It’s been a brutal week in the Middle East, and here in the Western Hemisphere you have only to turn on a TV or computer to be hit with a barrage of slogans, photos, and propaganda from Israelis and Palestinians alike. The larger conflict has been ongoing for years. But to summarize this past week in isolation, Hamas has been launching rockets into Israel, and Israel has responded militarily in self-defense. The popular rejoinder to the “self-defense” line has been that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank warrants attacking Israel, and that Hamas is waging a legitimate resistance in order to establish a Palestinian state. But instead of resistance, they might consider peace talks. It would probably be less fatal.
This is not a case of freedom fighters engaged in a just war. Hamas is a terrorist organization. “Terrorist” is undoubtedly a contentious term, and even the United Nations has not decided on its definition (although that speaks more to the impotence of the UN than to the ambiguity of the word). But the issue at hand isn’t semantics. It’s spin. Supporters of Hamas will deny its status as a terrorist organization, but common sense says that Hamas qualifies as one because it wields fear as a political weapon. Israelis and Palestinians both live in fear of Hamas. The organization is guilty of a double war crime for operating its rocket storage and launch sites near residential areas, schools, and hospitals in Gaza, and for aiming at civilians in Israel.
There is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for obvious reason: Hamas targets civilians and the IDF targets Hamas. The IDF takes pinpointed, surgical action in Gaza to eliminate terrorists with minimal collateral damage. Human life is always a critical factor, carefully weighed and considered, and civilians are never the targets. Countless missions are aborted because of threats to civilian life. Yes, civilians are sometimes killed because Hamas operates in close proximity to civilians, and this is tragic. But the death toll would be far greater if the IDF didn’t take significant precautions to protect noncombatants. The IDF operates in accordance with a code of ethics that is predicated on the value and sanctity of human life. While the code may not be upheld to perfection, it is the ideal that Israel aims for, and this sets them apart from Hamas.
The Hamas charter calls for the total annihilation of Israel, the killing of Jews, and the repudiation of peace. This last point is perhaps most significant because it reveals the core of the conflict in the Middle East: the detestation of peace and the glorification of war. Death should never be celebrated with cheering and singing in the streets. Suicide bombers should not be venerated, and children should not be taught to hate Israel. Hamas exhibits unparalleled bloodlust, and is destroying any prospects for peace. There is plenty of blame to go around and neither side is perfect, but as obstacles to peace go, explosives are much bigger hindrances than settlements.
Hamas, elected by the Palestinian people of Gaza, is duty-bound to serve them, but is instead betraying their trust by leading them towards a confrontation that cannot end well. An independent, sovereign Palestinian state will not be launched with Fajr-5 missiles; it will be the result of peace negotiations. But a peace treaty cannot be formed with a terrorist organization that has eschewed peace. For Hamas to establish a Palestinian state, it must work towards a truce by amending its charter, ending attacks on Israel, and drafting serious peace proposals. When Hamas espouses peace, it will have established common ground and a shared interest with Israel, the basis for negotiations. Once Israel is secure, it can meet Hamas at the negotiating table, but this cannot happen while Israel’s citizens are running for cover.
This week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal dared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to invade Gaza, with sheer callousness for the devastation that would inevitably ensue. But instead of goading Israel to war, Hamas should be reaching to shake Israel’s hand at the negotiation table, and working to build a Palestinian state through peace talks instead of rocket fire. I have a challenge of my own for Meshal: I dare you to make peace with Israel.
written by Malka Rubin