Don’t be fooled: Palestinian suffering in this war is exactly what Hamas wants
OpinionGuest Columnist

Don’t be fooled: Palestinian suffering in this war is exactly what Hamas wants

Progressive spaces have lost track of the fact that while Netanyahu’s government might be bad, Hamas is many times worse

A rocket fired from a civilian area in Gaza toward civilian areas in Southern Israel (Photo by paffairs_sanfrancisco, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
A rocket fired from a civilian area in Gaza toward civilian areas in Southern Israel (Photo by paffairs_sanfrancisco, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Five months into the Israel-Hamas war, as fiercely contradicting narratives about the conflict have seized the global imagination — so much so that they may be changing the course of elections in the United States and United Kingdom — it’s worth reminding the world that Hamas is not a friend of the Palestinians.

Instead, it’s a militia of fundamentalists whose primary goals are to prevent a two-state solution — the realization of which would involve a verboten acknowledgment of Israel as a legitimate state — and to spread Islamic theocracy.

The dismaying truth of these aims has been lost in progressive spaces, where Hamas is often portrayed as a force of Palestinian resistance. Those on the left should understand that Hamas is not trying to achieve a Palestinian state or justice for Palestinians. Instead, it aims to prevent those very outcomes by moving Israelis to the political right through terrorist attacks.

The group thrives on conflict and mayhem. Between 14 and 15 million people live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza overall; fewer than 8 million are Jewish. Hamas understands that the partition of the Holy Land into three parts is most necessary for Israeli Jews, because a one-state outcome comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza would likely, at some point, become a majority-Arab country.

By provoking Israel into expanding its reach into Gaza and the West Bank — thereby imperiling chances for a two-state solution — Hamas endangers prospects of a lasting peace. The more it destabilizes those prospects, the more it makes its terror-driven approach seem like the only meaningful Palestinian response to Israeli aggression.

This war, in other words, is exactly what the group wanted.

So when Israelis elect racist lawmakers who will deepen conflict, and whose policies will lead to further suffering for civilian Palestinians, Hamas is happy.

When the Israeli government builds more West Bank settlements, making a clear partition between an Israeli and Palestinian state more difficult to bring about, Hamas receives that not as a punishment, but a gift. When Israeli ultranationalists speak of reestablishing settlements in Gaza, Hamas could hardly be more pleased.

And when civilian Palestinians are killed in a conflict that Hamas started, the group is delighted, not outraged: The more distant the prospect of peace, the more Hamas’ goals are served. The devastation civilian Palestinians have faced through this war is by Hamas’ design — a feature, not a bug.

The Hamas project began immediately after signing of the Oslo Accords, in Sept. 1993. The following weeks saw a string of deadly attacks in the West Bank by Palestinian rejectionists, and by early 1994 Hamas, which was first founded in 1987 as an Islamic charity with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, was claiming responsibility for suicide bombings against civilians in Israel itself, at first on buses, and then in cafes and shopping malls and on streets.

This was not a negotiating tactic to pressure Israel in its then-ongoing talks with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Rather, it was an effort to get Israel to walk away from the negotiations, because Hamas viewed any partition of the holy land — which would involve explicitly recognizing the legitimacy and permanence of Israel — as an abomination under its maximalist interpretation of Islam, which aims for the creation of a caliphate in the Middle East and beyond.

In effect, Hamas was exploiting a critical mistake by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Instead of working quickly after the signing of the Accords to create irreversible change on the ground, Rabin implemented a cautious five-year interim period to be followed by a permanent deal.

That slow approach gave enemies of a two-state solution — like Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party in Israel, and Palestinian rejectionists led by Hamas — ample opportunity to scupper the process. The unspoken symbiosis was clear: Hamas would blow up buses, and Netanyahu would appear at the scene within minutes, attacking the government as his henchmen compared Rabin to the Judenrat — Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.

Rabin’s assassination by a far-right Israeli in 1995 helped ensure that symbiosis would continue for decades to come. Netanyahu edged out Shimon Peres, seen as Rabin’s natural successor, by a few thousand votes after a Hamas suicide bombing campaign in the weeks before the May 1996 election. He then dutifully hit the brakes on anything resembling a good-faith peace process with the Palestinian Authority.

And here we are today. Many moments when peace seemed more or less possible have passed in the last three decades. But the fundamental equation has remained in place: the Israeli right, still led by Netanyahu, and the Palestinian hardliners, still led by Hamas, both reject partition — and in their mutual rejection, implicitly enable one another’s maintenance of power.

Indeed, that is why for years Netanyahu saw some value in allowing Hamas to stay in control in Gaza. Netanyahu even calculated that having Hamas rule Gaza weakened the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, enabling Israel to prolong its de facto control of that territory.

The world is aware of Netanyahu’s bad faith engagement in this war: It’s widely accepted, both within and outside Israel, that his motivations in pursuing and prolonging the war are deeply linked to his own desire to maintain a grip on power despite his extraordinary unpopularity and ongoing criminal trials. But around the world, people seem much less able to grasp that Hamas is vastly more awful.

Hamas wants to kill Jews, subdue Palestinian “infidels,” and promote a jihadism that would take over the entire planet if allowed. Any territory that falls under its control will experience a reign of terror, as Gaza has, and will be used as a base for aggression. There is absolutely no reason for anyone but a supporter of these aims to back them. Unlike the Israeli right, Hamas is not even pretending to want peace.

Indeed, many progressives across the world seem to have been duped into mindlessly equating — at least through omission — the vile miscreants of Hamas with the quite reasonable broader Palestinian cause for enfranchisement and peace.

It is deeply troubling that elite universities in America have, in the course of the war, refused to treat active support for Hamas — a group that purposely murdered almost 1,200 people in one day in an unprovoked invasion — as being outside the bounds of reasonable free speech. Columbia, where I earned my Master’s Degree (in engineering, not in journalism) is a particularly egregious case in point.

Early on in the conflict, 100 Columbia professors signed a letter supporting the rights of students who back Hamas. Then the university president agreed. And now, even though the university is under investigation and facing lawsuits for abetting antisemitism, comes word that it has hired a professor who has openly declared himself a Hamas supporter.

As a liberal in the classic sense, I value free speech, and believe in a high bar for regulating it. I fully understand opposition to Israel, and don’t consider criticism of the country to automatically be a reflection of antisemitism.

But there is a reason that hate speech is regulated, even in countries — and social environments — in which the freedom of expression is a fundamental value. Free speech should not protect supporters of mass murderers who kill Jews in order to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and impose brutal theological restrictions on their own people.

The misdeeds of the Israeli right and the complications of the situation on the ground do not change a fundamental truth: Hamas is an evil movement, and support for it is not a political position that can be tolerated any more than calls for white supremacy, the restoration of slavery, or to declare homosexuality a capital offense. PJC

Dan Perry is the former chief editor of The Associated Press in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the former president of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, and the author of two books about Israel. Follow his newsletter “Ask Questions Later” at

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