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This is not about ‘liberating’ Palestine

There is no excuse for the left’s ignorance about Hamas’s genocidal aims.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics Politics World

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One thing should be abundantly clear following this weekend’s massacre of hundreds of Israelis: these actions had nothing to do with ‘freeing’ Palestine. The immediate goal of Hamas, the Gaza-based terrorist group responsible for these atrocities, was to terrorise Jews. Its longer-term objective is the creation of an international Islamic order. The claims that this has anything to do with fighting Israeli oppression are morally repugnant.

From the warped perspective of Hamas, this weekend’s brutal killing spree was a spectacular success. As of Monday morning, hundreds of Hamas infiltrators have slaughtered at least 700 people and wounded more than 2,400. The vast majority of those killed have been Israeli Jews, although some Muslims and foreigners have been caught up in the atrocities. Hamas also claims to have kidnapped over 130 Israelis and taken them to Gaza.

There were multiple scenes of terror across southern Israel this weekend. The largest-scale atrocity was an assault on a music festival on Saturday, where at least 260 young partygoers were slain. Anyone who thinks that this slaughter is remotely connected to the goal of liberating the Palestinian people has, at the very least, a moral void in their hearts.

There is no excuse for the widespread ignorance about the murderous goals of Hamas, or indeed of similar groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. To understand Hamas’s motives, you only need to read or listen to what it says about itself. You do not need to take the Israeli government’s word for it. Nor do you need to speak Arabic. There is a significant amount of material translated into English that spells out precisely what Hamas is really about.

Take the Hamas Covenant, the terrorist group’s founding document, from 1988. It is littered with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Here, for instance, is just one choice quote:

‘They [the Jews] were behind the First World War, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind the Second World War, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state [Israel]. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.’

The Hamas Covenant also includes explicit references to killing Jews. For example, it attributes the following saying to the Prophet Muhammad: ‘The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’

Some defenders of Hamas have argued that its 2017 manifesto, ‘A Document of General Principles and Policies’, has superseded the 1988 charter. It is true that Hamas modifies its language in the newer document. Rather than using explicitly anti-Semitic language, it adopts the language of the left in some places. Article 14, for instance, says that ‘The Zionist project is a racist, aggressive, colonial and expansionist project’.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to suggest that this marks a fundamental change in orientation. Nowhere in the new document does it say that the 1988 charter should be rescinded. The founding covenant’s basic principles remain intact – as does Hamas’s explicit goal of destroying Israel.

Moreover, senior Hamas leaders have repeatedly made anti-Semitic speeches over the years. The MEMRI project has translated several of these into English. As recently as May 2021, a senior Hamas leader called on Palestinians to decapitate Jews. This was not the first time he had made this call, and he is not the only Hamas leader to have done so.

One thing that Hamas has no interest in securing is national self-determination for the Palestinian people. That would certainly be a worthy cause. But what Hamas really wants is to destroy Israel. It sees this as an essential step towards creating an international Islamic order.

Even the name that Hamas has given to this weekend’s barbaric attacks – Operation Al-Aqsa Deluge – gives the game away. This is a reference to the mosque in the centre of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is considered to be the third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. By choosing this name, Hamas is claiming to be acting in the name of all Muslims, rather than Palestinians specifically. This was reinforced by Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, who on Saturday appealed to the whole Islamic world to join his battle against Israel.

The current conflict in and around Israel is not a contest between the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to national self-determination. It is a battle between Israel and a nihilistic terrorist movement whose stated goal is to slaughter Jews. Under such circumstances, anyone who regards themselves as pro-freedom and pro-human should support Israel’s right to defend itself. And yes, that ought to include anyone who is critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people, too.

Yet all too often, we see the opposite in the West. Those who consider themselves on the left are typically the most willing to ignore or excuse the genocidal policies of Hamas.

Take just a few examples. The eminent American feminist Judith Butler argued back in 2006 that ‘understanding Hamas and Hezbollah [the Lebanese Islamist group] as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important’.

Back in 2009, Jeremy Corbyn, who would later become leader of the UK Labour Party, described Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’. Admittedly, he did backtrack on that statement when he was called out on it several years later. But the fact that he would entertain such a notion in the first place is still staggering.

Even in the wake of this weekend’s massacres, some on the woke left have been more than willing to excuse Hamas’s barbarism. Rivkah Brown, the commissioning editor of Novara Media, tweeted that ‘Palestinian retaliation is wholly inevitable and entirely justifiable’.

But there is simply no excuse for this treatment of Hamas as freedom fighters or as a national-liberation movement. It should be clear, from its own statements and activities, that it is openly committed to the mass murder of Jews.

One reason the barbarism of these Islamists is so often ignored or downplayed by Western leftists is that Israel itself is now cast as a malevolent force. In woke circles, Israel is frequently condemned as the epitome of evil – as apartheid, colonialist, fascist, imperialist and racist. In this warped view, Israel is not just a country that has policies one might disagree with, it is the bane of humanity.

Most of the charges levelled at Israel make little sense. Take the accusation that Israel is engaged in a ‘genocide’ of the Palestinian people. The dictionary defines genocide as ‘the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political or cultural group’. Yet the population of the Gaza strip has actually grown from 394,000 in 1967, when it was taken over by Israel, to about two million today. That is a more than a five-fold increase over 56 years. There is no prospect of reasoned debate with those who claim such a huge population increase can be described as a genocide.

None of this means that Israel is beyond reproach, of course. There are many reasons to criticise its policies and its treatment of the Palestinians. It is also possible to find examples of extremist Israelis who have made outrageous, racist statements about Palestinians.

However, the mass murder of Palestinians has never been Israeli policy. On the contrary, despite what is so often claimed, the Israeli state has generally been extremely wary of taking Palestinian life. For example, in 2021, the last time there was a large-scale conflict between Israel and Hamas, 236 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza strip. Many of those would have been Palestinian combatants. Some would have been killed by Hamas rockets falling short of their targets. Given Gaza’s high population density and Israel’s military capacity, the Palestinian death toll might have been much higher had Israel not exercised significant restraint.

Such restraint stands in sharp contrast to Hamas, which loudly and proudly declares its goal of butchering Jews en masse. Tragically, it succeeded this weekend, with many hundreds slaughtered.

The fact that many on the left have failed to criticise Hamas, or are even lauding its atrocities, is a sign of a moral compass that is truly beyond repair. The tragic events of last weekend confirm without doubt which side in this conflict represents barbarism.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami. He is speaking at a session on Israel at 75 at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on 29 October.

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