Justice in Palestine is undoubtedly one of the most perennial, and intractable, issues from the 20th century still plaguing the Middle East. Achieving justice in Palestine is an Israeli cause, a Palestinian cause, an American cause, and a cause of anyone who respects peoples’ national rights and their rights to live in freedom and security. Both Israelis and Palestinians have acted irrationally in pursuit of these goals, be it Irgun terrorism in the 1930s or Palestinian uprising (Intifada) terrorism in the early 2000s. Both sides, too, have made some bold efforts to achieve peace, in such historic agreements including the Oslo Accords and the second Camp David talks.
But for all this symmetry, there is one blatantly asymmetrical element to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This element is a dangerous one, and it was illustrated most recently in last week’s Israel-Hamas war: there is a viciousness about certain Palestinian groups and ideologies that threatens to ceaselessly delay the opportunity to make peace. By viciousness I do not mean that these Palestinian elements have anything particularly evil or nasty about them. Without blatant and useless name-calling, I hope to touch on a delicate but hugely significant problem that I fear continues to haunt certain elements of the Palestinian people. Hamas, and its allies, by and large have a certain wrongheaded attitude towards human life, and towards Israel, that is anathema to the idea of peace and disastrous for hopes of a two state solution.
Perhaps the greatest indicators of this disparity are the contrasting messages Israel and Hamas sent the other sides’ civilians during the recent conflict. “The Israeli forces are not aiming at any of you and don’t want to hurt any of your family members. Because of this, you should evacuate from your home immediately and move to Gaza center,” Israeli leaflets warned on November 20th. This is the attitude of Israel’s military, if not of most of the Israeli public, towards Palestinian civilians. In stark contrast, Hamas sent Israeli civilians not a warning to stay away from military targets, but the following message: “We miss the suicide attacks. Expect us soon in bus stations and in cafes.” Undeniably, every war leads to civilian casualties, and Israel must be held accountable for each and every innocent Palestinian that was killed as a result of her actions. But Hamas, especially during this most recent conflict, did not harm civilians by accident or wind up killing them because of their proximity to military targets; they purposefully targeted Israeli civilians.
It gets worryingly worse. Hamas fabricated civilian deaths, using pictures of children killed in Syria and claiming that they were Palestinian, and filming innocents that they claimed to be wounded only to show the same person later without any injury. This lack of respect for death not only goes against Muslim doctrine, but against the rational standards of any military conflict. Too many Palestinians died; but this does not excuse faking images. It seems, though, that perhaps Hamas was eager to raise the body count. Hamas publicly executed over five of its own people for alleged collaboration with Israel. One of those shot dead in the street by Hamas militants on November 20th was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets of Gaza City. Just as disastrous, and ironically so, celebratory gunfire in Gaza on November 21st killed one more innocent Palestinian man.
Israel has in some shape or form been an “occupying” power for a significant part of its history; it has undeniably caused much hardship for Palestinian civilians. It has, in its military operations, caused the death of too many innocents (even one innocent is too much, as outlined in the Israeli military’s ethical code). But if it has done some of this knowingly, it has also done a lot of it apologetically, continuing to send humanitarian aid into Gaza while attacking Hamas militants and coordinating with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to cede more and more control over to the Palestinians. In all that Israel does, though, it is unthinkable for that country to shoot its own civilians and drag them through the street, to fake images of dead children, or to threaten Palestinian civilians. Hamas, a reckless and terrorizing government that the people of Gaza do not deserve, lowers itself to these levels, indicating a viciousness that is unbecoming of any people despite the grievance, and intolerable if efforts are to be made towards peace.
Palestinians know and expect Israel to act better; it is high time that Israelis can expect Palestinians to act better too. Civil resistance is justified for people harmed by their own government and still left with no state since 1948, but targeting civilians on either side, as Hamas does, is inhumane and indicative of why Israelis are not willing to trust in a lasting peace. There will always be the fringe settler, the radical extremist, who acts in savage ways. But a group, let alone a government, that acts in savage ways is indefensible by any human rights standard the world has ever known. The Palestinian people, the Israeli people, and the global community deserve better. To move closer to achieving justice in Palestine, the Palestinian people must first free themselves from the ways of Hamas, their own worst enemy.