The costs have never been more extreme. The horrors we witnessed the weekend of Oct. 7 will be seared into the world’s memory for generations to come. A devastating attack carried out by Hamas, the standing government in Gaza and a proxy of the Iranian regime, served as a harrowing reminder that perhaps “never again” is less of a promise, and more of a platitude that has lost its effect.
Amid such grief, it can be difficult to separate Hamas from the Palestinian people. But as Israel plans an intensive ground campaign in Gaza to root out Hamas, and Palestinian civilians in the strip experience an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, it has never been more important to remember that the two are not the same — and that the former actively undermines the goals, progress, and prospects of the latter.
What is essential to understand is that given the opportunity to kill Jews or to work toward Palestinian autonomy, Hamas would choose the former every single time.
One needn’t look further than Hamas’ founding charter, which explicitly calls for the annihilation of Jews, to corroborate this. And while there is often dissonance between a group’s intentions and its actions, Hamas has proven that among its priorities, destroying Jews will always transcend preserving Palestinian life. Just Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden decried Hamas for using “innocent Palestinian families … as human shields.”
There is nothing simple about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Since the Israeli army disengaged from the sliver of land in 2005, forcibly removing any Jewish presence in one of the most prominent concessions made to Palestinians since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Palestinian civilians living inside Gaza’s borders have suffered.
The source of that suffering is heavily disputed — again, there is nothing simple about it, and factors like a two-decade blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt have inarguably contributed.
But what is simple is that while in a perfect world Gaza’s government, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2007, would prioritize peace and prosperity for its people, it has instead devoted vast portions of its economic funding — $100 million and then some in funds from Iran, for example — to planning and executing elaborate terror schemes against Israel, and more specifically, Jews.
Crucially, those are schemes that Hamas knows will only harm Gaza’s civilians— as it knew when it drew up plans for the Oct. 7 invasion. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, after decades of cyclical conflict, that Hamas knew that Israel would respond to an outrageous provocation like that attack with deadly force, at great cost to civilian lives. Hamas must have known that its actions would evoke swift and emphatic condemnation from governments around the world. Hamas has such minimal regard for the lives of its citizens, that it can celebrate murdering more than 1,300 innocent Israelis despite knowing full well the toll the inevitable counterstrike would take on Palestinians.
By proceeding with the attack regardless, Hamas has irrevocably set back the prospect of true Palestinian liberation.
Palestinians know they cannot trust Hamas to work in their interest. Opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Gaza’s residents distrust the terrorist group as a governing body. 71% of respondents to a 2018 poll posted on Facebook by a senior Hamas official answered “yes” to the question of whether or not they would elect Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who before 2007 had a governing role in Gaza in place of the Hamas government.
Statistics from the Washington Institute have shown that a majority of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza have expressed a desire for Hamas to cease their calls for Israel’s destruction, and instead focus on a viable two-state solution. A 2020 poll indicated that 40% of Gazaans said they would prefer to be a part of Israel than to be ruled by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.
Yet Hamas has undermined paths to peace on several occasions since its rise to power — most notably, before last weekend, in 2000, when it spearheaded the Second Intifada following the Camp David Summit’s failed attempt at brokering peace. Instead of continuing negotiations with Israel, as any peace process would require, Hamas encouraged indiscriminate terror against Israeli civilians in a wave that lasted five years and further obscured any possibility of reconciliation.
Far from being represented by Hamas in a quest for safety and autonomy, Palestinians have been collateral damage to the group’s oppressive and calculating regime. Hamas systematically fires rockets from — and stores artillery and other weapons in — buildings intended for civilian use, including schools and hospitals, a strategic move that forces Israel to compromise civilian life when retaliating with airstrikes targeting Hamas hot spots.
For days, I have watched self-proclaimed humanitarians lend some semblance of legitimacy and validity to — and at times even celebrate — the atrocities carried out by Hamas terrorists. In Sydney, Australia, a large group of protesters chanted “gas the Jews.” At Stanford, an instructor called Jewish students “colonizers” and minimized the Holocaust. All the while, Jews have been ridiculed and disparaged for calling out antisemitism and fearing its repercussions.
I am an American, progressive Jew. The peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians is an objective that will always take precedence, for me, over the hatred that moments like this threaten to instill. I refuse to acquiesce to the terror, or to lose sight of the compassion and empathy at the core of Judaism.
But it’s ironic to see alleged social justice advocates striving to justify the indiscriminate murder and abduction of innocent individuals — doubly so, since even in a hypothetical world where committing war crimes to achieve freedom might be
considered a legitimate means to an end, Hamas would be the worst example to cite. The promise of Palestinian liberation is Hamas’ most powerful and effective red herring; the group preaches it while actively undermining it. As long as Hamas exists, Palestinian prosperity will not. PJC
Danit Schinagel is a Jewish Venezuelan immigrant working as a writer for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. This article first appeared on the Forward (forward.com). To get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox, go to forward.com/newsletter-signup.