It’s something close to a law of nature that the farther people are from a conflict, the more simplistic their views about its causes and solutions. That couldn’t be more apparent now in Gaza, where Israel’s invasion is drawing howls of outrage around the world.
That outrage is well-deserved. There is no question that the Israel Defense Forces could and should be doing more to avoid civilian casualties. Yet the fact that the anger of so many is directed only at Israel is disturbing, because there are two armed forces responsible for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. The other is Hamas.
Hamas invited the Israeli invasion with the barbarism of its terrorist attack on Oct. 7, and it has been open about how it fully expected Israel to retaliate. Recent reporting by the Washington Post would, if verified, underscore that this was the purpose of its attack, dubbed operation al Aqsa Flood, and that Palestinian deaths weren’t a bug in that plan but an essential part of it. “The blood of the women, children, and elderly,’’ Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Lebanese TV on Oct. 26, “we are the ones who need this blood, so it awakens within us the revolutionary spirit.’’
Yet if you listened to talk radio in the U.K. over the weekend you would have heard callers explaining — counter to all evidence — that it was not the Islamist terror group committed to the destruction of Israel that murdered Jewish children in front of their parents, but rather Israeli special forces. When an Iranian man had the temerity to hold up a sign in central London comparing Hamas with Islamic State because of its actions that day, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters in hoodies attacked him, and a woman shouted “death to all the Jews.’’ Posters of abducted Israeli children have been torn down in the U.K. as in the U.S., where a 21-year-old student at Tufts University, near Boston, was arrested last month for posting threats to kill Jews on campus, using the social media handle “Hamas Soldier.’’
These people need to ask themselves why they are so unwilling to criticize an organization that murders innocents on the grounds of race. The answer may not be pretty. The way Hamas carried out its attack and is now fighting the war in Gaza demonstrates the organization’s utter disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, too.
Consider the tunnels. Hamas built hundreds of kilometers of them under Gaza City to create an asymmetric advantage against the IDF’s vast superiority in terms of heavy armor, troop numbers and more. It makes sense as military strategy, just like preparing the ground by intense aerial bombardment made sense as military strategy for the Israelis. But Hamas did not build underground shelters to protect civilians during the war it was preparing to fight. And there been no reports of civilians offered shelter in the tunnels ahead of the Israeli ground invasion.
Then there is Hamas’ use of human shields, even beyond the 240-plus hostages it seized on Oct. 7. According to the IDF, Hamas has its headquarters under Gaza’s main al Shifa hospital, locates its rocket launchers next to schools, and generally does its best to make it impossible to target Hamas without also hitting civilians.
This isn’t the first Israeli incursion into Gaza. Journalists from The Guardian encountered Hamas troops within al Shifa in 2014. Groups as Israel-critical as Amnesty International have reported that Hamas used the hospital as a site for the torture and execution of its Palestinian opponents as far back as 2008.
It’s worth listening to how some prominent Arab journalists approach Hamas. Earlier this month, the Egyptian TV commentator Ibrahim Eissa slammed comments from Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk, who said the tunnels were there to protect Hamas fighters from Israeli jets and it was up to the United Nations to protect Gaza’s civilians. “Irresponsible” and “disgraceful” were just two of the adjectives Eissa used, noting that Hamas governs Gaza and that the first duty of any government is to protect its people. While Hamas is in its tunnels, “what about the Palestinian children who are targeted by Israeli aggression?’’ Eissa asked.
An Al Arabiya TV anchor was equally scathing in her grilling of Khaled Meshal, another top Hamas official. The nature of the Hamas action on Oct. 7 was a declaration of war that inevitably would draw an Israeli counterattack, the anchor said. “The other factions, the Palestinian Authority and the people of Gaza were not consulted about this,’’ but they now bear the consequences, she said. She also tried her best to get Meshal to take responsibility for the atrocities committed against Jewish civilians on Oct. 7.
This isn’t rocket science. Dead Palestinian civilians are an essential part of Hamas’ plan, whose goal was to draw Israel deep into Gaza, create a bloodbath, and expand the war by enraging and drawing in new players such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran and Israel’s Arab neighbors. Most Arab governments understand fully that Hamas is an equivalent to Islamic State that offers nothing to Palestinians beyond poverty and death. Yet they are now silent on this because Israel is playing the role that Hamas assigned to it. Tragically, so are too many well-intentioned people in the West.
Marc Champion is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe, Russia and the Middle East. He was previously Istanbul bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal./Tribune News Service