without acknowledging that the recent and previous wars with Hamas in Gaza were begun and pursued by Hamas through salvos of rockets and mortar shells intended to kill civilians, or taking account of the disparate war aims of the two sides: Israel's, to get Hamas to disarm and halt attempts to kill Israelis, Hamas's, to seize the whole of Israel and to kill all of its Jewish inhabitants.
As a single example, a group calling itself Historians Against the War collected a thousand signatures of like-minded academics on a July 31 letter to President Obama accusing Israel of war crimes and demanding a cutoff of all U.S. aid and an end to the naval blockade of Gaza. The letter never mentioned Hamas, while putting forward Hamas's demands as its own.
Our American historians said they were against the war but were putting forward a prowar call on the side of Hamas. This endorsement of an ultraright, theocratic, genocidally antisemitic organization's demands would be shocking if it had not become a widespread litmus test for true leftism in a large part of the left and liberal U.S. community. Historian Jeffrey Herf in an article in the online American Interest compared this to the Communist parties during the Stalin-Hitler Pact. http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2014/08/26/a-pro-hamas-left-emerges/
So how does Islam affect the Palestinian cause, which seems at first glance to be a dispute over land? Islam, in its dominating influence in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as parts of sub-Saharan Africa, is an immensely powerful force, in regions where modern states have been slow to establish deep roots. Poverty, ecological stresses, widespread political corruption, educational systems that prioritize teaching the Koran, large-scale unemployment, and sharply rising food and energy prices all drive people to look for something that will save them. After the brief heyday of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s proved a failure there has been a massive turn to the idea that Islam is the answer. This offers reassurance and collective support to believers, but bodes ill for unbelievers.
The region has been dominated for decades by dictatorships of the far right, either military or theocratic. In the wake of the Arab Spring many of these have fallen or been deeply undermined. As they retaliated with brutal violence against their domestic challengers, moderates have been quickly sidelined, leaving opposition mainly in the hands of groups sufficiently fanatical to face and deal death without flinching. These have been ruthless Islamic radicals, most commonly ones infused with the vision of a world Islamic revolt heralding the hoped-for collapse of the governments of Europe and the Americas and their replacement by a puritanical global regime of sharia law that will put an end to infidel religions - and secularism as well. In Iraq and Syria this has produced the Islamic State. Among the Palestinians it is epitomized by Hamas. These are people who say what they mean and mean what they say.
Of course, there are millions of moderate Muslims, content to live quietly under sharia, or committed to modernize Islam by secularizing it. As Arab governments fall or are weakened, more often than not the moderates are shouldered aside or murdered by the more resolute Islamists. While more moderate Muslims often recoil from the brutal tactics of the radicals, this is not because the Islamists do not profess orthodox Islamic theology.
The West commonly misunderstands Islam because it is categorized as a religion. In the United States, Europe, and most of Asia, there is a separation of church and state, so that religion is by definition a private matter of personal belief. Further, Christianity doctrinally tends to focus on achieving personal salvation in an after life and does not intrinsically aspire to rulership in the here and now. That is not the case with Islam, which has from its creation been a doctrine of overarching regulation of human behavior and oversight of political life.
Islam in countries where it is dominant is a comprehensive set of regulations that include what in the West would be the systems of religion, law, and government. This is embodied in sharia law. This is law in the broadest sense, including minute rules that range from regulating the preparation of food, to family life, marriage, divorce, contacts with outsiders, and treatment of nonbelievers. Islam, a word that means "submission," presents itself in its scriptures and by its imams as a system that aspires to govern all human life and in every country. From this all-encompassing system, which originated in an expansionist military movement, it is only a small step to the formation of armed theocratic groups that take seriously the injunctions of the Koran and the Hadiths and join together to impose them on others by armed force. Such is Hamas, and the still more extreme Islamic State now expanding in Syria and Iraq, two examples among scores now rising in the Middle East, North Africa - and the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa, notably Boko Haram in Nigeria.
In a culture in which the eighth century conquests by Islam are constantly taught as a golden age and where magical, apocalyptic thinking is widespread, the groundwork has long been laid for militant and ruthless emulators of the prophet Muhammad's warrior elite. At least since the end of World War II this violent and totalitarian Islamic revival movement has been growing throughout the region. This is a radically different kind of creature from the national liberation struggles that ended European and Japanese colonialism. Those sought national self-rule. Even where there was a colonial population such as the whites in Kenya and South Africa, the independence movements did not advocate expelling them from the country, much less killing them. And when victorious they did not demand religious conversions from the white population on pain of death. Islam has carved out a different path.
Islamic radicalism, inspired by its vision of the period of Islamic armed expansion and glory, has a dream of world conquest for Allah and the subjugation or destruction of all rival modes of thought, religious or secular. This is not a movement set on winning power in this or that local territory, though each expression of it must start somewhere. It is a reactionary civilizational current that lays claim as its religious entitlement and duty to bring sharia to the planet as a whole. It is one more apocalyptical millenarian movement, similar, in deeply religious form, to the totalitarian expansionist creeds of the twentieth century, Communism and Nazism, both of which also physically exterminated those who did not match their blueprint of the model citizen.
Demands for self-rule have been negotiable and were mostly won. The demands of the Islamic revolution amount to the destruction of Western and Asian civilizations and usually include the mass murder of large numbers whose beliefs are too far removed from the specific Islamic orthodoxy being championed. There is no possible point of compromise. The peculiar Western blindness to all but the most obviously barbaric examples of this current, such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram, seems to involve a romantic sanctification of third world uprisings when they are directed at more developed adversaries. One side of this framing of contemporary conflicts has become blurred after the end of colonialism in the 1960s. Since the days of the liberation movements many countries have taken important steps into developing status. On the other side, many opposition movements have formed around the most dubious of goals and methods, leaving this old moral guide more than a little rusty.
Fighting authority in the developing world is not a guarantee of righteousness. Think only of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria that destroyed entire villages in the 1990s and murdered teachers in front of their students, or the Algerian salafists of today who executed 37 hostages in 2013, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, the Taliban and Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the shooting of Malala Yousafzai to try to prevent Afghan girls from attending school, the Shining Path guerillas in Peru, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, or Al Shabaab in Somalia. All of these groups claim to be fighting for liberation, a liberation poisoned by a heavy dose of murderous totalitarianism. If most of these barbaric groups are inspired by Islam that is not an accident but a symptom of the widespread and mutually reinforcing rise of the armed Islamic revolt, today's equivalent of the Communist revolutions of the previous century. Both imagined that they represented the inevitable future of humanity, promised to them, then by History, now by Allah.
The particular case of the century-long struggle between the Arabs and the Jews in Palestine contains elements of the more familiar national liberation struggles in Africa and Asia. This has been misleading. Time has revealed the predominant religious xenophobia that underlies Arab rejectionism. We can see this central component of militant Islamic doctrine in more pristine form in the Islamic State's massacres of the Yazidi minority and its execution of Christians who would not convert to Islam.
Islamic tradition offered an alternative only to Christians and Jews, to which the IS pays lip service for Christians only, that of living as humiliated inferiors under Muslim rule, the status of dhimmis, and paying a heavy tax, the jizya. Those professing other religions or no religion were offered only conversion or death. The IS, almost tongue in cheek, has offered Iraqi Christians the choice to become dhimmis and pay the jizya, after executing so many that the Christians have almost all fled. But the Islamic State, along with Hamas among the Palestinians, promises only death to the Jews, to the last one on earth.
What was not acceptable to the Muslim Arabs in 1948 was only in part a dispute over whether the Jews had a legitimate claim to a portion of the land of the disintegrated Ottoman Empire. Such a claim could not be accepted no matter what its legal standing might be, as what was not thinkable was allowing a non-Muslim group, native to the region or not, to hold land that had once been conquered by Islam and, even worse, to see Muslims governed by non-Muslims in any part of the region where Muslims felt they had an unchallenged right to dominate all other ethnic or religious groups. This is what has made the conflict with the Middle Eastern Jews so inflammatory.
The Jews of the Middle East
In 1914 there were 731,000 Arabs in Palestine (about 10% of the Arabs were Christians) and 60,000 Jews, or 7.6%. In 1910 Jews constituted 64% of the population of Jerusalem. Many of these were European refugees from Tsarist pogroms. After Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 large numbers of Jews tried to leave, but most countries, including the United States, refused to accept more than a tiny fraction. Some managed to emigrate to Palestine, until the British, who controlled the area, halted Jewish emigration in 1939. Almost all of those who did not get out of Germany and the lands it invaded were murdered by the Nazis. In 1946 the Jewish population of Palestine had grown to 33%. (http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000636)
These people were refugees, but hardly colonists in any ordinary sense of the word. Nevertheless, despite remote origins in Palestine, they had come from Europe and were seen as aliens by the Arabs; doubly so as they were not Muslims.
In 1948 the United Nations voted to approve the division of British Mandate Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews agreed, the Arabs refused. Up to this point there is a plausible argument that Arabs were being displaced by European immigrants, even though those immigrants were of original Middle Eastern stock and in their largest numbers refugees from the Nazi Holocaust. A caveat is that the European Jewish immigrants did not come, as European colonists did in India and Africa, with military force, but had from around 1917 bought farms and desert land from Arab landholders. (See Kenneth W. Stein's The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939).
The Arabs begin to lose their claim to the moral high ground when, as the Jewish area, in accord with the UN decision, proclaimed the state of Israel, the standing armies of all the surrounding Arab states - Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq - invaded, with the proclaimed aim of driving the Jews into the sea, that is, to kill them. It was in that war of anti-Jewish extermination that some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled the war zone. Some left out of natural fear of the fighting, some in response to appeals by the Arab states, and some were driven out by the Jews. These became the Palestinian refugees. The Jews were victorious in what became, and until 1967remained, the borders of Israel. Jordan captured the West Bank, while Egypt invaded and seized the Gaza Strip.
Now the story becomes more complicated, as the Arab states, in revenge for the establishment of Israel, undertook the coordinated ethnic cleansing of the whole of the region's large native Jewish population. These are a people of the same general ethnic stock as the Arabs, not "whites" versus "browns" as so many Western liberals and leftists portray the Palestinian issue.
Palestinian and other Arab propaganda as well as that of many Western leftist groups falsely portray today's Israelis as solely European immigrants. That leaves out the million or more native Jews of the Middle East and North Africa and what happened to them.
After the Romans crushed the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD and destroyed the Jewish state, razing the city of Jerusalem, most of the Jews were driven into exile. Many fled to Spain and Eastern Europe. But large numbers settled in lands that fell to the Arab conquerors six hundred years later. Islam, like Christianity until quite modern times, was a proudly intolerant religion. It prescribed death for all unbelievers except Jews and Christians, the "people of the book." But these were reduced by law to the inferior status of dhimmi, non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim state. They were required to wear special identifiable clothing, denied the right to serve in the army or testify in court, and subject to the jizya, a fairly heavy tax that under sharia law was supposed to be paid in person, where the Muslim official was required to humiliate the taxpayer with physical and verbal abuse. Jews could be robbed or beaten without legal recourse. Discrimination was ever present, though the murder of Jews was less common than in Christian societies of the period. (Most of today's Islamic jihadi organizations proclaim their intention to impose dhimmi status on all of the non-Muslims they do not kill.)
The point here is that Jews after the Roman conquest of Judea remained a substantial and oppressed native people of what became the Arab and Turkish Middle East and North Africa. They did not all migrate to Europe as present day Arab propaganda has it and as many liberal Westerners seem to believe about the current population of Israel. Though there were few Jews in the Ottoman portion of Syria called Palestine, there were significant Jewish communities in the early twentieth century ranging from Iran and Turkey in the northeastern Mediterranean to Algeria and Morocco in western North Africa.
The Arab League in 1948 adopted a coordinated policy of expelling the entirety of the large native Jewish population from every single Arab country, people who had nothing to do with Palestine or the creation of Israel. In Baghdad, for example, where there was no Zionist immigration, in the 1920s Jews made up 40% of the city's population. (http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3517/redacted-iraqi-jews) The Jewish community in Iraq had existed continually since 600 BC. In Egypt, since 1300 BC.
The table above estimates the 1948 Jewish population of the Arab countries of the Middle East and the North African Maghreb at 856,000. Wikipedia in a well-sourced table puts the number at 819,000 for the Arab countries alone and 511,000 more from the Maghreb. Some 200,000 more by widely attested sources were expelled from Turkey and Iran. The total of the Jews driven out of their homes and native lands amounted by the most conservative estimate to one million, a third more than the number of Arabs displaced by the Arab states' invasion of the Jewish portion of Palestine. Practically no Jews remain in the Muslim Middle East, an example of massive ethnic-religious cleansing. The expelled Jews of the Arab, Turkish, and Persian world, whose ancestors had lived there long before the existence of Islam, were robbed of their homes and property, stripped of any civil rights, and driven out. They were usually searched at the border and left their native countries penniless. Most of them went to Israel, where for decades they constituted the majority of the population and today still amount to half.
The Israelis immediately extended citizenship to their ethnic brothers and sisters, provided them financial aid, and incorporated them into the country's civic life. The Palestinian refugees, in contrast, were refused citizenship by the Arab states, which has kept them in camps for the next sixty-five years, generation after generation, as hostages to be wielded in a relentless effort to destroy the Jews in their last redoubt. The Palestinians are the longest unabsorbed refugee group in the world. The promise was that they did not need to become citizens of Lebanon or Syria as they would soon dispossess the Jews. After Jordan captured the West Bank in 1948 it made the Arabs there Jordanian citizens, but revoked their citizenship in 1988. It never granted citizenship to the refugees who had crossed the Jordan River into Jordan proper and today 2 million of their descendants languish in Jordanian camps.
That these refugees were a consequence of the war and not of a general Jewish goal of ethnic cleansing is proven by the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who did not flee or take up arms against the Jews remained in Israel, where they hold full citizenship and now number two million people, 20% of the country's population. They live, with strained relations, with the Jewish majority, but have full civil and democratic rights, form their own political parties, are represented in the Knesset, publish books and newspapers, and have a level of freedom of speech higher than in the great majority of the Arab states, including in neighboring Gaza. No Arab state tolerates more than the tiniest number of Jews living on its territory. The Palestinians have made clear that they share this attitude.
The Arab League presided over a collective policy in its treatment of both Jewish and Palestinian refugees over the whole of the Arab world. At the time of the ethnic cleansing of the Jews it was widely understood, even on the Arab side, that expelling 856,000 Jews and seizing their property effectively wiped out the claims of the smaller number of Palestinian Arabs. Both groups would have to begin over from scratch in new lands. The Arabs, by their military invasion of the Jewish sector, were the principal creator of the Palestinian refugees and were certainly the creator of the Jewish refugees. Iraq's long-time prime minister Nuri al-Said acknowledged this at the time, as he ordered the expulsion of Iraq's 135,000 Jews, proposing that, as in the partition of India in which vast numbers of Muslims and Hindus were forcibly repatriated into or out of the new state of Pakistan, the two Middle Eastern refugee groups should be treated as an exchange of populations and the matter closed. Today only the Palestinian refugees are acknowledged by either the Muslim world or the Western sympathizers of the Palestinian cause.
A Palestinian State was the Last Thing on the Minds of Israel's Arab Enemies
The Arab states, which govern a vast territory that stretches from Morocco to Iraq, have been united in their determination to extirpate the small piece of land occupied by the Jews. First they tried to expel the Jews outright. When that failed they expelled their own Jewish populations, herding them into Israel, where, in two major wars, in 1967 and 1973, they tried to drive the lot of them out of the region or kill them off. But this had to do with the more general goal of reconquering all lands that once belonged to Islam, not with creating a state for Palestinians.
The Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in May 1964, not by Palestinians but by the Arab League, at the prompting of Egyptian dictator Gamel Abdel Nasser. Its first chairman was Lebanese politician Ahmad Shuqeiri, who was not a Palestinian. He had been Syria and Saudi Arabia's delegate to the United Nations. At a May 31, 1956, meeting of the UN Security Council, Shuqeiri told the assembly that Palestine "is nothing but southern Syria." That is, the PLO's position was that the Palestinians were Syrians and were not asking for a separate state. His main point, which has been much more central to Palestinian organizations than getting a state of their own, was that "The Arab world is not prepared to surrender one single atom of their right to this sacred territory." (New York Times, June 1, 1956, cited by Efraim Karsh, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2014).
Hamas's cofounder and Foreign Minister Mahmud Zahar, as recently as a September 22, 2005, interview with The Media Line, declared, "Islamic and traditional views reject the notion of establishing an independent Palestinian state. . . . In the past, there was no independent Palestinian state. . . . [O]ur main goal is to establish a great Islamic state."
Even the more moderate Fatah and the Palestinian Authority government it dominates are dazzled by this fantastic dream, in which Palestine, even including the land occupied by the Jews, is but a passing milestone on the great road to a global caliphate. Sheikh Ibrahim Mudayris, a functionary of the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Religious Affairs and a regular broadcaster on the PLO's PATV, in a May 13, 2005, broadcast declared, "Where did Great Britain disappear? By Allah's will, He will get rid of the U.S. like he got rid of them. We [Muslims] have ruled the world and a day will come by Allah, and we shall rule the world [again]. The day will come and we shall rule America, the day will come and we shall rule Britain. We shall rule the entire world."
Does Hamas Share the Islamist Goal?
So, we have Gaza. Hamas is not ISIS, but they share the same program on all of its essential points, though Hamas has not matched the Islamic State's level of bloodthirstiness in carrying it out. It should be recalled that Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a cardinal reason why Egypt, having deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government in an ongoing bloody confrontation, is now an enemy of Hamas. The Brotherhood was founded on the program of reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate, deposing the Arab and other Muslim political leaders who are not pure and absolute defenders of sharia law, and embarking on the path of world conquest to bring Islamic salvation to a hungering world suffering under the rule of infidel regimes.
The Brotherhood, in its formative years, was also strongly influenced by the World War II broadcasts from Nazi Germany by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the principal leader of the Palestinians in the 1930s and 1940s. These broadcasts, supplemented by a copious flow of Nazi propaganda materials, especially against the Jews, left a permanent mark on the variety of Islam preached by the Brotherhood. Hamas, like the Islamic State, is a tribune of this variety of Islam, a particularly totalitarian and theocratic one whose goals give special weight to the physical extermination of the Jews.
Even as a national liberation movement, if it were only that, its repeatedly stated objective for Israel is the murder of all the Jews, and not only those who live in Israel. Nominally its 1988 Charter offers to allow Jews who can trace their ancestry in Palestine to 1917 to remain, as humiliated dhimmi subordinates to the Muslim majority. Those Middle Eastern Jews driven into Israel by the Arab League have not, thereby, acquired the right to remain there. But Hamas has long left those liberal days behind. In a July 25, 2014, broadcast on their Al Aqsa TV a Hamas cleric shouted:
"Our doctrine in fighting you [the Jews] is that we will totally exterminate you. We will not leave a single one of you alive." (http://www.palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=1046&fld_id=1046&doc_id=12219)
As in any struggle, there are steps along the way. So today Hamas, loudly defended by large numbers of Western leftists and liberals as a victim of Israel, calls for an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, and the right to construct an airport and sea port. And it has in the recent past accepted the idea that a Palestinian state should be recognized in both Gaza and the West Bank. But such a state, it has insisted, would be no more than a truce in a war to the death. Its existence would not make Hamas abandon its goal of destroying Israel. Khaled Mash'al, chairman of Hamas's Political Bureau and one of its two central leaders, in a speech on Al-Aqsa TV on December 7, 2012, said:
"First of all, Palestine - from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, from its north to its south - is our land, our right, and our homeland. There will be no relinquishing or forsaking even an inch or small part of it." (YouTube, December 10, 2012).
But even Israel is only the appetizer in the great hallucinatory dream that has infected Hamas as it has the Islamic State in Syria-Iraq, Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, the salafists of Yemen, Libya, and Algeria, and the Shiite variety in Iran and their proxy force in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
Fathi Hammad, Hamas's Minister of the Interior, in an Al-Aqsa TV broadcast on November 13, 2013, explained the connection between his organization's war on Israel and the step that comes after that:
"We look forward to future victories, in which, Allah willing, we will liberate our land, our Jerusalem, our Al-Aqsa [Mosque], our cities and our villages, Allah willing, all this in preparation for establishing the next Islamic Caliphate. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are at the brink of a period of global Islamic culture, whose fuel is Gaza, whose spearhead is Gaza, its Jihad fighters (Mujahideen) and commanders are Gaza, Allah willing."
Then there was the memorial video of recordings by Yasser Ghalban, a commander of Hamas's military wing, the Izzedin Al-Qassam Brigades, killed in a June 16, 2006, clash in Gaza with elements of Fatah. Hamas the next week released some videos of Ghalban, in one of which he prophesied:
"We will rule the nations, by Allahs will, the U.S.A. will be conquered, Israel will be conquered, Rome and Britain will be conquered. . . . The Jihad for Allah ‰Û_ is the way of Truth and the way for salvation and the way which will lead us to crush the Jews and expel them from our country, Palestine." (http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=624&fld_id=624&doc_id=2596)
These themes of intended world conquest are a staple on Hamas TV. They were reiterated by Yunis Al-Astal, a Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament, in an April 13, 2008, broadcast, promising that after Rome falls to the Islamic forces, conquest “will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas.” A May 8, 2008, Hamas TV broadcast by former Jordanian Minister of Religion Ali Al-Faqir pledged the reconquest of Spain, then Rome, and finally, “We will rule the world.” A March 5, 2010, Al-Aqsa TV sermon promised that “Just like Constantinople was conquered some 500 years ago, Rome too will be conquered.”
This continual incitement to world domination vastly beyond the borders of the hated Israel defines this movement as part of the civilizational challenge of the Islamic world revolution that has achieved its first serious territorial base in Iraq and Syria. Supporters of the Islamic State in Spain have been posting photos of Moorish landmarks such as the Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza with someone holding up the black IS flag in front of it. The demand is to end the illegal occupation of Spain – by the Spaniards. This should shed some light on how the Islamic movement construes its rights to land, in Israel and elsewhere.
I think many protesters against the Israeli air strikes in Gaza, in response to Hamas’s thousands of rockets and attacks from its tunnel network, either do not know what Hamas says about its aims, or if they do, dismiss it as childish hyperbole. This is patronizing. Hamas, like the Islamic State or the Iranian government, mean what they say. The more than 3,000 rockets lobbed into Israel and the elaborate tunnels dug and fortified under the Israeli border show that this is not just talk. It is the global outlook and program of the world Islamic revolutionary movement, appearing in country after country by determined fighters for this fanatical and intolerant religious cause.
In Iraq, where the Islamic State does not confront a foe as determined and well armed as Israel, they have been beheading and crucifying Christians, burying hundreds of Yazidis alive, including women and children, selling Yazidi women as slaves, and shooting hundreds or possibly some thousands of captured Shiite troops of the disorganized national army. Hamas has refrained from the most barbaric of IS’s tactics but has a long history of murders of Jewish civilians and of Palestinians under its control that question its rule. During the just-concluded war with Israel masked Hamas gunmen executed several score Palestinians it accused of collaborating with Israel. It was widely reported that twenty of these had done nothing more than hold a peace demonstration.
Hamas gunmen prepare to execute Palestinian alleged collaborator with Israel, August 22, 2014.
During the Second Intifada, 2000-2005, some 3,223 Palestinians and 760 Israelis were killed (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3694350.stm). Hamas suicide bombers blew themselves up in the midst of Israeli markets, cafes, theaters, and on buses. This was ruled a war crime by Human Rights Watch.
This last was the third Hamas-Israel war. After intermittent rocket attacks on Israel throughout 2007, beginning in January 2008, Hamas and other jihadi groups in Gaza fired 3,000 rockets and mortar shells into Israel, killing 8 Israeli civilians, wounding many others, and doing a great deal of damage. Tolerating this for almost a year, on December 27 Israel finally struck back to try to silence the rocket barrages in the three-week Operation Cast Lead. A second briefer war occurred in November 2012, when Israel responded to escalating rocket fire with air strikes on Hamas leaders and rocket launching sites.
The escalation in rockets and mortar shells by Hamas in June 2014 opened the third Israel-Gaza war. Firing rockets at civilians, even though, Israel’s extensive bomb shelters and its Iron Dome defense system rendered them largely ineffective, has been declared a war crime by the United Nations and by human rights organizations.
ISRAEL’S BLOCKADE OF GAZA
Westerners who hold Israel primarily or wholly responsible for the repeated wars with Gaza assume that Hamas had no option but armed resistance to the Israeli stranglehold on the Gazan economy. Though there has been significant opinion within Israel to keep the West Bank, for both historical and security reasons, both Israeli and Palestinian majorities down to earlier this year have favored a two-state solution that would include recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel successfully traded land for peace with Egypt by returning the Sinai Peninsula, captured in the 1967 war, in exchange for a peace treaty. A final settlement with the Palestinians came very close on several occasions, in the two Oslo agreements in 1993 and 1995, and in the Camp David talks of 2000. These failed because Yasser Arafat proved unable to retreat from the goal of recapturing all of Israel, and because Hamas acted as a spoiler, sending in suicide bombers or setting off salvos of rockets whenever a lasting agreement seemed to be on the horizon.
The Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005 at the insistence of formerly hard-line prime minister Ariel Sharon. He ordered the destruction of 21 Israeli settlements and forcibly repatriated 9,000 settlers. His decision flowed from the demographic dilemma posed by the prolonged occupation of the lands captured in the 1967 war. Perpetual occupation of Gaza and the West Bank without granting citizenship to the Palestinians would deeply undermine Israeli democracy. But granting citizenship would create an Arab majority that would end Israel as a Jewish state and could lead to civil war. Sharon was a late convert to the two-state solution as the best answer to the demographic threat.
Gaza was to be the test case for withdrawal from the larger West Bank and recognition of a Palestinian state. If the Palestinians in Gaza devoted their energies to building up their economy it would be an indication that it was reasonable to go ahead in discussions with the Palestinian Authority for a Palestinian state. Then the next year Hamas swept the Palestinian elections, and in 2007 seized power in Gaza. For two years there was no blockade and there were hopes that the Palestinians in Gaza would undertake building a peaceful society in the manner of the Kurdish separatists in Iraq. Hamas even before seizing power in Gaza began to fire rockets into Israel’s nearby cities. This expanded exponentially after Hamas had control of Gaza. Israel responded with the blockade to prevent, or at least reduce, the import of weapons, rockets, and materials to build tunnels and bunkers. Thus the blockade was a response to attacks by Hamas.
The Gaza Flotilla of 2010, stopped by Israel at sea, in which nine people on the Mavi Marmara were killed by Israeli commandos, gave wide credence to belief that Israel was conducting a siege of Gaza and preventing it from receiving objects of ordinary food and commerce, even imposing starvation on its people. The ships carried what the organizers described as humanitarian aid, which, after the flotilla was halted, was unloaded at the Israeli port of Ashdod, inspected for weapons, and delivered to Gaza.
The peculiar irony of Gaza’s situation is that it must receive all of its supplies from either Israel or Egypt, the two countries with which it shares borders and of which it has made sworn enemies. Incredibly, Israel keeps the supplies flowing even while Hamas is shooting rockets at its cities.
Israel is the Islamic emirate’s principal supplier of water, gasoline, electricity, and a large variety of consumer goods. A summary of this commerce, dated August 14, 2014, appeared on the website of UN Watch. It read in part:
“Not only do food, medicine, fuel and aid enter freely at all times, but in peacetime, commodities and consumer goods of every type are transferred daily from Israel to Gaza through the land crossing. The types and amounts of consumer goods are determined by Palestinian merchants and depend primarily on market forces in Gaza. . . . For example, in the first five months of 2014, over 18,000 trucks carrying nearly 228,000 tons of supplies entered Gaza. Included in the deliveries were construction materials: since January, over 4,680 trucks carrying 181,000 tons of cement, wood, gravel, iron and other building supplies passed through the Kerem Shalom land crossing into Gaza.
“In addition to facilitating the transfer of goods, humanitarian aid and fuels, Israel also supplies the Gaza Strip with 10 million cubic meters (2.6 billion US gallons) of water annually and more than half of its electricity.” http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/2014/08/14/end-the-siege-in-gaza-but-there-is-no-siege/
The statement reports that in the first five months of 2014 60,000 Gazans were admitted to Israel, including people seeking medical treatment and Gazan businessmen and merchants.
There is a naval blockade. Gaza has no deep water port, so that the ships of the 2010 flotilla could not have docked there in any case. But given Hamas’s persistent efforts to smuggle in rockets and weapons and to then repeatedly use them against Israel, the Jewish state has stopped uninspected boats from landing on the Gaza coast as an elementary security measure. In 2011, a special panel convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that, due to Hamas’s armed attacks on Israel, both the naval blockade and enforcing it in international waters were legal. On March 5, 2014, Israel halted an Iranian ship attempting to smuggle M-302 rockets, with a range of 100 miles, into Gaza. Because of the sea blockade the Iranians had planned to unload in Sudan and smuggle the rockets overland through Egypt. Without the blockade such ships would simply dock in Gaza and bring more massive war materiel.
But Gaza historically got almost all of its supplies by land, not sea, and continues to do so through the Israeli crossings, and in normal times through Egypt.
AFTER THE LATEST HAMAS-ISRAEL WAR
Hamas has to date launched three short wars against Israel. Patently if the combined armies of all the surrounding Arab countries could not put Arab forces in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem nothing these Islamist sectarians can do will bring down their adversary. Israel each time eventually retaliates to stop the rockets, killing many Palestinians and destroying a lot of Gazan infrastructure. Hamas this time, as in the past, promises only to accept a temporary cease fire and announces its intention to renew the attack in the future, near or far.
Israel had only two objectives in the recent war: to destroy the border tunnels and to inflict enough damage to make Hamas stop the rockets. It made no attempt to topple Hamas from power. Hamas, with its policy of using human shields and its boast that its members love death more than the Jews love life, set the terms of when the firing would end. Israel military authorities have estimated that a campaign to eliminate Hamas from Gaza would take several years, with immensely higher casualties on both sides.
The collapse of hope that Gaza would show that the Palestinians in their own area would live in peace with Israel put a major question mark over discussions with the Palestinian Authority on ending the occupation of the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas has acknowledged the right of Israel to exist and renounced violence. But his term of office ran out years ago, and the Palestinians are physically split between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. They nominally have a new united government, but Hamas, which tried to assassinate Abbas in 2007, was caught in the first week of August preparing a military coup in the West Bank to overthrow its governmental partner. The fear that Israel will face a Hamastan in both Gaza and the West Bank chills any enthusiasm for recognizing a Palestinian state while Hamas has its present strength.
Israeli voters responded to the rise of Hamas by moving to the right, in 2009 electing the right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. A more liberal coalition might have been more likely to try to work with Abbas, to take the risk of recognizing the West Bank as a Palestinian state, and, by supporting Abbas, try to isolate Hamas. Netanyahu chose not to do that and has frozen the peace negotiations. This has increased the prestige of Hamas, and emboldened Israel’s right wing, who are expanding the settler movement with the aim of incorporating the West Bank into Israel.
The August 26 cease fire, while it was celebrated in Gaza as a victory, gave nothing to Hamas except the international opprobrium against Israel for the allegedly disproportionate number of Gazan dead. This war was an outgrowth of the turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East, which seriously affected Hamas and prompted its attack on Israel. None of the elements that had alarmed Hamas’s leaders have been allayed by the war. As part of its struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt had closed the Rafah crossing and sealed most of the smuggling tunnels that provide a large amount of Gaza’s imports and, in taxes, 40% of Hamas’s income.
For years Hamas aligned itself with Israel’s most powerful enemies, those capable of giving it material support: the Islamic theocracy in Iran and its client allies, Assad’s Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Arab Spring, which began with hopes of democratic reform in the region, descended into chaos and the mass emergence of Islamic radicals. With the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Hamas, a Sunni Arab organization, sided with the Syrian revolution against Assad, whose government is dominated by the Alawites, a variant on Shiite Islam. This infuriated Iran, which responded by reducing its supplies to Gaza.
Hamas won a reprieve during the year-long tenure of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian presidency, but that ended when Morsi was deposed in July 2013. Hamas has been saved from complete isolation only by support from Turkey and Qatar, but they have limited ability to get war materiel into Gaza.
Hamas’s immediate war aim was to pressure Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing, but it had no chance of winning Muslim sympathy if it attacked Egypt, so it began to lob large numbers of rockets into Israel. A new war with the Jews, in which lots of Palestinian civilians would be killed (guaranteed by Hamas storing and firing its rockets from densely populated civilian areas) would put heavy pressure on Egypt to not appear to be aiding Israel by maintaining the seal on the Rafah crossing. This strategy failed, as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, usually cheerleaders for the Palestinian cause, all pulled back after the rise of the Islamic State, with its similarity to Hamas. The three key Arab states stood on the sidelines and tacitly supported Israel’s battering Hamas in Gaza.
The European Union has joined Israel and Egypt in calling for disarming Hamas and placing Gaza’s borders under Palestinian Authority control. No one, however, is prepared to take Hamas’s weapons, any more than the Lebanese have been able to disarm Hezbollah.
ISRAEL’S ENEMIES IN EUROPE AND AMERICA
For several decades Western liberal and leftist opinion has hardened in holding Israel solely responsible for the dispute with the Palestinians. This demonstrates unfathomable ignorance of the history of the Middle Eastern Jews or of the Arab and Palestinian movement. In the case of Hamas it is blind to the broader Islamic revolutionary movement of which it is a part. People see the individual trees but don’t notice they are part of a forest.
There is much reasonable debate on how Israel should respond to the Palestine Authority’s proposals for a separate state in the West Bank, to live in peace with Israel. There is no such leeway in judging how it is reasonable to respond to Hamas’s persistent efforts, however ineffective, to carry out genocide of the Jews.
The anti-Israel current in the West has ignored or denied that Hamas has defined itself as antisemitic ultraright theocrats, immersed in dreams of Islamic world conquest, though Hamas could hardly say it louder. In asymmetric warfare the weaker side invariably suffers much larger casualties than the militarily superior one. In a world full of fanatical movements of all kinds that throw their small forces against larger societies, viewing such groups as righteous victims is most often going to lead to siding with people who vehemently reject all the values that otherwise define a humane society.
Such movements, including Hamas and the rest of jihadi Islam, create humanitarian disasters. But no matter how much we sympathize with the victims among the people they dominate, the deaths alone are not the test of right and wrong or of the ultimate responsibility for the carnage. As is often said, if Hamas were to stop fighting and disarm, Israel would lift the blockade and there would be peace. If Israel were to disarm, its Jewish population would be slaughtered. There is no equivalence there. Those in the West who chant “Free, Free Palestine” are demanding what? Or those who insist they are not pro-Hamas but charge that Israel is committing war crimes if it responds militarily to Hamas’s rockets and death squad tunnels? On the basis of self-declared antiracism a very large number of Americans and Europeans have slid deep into anti-Jewish racism. It is an old and ugly tradition. They are siding with a movement sworn to destroy not only the Jews but themselves as well. Choosing the side with the most dead in this case means siding with people who in every other respect are your enemy.