The Gaza micro quasi-state is at war with Israel. Here is how it happened: In 2007 the Hamas organization took over the tiny Gaza strip in elections that were considered fair by the many observers on the scene. It’s true that there are constitutional technicalities that make the Hamas government of Gaza illegal. Again, that’s a technicality. The fact is that it’s a legitimately elected government by the standards of most civilized countries. It’s one of the most legitimate governments in the Arab world again, according to democratic criteria.
Hamas did not take anyone by surprise. It has had a clear if somewhat tedious charter from its inception in 1987. The charter contains a well-publicized program for action. The heart of the program is the establishment of an “Islamic state” over an ill-defined region extending from Egypt in the South to, and perhaps including, Lebanon in the north, as well as Syria, or maybe not. To the East, it would reach the Jordan River and possibly, maybe again, absorb the current Kingdom of Jordan. The boundaries of the projected Islamic state are vague but not that vague. The area clearly includes all of the territory of Israel, with the big cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, of course, etc. That’s all of Israel. Hamas does not have territorial claims against Israel as say, France had against Germany between 1870 and 1914. (In 1870, Germany had taken the eastern province of Alsace and half of Lorraine which France regained in 1918.) Hamas has no such claims because it simply wants to eliminate the sixty-year old political entity, the state of Israel.
An Islamic state is a sovereign entity that is explicitly undemocratic and under the rule of sharia, a body of law largely developed in the eight century. There are diverse interpretations of what constitutes proper sharia. Some versions allow for the stoning of adulterous women and they define an adulterous woman has any woman who has sex outside of marriage. Of course, that would be almost all my female neighbors and friends. The concept of an Islamic state especially excludes any notion for what we call separation of church and state. There is no church under Islamism because the church is the state.
What of the millions of Israeli citizens, you might ask? Here again, Hamas is clear. First, let me say that contrary to a common perception, to my knowledge, neither the Hamas Charter nor any high-ranking Hamas leader has ever announced any intent to exterminate the population of Israel, or even parts of it. Again, the charter is specific. Hamas would separate current Jewish inhabitants of Israel from its large Arab minority (25% of the population). It would further split the Jews between those who have roots in the region, and those who do not. The region is ill-defined but about half of Israeli Jews have roots in Arab and Muslim countries. Most of the other half are Europeans in origin (Ashkenazis). Israel was created though their vision and their tenaciousness. Middle-eastern Jews came in later, pushed by Arab persecution (Egypt, Iraq), or simply by the inability of Arab states to protect them (Morocco, Yemen). The Ashkenazis would be deported by force to the region of their origin, presumably.
What would happen to Israeli Jews of middle-eastern origin? Well. Hamas explains limpidly how they would be treated as “dhimmis,” second-class citizens of the Islamic state with restricted rights and forced to pay special taxes. It sounds fair to Islamists because that’s exactly how other non-Muslims would be treated, as long as they were Jews or Christians. (No pagans of any sort allowed.) So, the many Christian Arabs now living in Israel, all full citizens of Israel, and the few remaining in the West Bank, would have the same status as the remaining Jews. That would include the Christian Arab population of Bethlehem, for example.
Those are the political-legal intentions of Hamas. If you think I am making this up, please check. There is a link on this blog to an English version of the Hamas Charter. It’s been up for two years and no one has ever protested so, I have to think it’s a valid translation. Reading recommendation: It’s almost impossible to go through the whole boring, poorly written charter. I made myself do it once because I am a scholar. I found myself plunged into the mental world of the ninth century. The part about the Islamic state and the treatment of religious minorities is toward the end. Jump straight to it; you won’t miss much.
The Hamas declaration of permanent war on Israel is not the only proof that Gaza is actually at war with Israel. After all, Hamas might just have a big mouth like many others in the area. (By the way, I have been listening to Hamas for years. I have learned to take the organization seriously. Hamas leaders are the furthest thing from hypocrites and blow-hards.) When it comes to ascertaining war, facts also speak: Hundreds of missiles have been shot at Israel from the Gaza strip since the Israel evacuated it totally, unilaterally, without conditions in 2005. The fact that they are mostly low-quality missiles does not make their launching less of an act of war. Missile are not flowers; they are not even rocks. And the quality of Gaza missiles shot at Israel might change tomorrow. Iran has good short-range missiles. Its President has declared publicly several times that he would like to kill Israelis. He is a friend and protector of Hamas.
Three years ago, (might be four; it does not matter), someone from Gaza entered Israel, killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped a third. That third soldier is still held in Gaza as I speak. What would I do if someone from Watsonville, California, came into Santa Cruz, California, seven miles away. killed two local cops, took a third back into Watsonville and held it for three years, I ask myself? I might be in favor of the fire-bombing Watsonville after a while, just to encourage the return of the kidnap victim. I think that would be fair.
That’s the problem, someone always says, whenever Israel does anything to punish Hamas, innocent civilians suffer. First, of course, that’s not true, plenty of finely targeted Israeli killings of Hamas leaders. (By the way, I don’t want to distract you, but how do you think the Israelis get the precise information necessary for individually targeted assassinations?) Second, remember not-so-far-off history. After being attacked, the United Kingdom and the United States fire-bombed Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo. Messina in Sicily was razed to the ground. Then, the US destroyed two mid-sized Japanese cities with atom bombs. Many innocent civilians died horrible deaths. They paid a huge price for having allowed blood-thirsty, aggressive political elites to gain power in their countries. Those who died under Allied bombs probably included some who had tried to oppose the villains’ rise.
The present Gaza population is no more innocent of Hamas’ acts and intentions than were Germans, Italians and Japanese of WWII of those of their monsters. War is very bad. That’s why you shouldn’t start it or even threaten it. Electing a group that trumpets that it will annihilate your neighbors is stupid; it’s also criminal. It gives the neighbors a moral right to do you much harm if they can. If you want war and act on it, your children will suffer. It will be your fault.
Against this background of war, Israel’s actions appear remarkably mild. It maintains a blockade at sea against Gaza. It enforces a selective embargo on goods entering Gaza by land. It’s stopping weapons and ammunition but also a broad range of materials that can be used both for aggressive purposes and for innocent purposes such as fertilizers (that can be made into explosives). There is also a punitive intent: flour gets trough the embargo but instant coffee and several spices don’t. Good thinking, I say.
Pro-Palestinian “pacifists” have never been able to explain rationally what is wrong with this restrained, moderate, modulated act of war. If you were young and uninformed (largely a redundancy) you might think the Israelis deprive Gaza of some supplies because they are mean. The fact is that the British blockade of Germany is what finally put and end to the murderous World War One. Another fact, one little remembered is that its forces where in France when Germany submitted to an armistice in 1918. The threat of starvation is what did it. The blockade saved the hundreds of thousands of lives a continuation of the war to a finish would have required. That would have included many German lives.
As I write, it’s possible to imagine that international pressure, or the Turkish Navy, will dismantle the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza. What will come next?Will Israelis throw up their hands and agree to be eradicated? Will they kiss and make up with the Hamas leaders who have sworn on their faith to expel half of them and to turn the other half into second-class citizens of an oppressive, medieval polity? And , by the way, if you were the most pacifist of Israeli pacifists, and given how it runs its micro-state of Gaza, would you trust Hamas to put you peacefully on the ship to Miami or Marseilles? This is a real question. Don’t skip it.
You are just not thinking, pacifists and sweet-hearted liberals. That goes for you, Professor H. R.
There is little comment on the liberal media about the fact that Egypt also maintains an embargo against Gaza on the part of the border it controls. Egypt is a large, powerful Arab nation that is at least 90% Muslim. How can this be?
There is an article in the Wall Street Journal today by a high-level Israeli military analyst. (Ronen Bergman,“ Siege Fatigue and the Flotilla Mistake,” WSJ, p. A1, 6/2/10 .) He argues that Israel has already lost completely the public relations battle on a world-scale and that it might well focus on its armed defense. Make sense to me. Maybe, there is a lesson for the US in this.
Addendum 6/4/10 The great Charles Krauthammer plagiarized me today in his column. I am flattered although he gave me no credit! His column was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel of 6/4/10 but also in hundreds of syndicated papers nation-wide