The Hostages of Hamas

We have just left Shabbat amid the rising chorus of voices telling Israel: “Stop!”. Biden spoke about the humanitarian situation in Gaza being top of mind. The U.N. is complaining about the situation in Gaza and warning of a healthcare system on the verge of collapse. Thousands are dying and many more are being injured.

Hamas has created the perfect situation. Any effective assault on Hamas requires civilian suffering and so Hamas cannot be effectively assaulted. Even in this situation, even given the atrocities committed, Hamas has reason to believe that punishment will fall far short of where it should. It is only a week after their crimes and the world – even Biden who came out so strongly in support of Israel – is worried about the civilian population. In other words, Hamas’ true hostages aren’t 5-year-old Jewish children in cages – they are 5-year-old Palestinian children being raised in a culture of hate. They know this, which is why they will not allow their population to flee south.

On the one hand, I want to dismiss the concerns of the U.N. and the BBC. Many shopkeepers lost their businesses in Germany during the bombardment there. Many civilians – millions of civilians – were killed. And it was appropriate. Six years before the war, Germany had elected a terrorist government. The German people had not rectified the problem. They deserved to suffer for the reality they found themselves in. Likewise, the population of Gaza overwhelmingly elected Hamas. While many complain about Hamas rule, it is clear that they just want to replace Hamas with another organization more effective at killing Jews. We’ve all seen the population celebrating the orgy of murder and rape that occurred over the Simchat Torah. Theirs is a people at war with our people. It follows that if we can’t detach them Hamas then they – as a people – can suffer.

Despite this kneejerk reaction, I still don’t want the suffering of Palestinian children. I still don’t want shopkeepers to have their livelihoods destroyed. Even if they hate Jews and Israel, I don’t want Palestinians dead. I actually have more sympathy with Palestinians than I did with the Germans of the Nazi era. Unlike Germans, Palestinians have legitimate grievances against Israel. Because a core of Judaism is the return to Zion, and because some of them were here when we returned, they have a legitimate grievance against our people.

My problem, our problem by and large, is not the grievance – it is the way in which they want to rectify it: through genocide.

Israel has tried other ways of coming to a resolution. But every attempt is met with greater and greater terrorism. When peace is met with peace – when the handover of Gaza or self-rule in Palestinian cities leads to a drop in violence – then we will all find a road out of this. But the reality today – and for the past one hundred years – is that peace has always been met with terrorism. As a result, Israel is forced to react ever more violently. Things are much worse now than they were in 1985.

As a result, the Palestinians have ever more reason to hate us.

What are the legitimate Palestinian grievances? Many Palestinians were displaced from Israel in 1948. Even if many left on the advice of their own leaders, expecting to return not long after in triumph after a genocide of the local Jewish population, they were still displaced. They lost their homes. Many remain citizens of no state; they were abandoned by the Arab world. They still don’t have citizenship in Jordan or Lebanon They are treated with continual suspicion. Those who work in Israel have to go through checkpoints and rarely work in respected positions. It is rare for a Palestinian boss to hire Jewish workers. Of course, some Jewish Israelis have overstepped and applied violence far too judiciously. This has created anger. Finally, whether those killed were innocent victims or were engaging in combat or terrorism, they have lost many people.

Palestinians have legitimate reasons to be angry.

Our problem is not with the grievances – many Israelis recognize them and want to address them. Our problem is with their solution. Many Palestinians doesn’t want a state, or a little group of city states. Instead, they want the elimination of the State of Israel – and the Jews within it. The massacres that occurred last week, and the celebrations that followed it, made that clear.

Jews have tried and proposed alternate approached. We gave control of Gaza to the Palestinians – there was no blockade until the terrorism started, but the terrorism started soon after we left the Strip. Until recently Israel has regularly supplied power and electricity and food to the region. We hoped that Gaza would be built into something wonderful – a Palestinian city state at peace with Israel.

Instead, Gaza has just been used as a platform for terror.

Israel has offered the Palestinian Authority control of much of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. But so long as Israel can defend itself, these offers aren’t enough. The Arab nations tried to eliminate the nascent State in 1948 and 1967 – well before the establishment of what the international community calls the Occupied Territories. For many Palestinians, all of Israel is occupied territory, every Israeli is a settler, and every Israeli deserves to die in an orgy of murder.

The families of those 5-year-old Palestinian ‘hostages’ voted for Hamas. They send their children to Hamas day camps. Many of these ‘hostages’ will join a militant group engaged in warfare against Israel when they reach the age of 16 or 17. They will use their own siblings and children as human shields.

As one Palestinian comedian put it: in Gaza hospitals they have a sign over the neonatal wing. It says, “danger, live ammunition.”

While many Jews see Israel as the realization of a long-anticipated return to our homeland, most Jews in Israel today come from Arab and Muslim nations. In fact, 99.5% of the Jews who lived in the Arab and Muslim world were driven out. Jews were ethnically cleansed from the Arab and Muslim worlds and now Jews see, entirely realistically, that many Arabs want to follow that ethnic cleansing with genocide – just as they tried to do in 1948, 1967 and 1973. In all the peace agreements discussed, Arabs are going to be allowed to live in Israel, but Jews are not going to be allowed to live in the West Bank or Gaza.

Given this my people must hold this land. We must not allow ourselves to be genocided after what may have been the world’s largest and most successful multinational campaign of ethnic cleansing. After what occurred in what we considered our homelands in Germany, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere, we have learned not trust others to guarantee our security. It is up to us.

Thus, we come to our present reality. Jews must resist to survive, but many Palestinians feel justice would only be served if we were to be exterminated.

This is why, from our perspective, Hamas’ actions must be followed by a lesson so convincing that Palestinian terrorists will not consider repeating their crimes for a generation or more. How else can we respond? If Palestinians are dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish people, then we will not come to peace,. Instead, we can only come to deterrence.

Sadly, those children who have died will probably not be the last to perish.

Deterrence is the only path in this moment. But deterrence remains a terrible thing. In 1982, the Assad family killed 40,000 people in Hama and Homs in a weekend. If they had not, the Alawites of Syria may have ceased to exist that very year. The Alawites may well have been slaughtered and erased as an ethnic group in that country (although many still live in Turkey and Lebanon). It took another 30 years, and the Arab Spring, before the Sunni rebels in Syria thought of triggering another uprising. When that uprising came, approximately 400,000 people were killed by government forces and their allies while the rebels killed about 200,000 people on the government side. Again, if the government had lost, the Alawites justifiably feared erasure. Many minorities in Syria sided with the government. From Christians to Shia, they feared genocide at the hands of a Sunni government.

But the Alawites didn’t ‘win.’ They only survived. And they suffered terribly for the crimes they were forced to commit. Reports from before the Arab Spring indicated that prison wardens in Tadmur prison – the most fearsome of the Syrian prisons – had to be regularly cycled through because the horror of what they were doing would overwhelm them.

Given this example, I pray that can find a path other than deterrence. The removal of the Palestinian population is one that is sometimes proposed. The argument is simple: If your people are our enemies, then we will expel you. This is the path taken by Ferdinand and Isabella. It didn’t entirely work. Spain suffered slave-taking raids for hundreds of years afterwards. As many as a million Europeans were captured. Only the United States effectively brought an end to these raids. Even if it had worked, we as Jews must ask ourselves whether we actually want to follow the example of the great Inquisitors.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Israelis – given a bit of distance from the atrocities that Hamas carried out – do not want to follow the path of Assad or that of Ferdinand and Isabella. We do not want to suppress the Palestinians, we do not want to rule them, we do not want to expel them. We do not want to maintain a grudge or maintain our anger. We are not angry at the Germans of today, despite what their parents and grandparents did. We want peace.

It is just that that peace cannot come at the cost of our existence.

Thankfully, I believe we have an option.

There are cities that have produced little or no terror. I have never seen a map that shows the origins of terrorists, but we all know places like Gaza, Jenin, Tulkarm and Hebron produce violence while others – like Jericho – do not. Lod had riots in the last war, but next-door Ramle – also a mixed city – was at peace. For years, it was understood that Palestinian-Israelis were not a source of terror. Despite widespread access to weapons, the Bedouin in the south rarely go on shooting sprees. In fact, over this last weekend, some Bedouin came to the rescue of Israelis.

Right-wing Jews are fond of saying that the Arab nation of ‘Palestine’ is a 20th-century creation. But Palestinians now identify as a nation, and so they are. Nonetheless, that collective is still somewhat artificial. Palestine is not an ancient nation, but a new one with a mythical history – somewhat like Germany in 1939 or Spain in 1492. Among Palestinians, different locales and different groups have different priorities. They can also have different relationships with us.

The very famous Nas Daily announced after the last weekend that he is no longer a Palestinian-Israeli, but an Israeli-Palestinian. He is not dedicated to our extermination, and he is not alone.

The situation is not nearly as simple as it may sometimes seem.

To further reinforce this, there is excellent evidence – known even among Palestinians – that most Palestinians from the villages are actually of Jewish descent. They are not only recently indigenous, they are indigenous in the same way we are: as people whose Jewish forefathers were here in the time of Rome, Babylon and Assyria. When the elites were expelled or slaughtered by Rome, they remained behind and they know it.

The situation is not nearly as simple as it may sometimes seem.

This is why I believe there is an off-ramp – albeit an imperfect one.

If we treat all Palestinians as belonging to one group, as sharing an ideology, then that will be the reality. We will reinforce the monoculture I wrote about in The Real Arab Nakba. It will continue to poison them. But if we can break apart that monoculture then we can repair some of the sickness in their society.

In my Constitution, I have a path for Palestinians to become citizens of the State of Israel. Individual municipalities, whether villages or cities, can elect to join the State. In order for this to happen, 80% must vote to join. Then they have to turn over those suspected of terror or incitement, their leaders have to abstain from terror or incitement for three years, and they have to establish a new border around their municipality and its lands. These will be borders that Israel will enforce. Finally, Israel has to accept them – due to the risk that subterfuge is at play.

For cities and villages that want to escape the conflict, this concept provides an off-ramp. I have put forward related like the Golden Bridge for Gaza that can work on a smaller scale. I even wrote and produced an audio story focused on this idea.

Despite these ideas, I know that these are imperfect off-ramps. It is clear that there are many Palestinian areas in which the dominant goal is, and will remain, the genocide of Jews. Arab society has far more internal social control than the West tends to realize is even possible (just imagine killing your own sister to protect your family’s honor…).

While I believe there are those who would choose the leave the conflict in this way, the Constitutional off-ramp provides no exit for those who cannot step away from genocidal dreams. It gives them no way out. For them, the future only holds the pains of deterrence and possibility of exile.

We like to look at Hamas and claim that they are unwanted leaders of the population of Gaza. That is a western pipe dream – an empty-headed hope. Their fighters are recruited from the population of the Gaza Strip itself. If they did not want genocide, their fighters would not have conducted their orgy of murder and their people would not have celebrated it. Their children would not mock our children, locked in tiny cages. If they do not want slaughter now, they can lay down their arms. Even in the past week, we have arrested many terrorists – instead of simply executing them on site.

Instead of stepping away from violence, Hamas members hold their own families hostage and they use their own people as shields meant to Israel back.

We can not allow such behavior to deter us. If we do, then we will only be encouraging their crimes. The Nazis did not get a free pass because they fought from within the villages of Belgium, France and Germany. Hamas will not get a free pass because they fight from within Gaza City.

I will argue, vehemently, that Israel be allowed to do what it needs to.

And the entire time, I will regret the necessity of Israel’s response.

In this week’s Torah portion, G-d protects Cain – the first murderer. One of his descendants argues that because Cain was protected for seven generations, he – a man who has killed both a man and a child – will be protected for seventy-seven generations. G-d’s failure to punish Cain eventually leads to the total collapse of society. Just before the Flood, we read:

And the earth was corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with Hamas.

In Arabic, Hamas means ‘zeal’, ‘strength’ and ‘bravery.’

In Hebrew, it means ‘corruption’, ‘violence’ and ‘theft’.

When murderers are not punished, when they are protected by the likes of the U.N. and the BBC, then their corruption spreads until it undermines all of us. They imagine it is zeal and bravery. We must see past that. We must see the truth – that is corruption, violence and theft.

If Hamas is rewarded for using using their own women and children as hostages, then their corruption will spread. The evidence is in Gaza’s own history – Hamas fighters have become ever more brazen as they have learned the power of hiding behind the skirts of their wives and mothers.

For the sake of all of our futures, and for the sake of the future children of Gaza, these murderers must be punished despite the hostages they have taken. If, just once, they realize no benefit from the use human shields, then the people of Gaza will be one step closer to freedom.

It is only after Hamas is crushed that we will be able to find a path to a better tomorrow.

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