Israel, Hamas and Moral Equivalence
Now that Israel has entered Gaza, the response from much of the world’s press has been totally predictable. Israel is called a nation of terrorists and mass murderers, and it is claimed that Israel is being far too disproportionate in its response. Demands for an immediate withdrawal, along with expectations that Israel grovels in remorse are becoming commonplace.
Of course all of this anti-Israeli rhetoric is built on the assumption that some sort of moral equivalence exists here. Critics of Israel might grudgingly admit that Hamas has not been exactly pure in all this, but they also claim that Israel is in fact just as bad, if not far worse.
However, a number of commentators beg to differ, and I enlist their aid in this piece. First, consider the phony charge that this is some sort of David versus Goliath situation in which Israel is some massive military power while poor Hamas is just some small guy outfit throwing stones.
Hamas is armed and supported by nations such as Iran. Both have vowed to eliminate the nation of Israel. And Israel is surrounded by nations that don’t exactly look kindly upon Israel. All in all, Israel is vastly outnumbered and outgunned, hedged in by violent opponents. Writes Greg Sheridan:
“To grasp the nature of the strategic threat Hamas poses, it is necessary to place it in the context of its ally, Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, and their common backer and puppet master, Iran. During Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, rockets continued to rain down on Israel as far as the big industrial city of Haifa. There was an acute fear within Israel, although not much spoken of, that Hezbollah rockets would hit a massive oil refinery in Haifa. The flow-on effects from this could be catastrophic. During that war, much of northern Israel was effectively paralysed, and certainly closed for normal business.”
“Despite the mistakes Israel made in that war, it got some things right. At the start of the conflict, it knocked out Hezbollah’s longest-range missiles that could reach Israel’s biggest city, Tel Aviv. And since then, the missiles have not come back from the north. Now they come from Gaza in the south. They not only terrorise the small Israeli town of Sderot, they frequently now reach Ashkelon, the industrial city that ironically provides electricity to Gaza. (There must be few occasions in history when a nation is expected to supply electricity to factories building rockets designed to blow up the electricity plant.)”
The only reason Israel has not suffered more at the hands of Hamas thus far is the lack of long-range rockets. “From Israel’s point of view, it is very clear that if it leaves Hamas alone, Hamas will gather more and better rockets, long-range and with better guidance systems. Hamas and Hezbollah together can then present two types of strategic threat to Israel, beyond merely killing its citizens. They can shut down vast swaths of Israeli society and industry with a rocket offensive. Or they can hit strategic targets, at least from Dimona to Haifa. Israel had no alternative but to act, although how it will restore a future equilibrium in Gaza remains deeply unclear.”
Complaints about civilian casualties are also routinely raised by the critics of Israel. It is always regrettable when civilians die in armed combat. But there is a huge moral difference between a nation which seeks to prevent such collateral damage as much as possible, and a terrorist organisation that thrives on such civilian carnage. As Mona Charen explains,
“It’s often pointed out that Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. It’s more than that. Hamas, with Iran’s backing, is committed to Israel’s violent destruction. Missiles have fallen on schools and homes. Hamas is explicit about desiring Israeli counterattacks, because while Hamas aims to kill Israeli civilians, they know that Israel tries very hard not to kill Palestinian civilians. But every Palestinian death at the hands of Israel is seen as a propaganda victory for Hamas — which is why they place their munitions and terrorists in mosques, hospitals, and homes crowded with children. Hamas representative Fathi Hamad stated it explicitly: ‘For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly (Palestinians) created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: We desire death as you desire life’.”
Melanie Phillips argues much the same: “Alas, the civilian toll will unavoidably mount, which is deeply regrettable. But what must be understood is that Hamas have deliberately situated their weapons under apartment blocks, in mosques and in hospitals. The Israelis build bomb shelters for their civilians – Hamas stores bombs underneath its civilians to manipulate world opinion. What people find so hard to grasp is that Hamas actually wants to maximise the number of Palestinians killed because, as they boast: ‘We desire death as you desire life’.”
But Israel should negotiate, and not fight, critics argue. This is not easy to do when the one you are trying to negotiate with wants only one thing of you: your destruction. As Yuval Rotem has put it, “Hamas is a problem for Israel because it doesn’t want to engage Israel in dialogue or reach a two-state solution. (Israel has said innumerable times it will deal with Hamas as soon as Hamas recognises Israel’s right to exist and renounces terrorism.)”
But, the critics will complain, an attack by Israel will simply provoke more Islamist aggression. Says Phillips, “Despite this fanaticism, many fear Israel’s attack will create yet more suicide bombers. There is a grain of sense in this – but only a grain. This is because every act of self-defence against Islamist aggression is used as a recruiting sergeant for the Islamic holy war. So if this dictates world responses, no one can ever defend themselves – not just in Israel but in Afghanistan or against al-Qaida anywhere.”
But the Israeli attack is so disproportionate we are told. Jonathan Mark agrees. He says that Israel’s response is disproportionate. Israel is responding nowhere near the way it should be if it carried on like Hamas has been: “I condemn Israel’s disproportionate attack on Hamas because, so far, it has only lasted four days and I would like to see a proportionate response that terrifies Hamas for seven years, the years that have filled Sderot and neighboring towns with nightmares, death, amputations and trauma coming from rockets and mortars fired from Gaza. . . . A proportionate response would so intimidate Hamas that they will grovel and, as a ‘gesture,’ send cocoa and jam into Sderot, the way Israel has groveled in response to rockets from Hamas, sending cocoa and jam into Gaza. Imagine Churchill sending cocoa and jam into Berlin as a humanitarian gesture after – during – the bombing of London.”
He continues, “A proportionate response to Hamas, one might gather from the European scolds, would be as if the United States, after Pearl Harbor, would bomb just a few Japanese fishing boats and call it a day, believing the war would have ended with that. A proportionate response will begin to remind Jews that there is no peace process like victory, just as Israel’s decade of disproportionate restraint and self-doubt has convinced young Palestinians that their victory is inevitable, like Aryan youth in 1933 singing ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’.”
Yes but, the critics continue, Hamas was democratically elected. Rotem deals with this objection: “Let’s not beat around the bush. Hamas is a terrorist organisation masquerading as a legitimate government. Yes, it did win the 2006 democratic election in the Palestinian Authority. But winning one election does not make an organisation democratic. Democratic organisations do not stage violent coups against their own national president, as Hamas did in June 2007. Also, democratic organisations do not have as a central and founding policy to carry out the genocide of a neighbouring country.”
“Hamas’s founding charter includes the statement: ‘Hamas has been looking forward to implementing Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet (Mohammed), prayer and peace be upon him, said the time (of resurrection) will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews,’ and, ‘peaceful solutions and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem are all contrary to the beliefs of Hamas.’ In its own words – indeed, in its founding document – Hamas states it will continue fighting Israel as long as Israel exists.”
“The war Hamas is waging against Israel has nothing to do with occupation (Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in August 2005). Rather, it has everything to do with Israel’s existence. That is why Hamas – or, rather, its central policy – is a problem, aptly described by the Israeli Foreign Minister. For as long as Hamas clings to the notion that Israel can be destroyed and it wants to be the one to do so, there will be no peace. Israel has offered to deal with Hamas as long as it agrees to recognise Israel’s right to exist and renounce terrorism. Such demands are hardly taxing. In response, Hamas continued firing rockets at Israeli civilians.”
Yet we keep hearing the same old moral equivalence. Says Phillips, “What is so distressing is the desperate unfairness of so much Western reaction. Thus Israel is accused of causing a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, even though it is allowing hundreds of trucks of supplies through the crossing points. Few are aware that wounded Gazans – 65 per cent of whom voted for Hamas – are being treated in Israeli hospitals. By contrast, in a Gaza hospital, Hamas shot dead five suspected Palestinian ‘collaborators’ – and murdered another 30 elsewhere. Many in the West think that the Palestinians are the rightful inheritors not just of Gaza and the West Bank but Israel itself. But this is totally false.”
“The Jews are the only people for whom ‘Palestine’ was ever their nation state, hundreds of years before Mohammed was even born. No other country on the planet has ever been expected to make suicidal concessions to its enemies even while they continue to try to destroy it. Yet the world expects it of Israel. An immediate ceasefire would effectively mean victory for Hamas.”
It is unbearable what Israel has been forced to endure. No other nation would acquiesce to such treatment. There is no moral equivalence taking place here. Hamas is a terrorist organisation which cares nothing about human life. A Hamas official today called for the killing of Jewish children around the world. Such amoral terrorists are not on a par with civilised nations. Nor should they be treated as such.
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- 6.1.09 / 10pm
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