Underlying much of the criticism leveled at Israel for launching Operation Protective Edge is the claim that Israel shares the blame for terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip. Many would have us believe that there is a logical, causal relationship between Israel’s actions and the reactions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups.
If Israel had, for instance, ended its “occupation” of the West Bank, goes the reasoning, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other violently reactionary terrorist groups would not be firing rockets at Israeli communities. If Israel were to end its blockade of Gaza, Gazans would have no reason to attack Israel.
There are, however, a number of major flaws with this argument.
Are we to believe that Israel has maintained, together with Egypt, a quasi-blockade of Gaza since 2005 – when all 8,000 Israeli settlers who were living in the Strip were forcibly evacuated and the IDF retreated – out of some sort of sadistic pleasure in controlling the lives of Palestinians, and not out of a genuine desire to protect itself from Palestinian terrorism? Did Israel build a security barrier or security checkpoints in the West Bank out of the same sadistic motivation? Or perhaps we are to believe that Israel has no right to prevent Hamas from smuggling into Gaza arms, rockets and concrete for terrorist tunnels to be used to attack the Jewish state. Indeed, when Israel insists on protecting itself by maintaining a quasi-blockade on Gaza, this humiliates Gazans and makes them angry. Maybe we should stop? Many on the American Left tried to draw the same sort of causal relationship between terrorism and US policies after 9/11. Shortly after the attacks, Susan Sontag, in a statement that appeared in The New Yorker, wrote the following: “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world,’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?” Film director Oliver Stone expressed the hope that the “uprising,” as he put it, would soon link up with a generalized anti-globalization movement. Other members of America’s intelligentsia such as Michael Moore, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and John Updike failed no less astoundingly.
These left-wing intellectuals made the mistake of rationalizing al-Qaida’s despicable actions by blaming US policies.
Perhaps they could not believe that anyone would prefer the reinstatement of the medieval caliphate to the freedoms offered by a liberal democracy. There had to be a reason.
They failed to understand that there was nothing that the US could change in its policies to dissuade al-Qaida from attacking. That is because what al-Qaida abominates and hopes to destroy is the essence of the US – its freedoms, its emancipation of women, its protection of religious rights and separation of religion from state. What jihadists hate, in short, is not what liberals do not like and cannot defend in the US or other Western countries, but what they do like about it and must defend.
Similarly, what the cadres of Hamas ideologues hate most about Israel is not the Jewish state’s policies in the West Bank. It is because Israel is a state run by Jews that the jihadists will never accept it; because it is a state in which women are equal to men; homosexuals’ rights are protected; and an essentially secular outlook is maintained.
It is no platitude to assert that Palestinians would have had a state of their own decades ago if they had renounced violence. Random suicide bombings and rocket fire directed at civilians and other forms of violent struggle adopted by Palestinians are not a protest against poverty and unemployment.
They are a cause of poverty and unemployment and of wider economic dislocation.
In Gaza recently, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said: “We love death like our enemies love life. We love martyrdom, the way in which [Hamas] leaders died.”
This is the sort of rhetoric favored by the likes of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. These are not organizations that can be negotiated with – unless of course one is willing to submit to a violently reactionary form of Islam. Perhaps when Hamas is defeated or severely weakened there can be talk of peace. But not before. No change in Israel policy short of the disappearance of the State of Israel will satisfy Hamas. And that is not going to happen.