“Did you say you want us to ‘re-think Hamas?'” Yes. As in, recognizing it as a legitimate political party and dropping its label as “terrorist organization.”
I know. Your first reaction, if you’re at all familiar with Hamas, is, “are you insane? Of course Hamas is a terrorist organization!” Your next thought might be, “egad, you’re a terrorist too, Kathy!”
Now that that’s out of your system, let me ask you a second question: What makes you so sure Hamas is a terrorist organization?
Let me guess your answer: “Everybody knows Hamas is a terrorist organization,” possibly followed by “duh!”
Next question: Are you able to learn new things, think new thoughts, form new opinions?
You’ll answer, “of course!”
Next question: Even if those new things are about Hamas?
Take your time. I’ll wait.
If you haven’t closed the tab, you must be willing to at least hear me out. Good for you – I know how implausible this must seem. But you know that, as Christ-followers, we must make an effort to understand marginalized groups and help them achieve justice. I don’t expect to change your mind, but I hope this will give you food for thought.
What we think we know
We think Hamas is (who) a terrorist organization, shooting (what) massive, destructive rockets, (when) almost constantly (where) wherever there are Jews, (why) in order to annihilate Israel.
And we think Israel is (who) a democracy and an ally, using (what) whatever they must use to defend their citizens (when) whenever they are under attack, (where) wherever the terrorists are cowering, (why) to be free at last from this terrorist organization.
We think of Israel as an innocent victim, and Hamas as bloodthirsty terrorists.
Therefore, when Israel drops bombs, we think it is a merely a peaceful state defending its citizens – but when Hamas shoots rockets, it is a terror group, and the only thing terrorists know how to do is inflict terror.
Israel = good.
Gaza/Hamas = terrorists = bad.
Actually, there is much about Hamas – and about Israel – that most of us don’t know.
Israel’s best-kept secrets about Israel and Hamas
Secret: Israel has Gaza under illegal occupation and siege/blockade
What we don’t know is that Hamas is fighting for the very lives of the people of Gaza. Hamas was elected to resist the occupation and siege of Gaza.
Some say that Gaza is not under occupation, but nearly the entire world absolutely considers it an occupied territory. Israel controls just about everything in the enclave – and has kept it under a brutal siege for almost 15 years, blocking the transfer of adequate amounts of food, medicine, and many other staples.
- Secret re: lopsided “wars”
Israel has initiated wars against Gaza (if you can call it “war” when one side has no army and the other side has one of the most advanced armies in the world) four times. In these conflicts, Israel has killed over 4,000 Gazan Palestinians; Hamas killed about 100 Israelis.
Hamas first began using rockets in 2001 after Israeli airstrikes had killed 570 Palestinians. These rockets have killed a total of about 40 Israelis in 20 years.
To put it another way: Israel has killed 4,000 Gazans in order to stop rockets that have killed an average of 2 Israelis a year.
On the other hand, because Palestinians have no standing army, Hamas has no warplanes, stealth fighters, or bombs. Instead, it builds small, inexpensive rockets that do relatively little damage. In fact, many of the rockets from Gaza are homemade from scraps – often even using salvaged explosives from dud Israeli bombs.
Hamas rockets don’t “target civilians” per se – they are not sophisticated enough to hit a target. They sometimes land in populated areas, but the vast majority are either intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system (which the US has paid $1.6 billion for, and counting), or land in open fields – sometimes they even land in Gaza.
Secret re: civilians
Hamas is criticized for killing civilians with these rockets. Indeed, it is tragic when that happens. But let’s look at the facts.
The vast majority of Gazans killed by Israel are private citizens – but Israel invariably rationalizes these civilian deaths merely by claiming that someone from Hamas was in the vicinity. Here’s one example from last month, in which 17 members of a Gazan family were wiped out in one night; Israel merely said the deaths were “unintended,” and the target was Hamas.
The rockets haven’t stopped because the cause for resistance hasn’t gone away: Israel still has Gaza under siege; Gazans are still starving and dying.
- Secret re: human rights abuses
Israel regularly denies seriously ill Gazans from leaving the enclave to get needed treatment just a few miles away in the West Bank. Medical equipment and medicines are in critically short supply.
Palestinians in Gaza have only a few hours of electricity per day, and 95% of the water is not fit for human consumption – because Israel has destroyed critical infrastructure and won’t allow it to be rebuilt.
The unemployment rate in Gaza is sky-high, in great part because of the siege, which blocks both imports of raw materials into Gaza and exports from leaving the Strip. Israel has also bombed a large number of factories, which has cost many jobs.
Israel consistently targets journalists and their offices, and prevents foreign journalists from entering Gaza to cover the situation.
Israel even targets and destroys cultural institutions. And on and on.
All of the Hamas rockets combined have not done this kind of damage. Christians, we need to ponder this.
(This list of human rights abuses is partial, and applies to the Gaza Strip. The situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is a whole different horror story. I will be covering that soon. Join my mailing list to stay up-to-date.)
Fish in a barrel
The tiny Gaza Strip (about the size of Philadelphia) is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. About three-quarters of the population of Gaza are families of refugees who lost everything and were sent into exile in 1948. Why were they sent away? Because they were not Jewish.
(My husband’s 94-year-old aunt, living in a refugee camp in Gaza, frequently tells us stories about her life of prosperity before the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 killed many members of her family and exiled the rest.)
This is the context under which Hamas exists. Its mandate is to resist the occupation of Gaza. Under international law, long-term occupation is prohibited, while resistance against occupation – even armed resistance – is permitted.
Israel has been oppressing and assaulting the people of Gaza for years. The only way Israel gets away with it is by constantly “reminding” us that Gaza is run by terrorists.
Christians can and should lead the way to ending the impunity that Israel enjoys as it oppresses Palestinians. Is this a call for an end to the Jewish State? Hardly – it’s a call for that state to end its persecution of Palestinians.
Of course, Hamas has in the past been involved in unsavory activities – so has the PLO. The PLO used to be considered a terrorist organization, but it is now considered the “sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” According to the Israeli government itself, the last attack that Hamas claimed responsibility for was in 2005.
Let us recall that Israel has participated in unsavory activities too: as if the initial ethnic cleansing of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians in 1948 was not enough, Israel demolished over 500 Palestinian villages to keep them from returning. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land, conducts mass arrests and detentions, has killed over 10,000, detained 800,000 (8,000 of them children), and has participated in torture of prisoners (including women and children).
Israel also sells weapons to countries that commit human rights abuses, like Myanmar. It partnered with the apartheid government of South Africa, and bombed an American Navy ship, the USS Liberty, in 1967. Right now, Israel is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Let’s ask the right questions
Israel asks us, “if you had rockets raining down on you, what would you do? Of course you would defend yourself.”
But Gaza asks, “if you have been under siege for 15 years, and your people are dying, what would you do? Of course you would try to end the siege.”
We should ask, “why are there rockets, really?” If you’ve read this far, you know the answer.
If Israel wants the rockets to end, it must end the occupation and siege.
Now here’s the really big question:
Who are the terrorists – the ones trying to resist their own slow death, or the ones dropping bombs onto apartment buildings, starving and poisoning children, and violating international laws?
Food for thought.
(If you’re interested in radically nuanced thoughts on Palestine and Israel, as well as other topics, subscribe to my newsletter.)
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