Saturday, August 2, 2014

What about Hamas?

A friend of mine recently sent me a message on Facebook asking me to cut through the PR efforts of Israel and Hamas, as well as the wide swatch of approaches and blame-games happening in the media from various angles. I wrote him quite a long response starting from square one and thought I would share it with everyone. I hope this helps some people understand, at least from my angle, why Hamas is doing what it's doing in the current conflict.

I also want to preface it by addressing the common catch-all, debate-ending argument that Hamas simply wants to "wipe Israel off the map" or pursue global domination. It is true that the Hamas's charter opposes the existence of an Israeli state. What people who tell you this almost always leave out is that Likud's charter (Likud is the Israeli political party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) opposes the existence of a Palestinian state. It states, "The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." I've had debates at length on this issue, but the fact that both parties essentially say the same thing about each other largely neutralizes the criticism, in my view (other than to say that both are equally bad).

Lastly, I would ask that anyone responding to these thoughts not take any small part of this post and run with it. I know that can be easy to do on matters like this. If something I'm saying seems unjust to you, please ask me to clarify the point. I assure you that what I would like to see in Israel-Palestine (and indeed for all humanity) is for everyone involved to be able to leave in peace and with dignity.

Without further adieu, here's my take on Hamas in the context of the current violence in Gaza (remember, this was written as a personal message to a friend, so I'm just going to paste the relevant section of the message):
Yes, Hamas does lots of stupid and terrible things. In the immediate term, they should stop firing rockets. However, they're in a predicament where it's not clear what they should really do. If they stop firing rockets, Israeli may stop bombing them. That would be good for all of the people living in Gaza. The tough part is that the Israeli and Egyptian governments have a blockade on all of Gaza's borders, meaning few things (including people) are allowed to go in or out. That includes the sea border, where even fishermen get fired upon if they go too far offshore. Gazan students who receive academic scholarships to come to North America are not even permitted to leave. As a result of the blockade, the unemployment rate is obscenely high. Most of the people who live in Gaza are there as refugees (now with new generations born) who lost everything when they were displaced in the wars of 1948 and 1967. By all international laws, they have a right to return to their homes but have been denied that for years. In most cases, the Israeli government either demolished their homes long ago or allowed Jewish settlers from other countries to move into them to becomes Israelis. On top of these circumstances, Israel has the 4th most powerful military in the world. It is in a position with a ton of leverage. If they wanted to make peace and follow international laws, they could do that and eliminate any justifications Hamas is using to continue launching rockets.
The broader issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict is land inside Palestine that the Israeli government has claimed as its own and has encouraged Jewish settlers from other countries to move into. It recognizes the Jews in those settlements as Israeli, even though they don't live in Israel. "Settlement" is actually a bit of a misleading word to refer to these areas because some of them are actually getting to be quite large cities. When Breanna and I visited there on our honeymoon a few years ago, we saw many of them all over the Palestinian territory of the West Bank as we drove from city to city. Those areas of Palestine are considered Jewish-only and are guarded by the Israeli military (again, this is inside Palestinian territory). These settlements are connected to each other and to Israel itself by Jewish-only roads. Israel has also built walls around many of these settlements, and the walls are often built to confiscate more land in Palestinian territory. A huge swath of the land Israel has taken inside the West Bank is very fertile farm land along the west bank (that's where the name comes from) of the Jordan River. We drove through that area, and it's full of crops of all kinds - a stark contrast to the dry desert in many other parts of the country.
Anyway, I could go on, but my point is that there are huge outstanding issues that the Israeli government doesn't even want to debate. And even putting aside how unjust all of these things are, they give groups like Hamas a reason to keep firing rockets. Maybe they would keep firing anyway if Israel moved its settlers off Palestinian land, ended the blockade on Gaza, and allowed refugees to return to their homes (or at least compensated them). It's difficult to say. But if Israel followed these basic international laws, they would be speaking from much firmer ground when they condemn Hamas for firing rockets.
My final point would be that there are many Israelis, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who regularly speak out against what their government does to Palestinians. If you Google groups like Peace Now, B'tselem, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, or Breaking the Silence, you will find that they are saying many of the same things I've said above.


  1. Thanks Joel for posting. I found it very insightful.

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