Barry Rubin’s (as usual) brilliant take. I’ll add my comments later, but well worth the read.
Sympathy for the Devil and the Gaza Sea Confrontation: How Can Helping a Repressive Fascist, Genocide-Intending Hamas Regime be Noble?
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By Barry Rubin
“Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.”
–The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”
Is it so hard to guess the name? Is it so difficult to understand the nature of the game? Apparently so.
“Israeli assault complicates efforts to improve relationship with U.S.,” says the Washington Post. “Israeli Raid Exacerbates Regional Tensions and Threatens Peace Process,” claims a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
And so the blame is placed. Yet why should either claim be true? After all, neither the U.S. government nor the Palestinian Authority is friends of Hamas and its reign in the Gaza Strip. Both have had their people murdered by Hamas and that group, an ally of Iran, wants to drive the former out of the region and overthrow the latter.
Hamas has oppressed the people of the Gaza Strip, murdered Palestinian Authority supporters in hospitals and thrown them off roofs, driven the Christians out, taken relief supplies for its own soldiers, launched a war on Israel in December 2008 that caused avoidable death and destruction, used civilians as human shields and mosques for ammunition dumps, indoctrinated children to be suicide bombers, and repeatedly announced its antisemitic views and an intention to wipe out Israel and massacre its people.
For some, none of this makes any difference though–to be fair–the media they get information from may not have presented these facts. For those on the left, Hamas should be considered as a fascist organization which they passionately oppose. For those sympathetic to human rights or women’s rights, or many other good causes, Hamas should be anathema.
What should be paramount, then, is an international determination to overthrow the Hamas regime. After all, while it had earlier come in first in elections, it staged a coup and overthrew what was perceived as the rightful government of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority. To do such a thing would—to paraphrase the Carnegie report—reduce regional tensions and aid the peace process lead to an independent Palestinian state. Yet this rather obvious idea simply does not seem to have occurred to any Western government or elite.
So instead there is a policy, albeit an eroding one, of isolating Hamas and denying it at least some supplies and money, demanding that it accept the idea of real peace with Israel and cease the use of terrorism. Even this seems too much for many people and, increasingly, for some governments.
In the face of this very profound and essential wrongness, precisely what measures Israel takes toward a half-dozen vessels seeking to break the blockade that much of the world supports seems a rather secondary issue.
Then there is the confrontation itself.
It is unlikely that the clash between Israeli forces and revolutionary Islamists on a Turkish vessel carrying Hamas supporters and supplies to Gaza is going to change anything at all in terms of the politics and issues of the regions. Yet these events tell us a lot about international thinking nowadays and the tactics used by the revolutionaries who want to transform the Middle East and turn it into Islamist totalitarian states.
Everything I’ve written above would, in many circles, be considered shocking. Yet it is all obviously demonstrably true and profoundly valid for the conduct of international affairs. If any North American or European country had done the same thing as Israel, it would be excused. If any other Third World country did so, it would be ignored.
Why does the Israel-Palestinian conflict continue? The Palestinians. If the Palestinians stopped fighting there would be peace; if Israel stopped fighting there would be even more war.
Why were people killed in the sea off of Gaza? The Islamist-led forces there. Because–as was shown with five of the six ships–if they didn’t fight nobody would be hurt but if they assaulted Israeli soldiers, the latter would defend themselves.
This isn’t the first time a revolutionary movement has deliberately sacrificed people for a perceived benefit to the cause. Indeed, Hamas does that all the time. But it might perhaps be the first time it has fooled so many people. Or, perhaps I should see the second, given international reactions to the 2008-2009 war in the Gaza Strip. And the more successfully Hamas (and Hizballah) uses such tactics, the more people they will get killed in their pursuit of international sympathy and support.
Recognition of these facts is necessary for democratic societies that intend to survive. And yet that is not at all what is happening.
Now events have gone one step further. In order to pursue their goals, Hamas wants to escape from its isolation and win international support for both its regime over Gaza and in its struggle against Israel. And what are these goals? Ruling the Gaza Strip forever, seizing the West Bank and putting the Palestinian Authority leadership in front of a firing squad, obliterating Israel and committing genocide on its Jewish population, creating a totalitarian Palestinian state, destroying Western influence in the region, and helping to overthrow all the existing Arab governments as a junior partner of Iran.
This might be expected to bother a lot of people, especially in the West, especially on the left, especially among intellectuals who benefit from living in free societies. And yet that’s not necessarily true either.
As part of its effort, Hamas supporters organized a six-ship convoy to bring supplies to the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip has always been a poor area, even compared to the West Bank. Despite ruling over the area for more than a decade while receiving a huge amount of foreign aid in comparison to the size of the population, the Palestinian Authority did little for the people. It led them into an unnecessary five-year-long destructive war in 1999 that only made things worse for them.
Hamas has now ruled the Gaza Strip for about five years. Yet it has preferred continued war with Israel, a full-scale military mobilization, and hardline policies rather than working for the development of the area and jobs for the people.
Yet who is blamed for the status of that area today?
The blockade has definitely had a downward effect on living standards in the Gaza Strip. And of course there are two blockades since Egypt’s government, which doesn’t want Hamas’s close associates, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to seize power and execute is leaders, also maintains an embargo.
But there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. That can be easily proven. Israel allows a great deal of supplies to cross over. That can be proven. Hamas destroyed the border economic zone’s facilities thus denying Gazans jobs. That can be proven. And there is a lot of smuggling across the Egypt-Gaza border which makes up for a good part of the deficit. There is even a humorous angle to all of this, like the way Israel supplied electricity to the Gaza Strip for years even when the bills weren’t paid and Hamas was firing rockets at it.
And of course if Hamas were to change its policy in real terms there would be no blockade at all.
The purpose of this flotilla was not, of course, to help the Gazans but to get publicity for ending the blockade altogether, strengthening Hamas, and hitting at Israel. The organizers were offered the chance to land in Israel and, after inspections, see the supplies go across the border. That would have been at least a partial victory for them but they weren’t interested. Or they could have landed in Israel and the Egyptian government would have immediately sent all the supplies into Gaza. But they weren’t interested in that either.
A state of war exists between Israel and Hamas. To give aid and comfort to the Hamas regime is to help an enemy sworn to Israel’s destruction. Why should Israel facilitate that? The answer might be, to help the people of Gaza who are suffering. But they will go on suffering until the day that Hamas no longer runs their lives. And there have been many people suffering because they are ruled by a government like that of Germany or Italy in the 1930s and 1940s. The British and Americans bombed them steadily and did everything else to kill, injure, and starve them in order to win World War Two. In comparison, Israel has been remarkably restrained.
And the longer Hamas rules there the more they will suffer. It is only a matter of time until Hamas engages in a new war. Indeed, the sympathy for Hamas and the buying of its lies about Israel by so many in the West increase its confidence in the value of going to war again in the virtue of remaining extremist.
After all, if its strategy is working why should Hamas change it? And if Hamas believes that it can win world opinion to be against Israel, and thus destroy Israel, all the more reason to be willing to force Gazans to fight for decades and generations.
And so there was no way that Israel would let the ships land in Gaza. And the activists, who put helping Gazans as a far lower priority than helping Hamas wanted a confrontation and the hardest line ones wanted casualties, martyrs to water the soil of revolution.
Shouldn’t Israel have denied them that opportunity? Were mistakes made? Certainly, though they may be less than many think. For example, take the argument that Israel could not act in international waters without breaking international law. That’s nonsense. Blockades all the way back to the British one against Napoleon—and more recently the British blockade during the Falklands crisis and the U.S. blockade of Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis—have worked that way.
Indeed, the most important thing about a blockade is that it must be effective to be accepted by others. Once Israel let in those ships, why should anyone else—including ships carrying military supplies—be deterred? And in Gaza, even pipes (used for making rockets) and cement (used for building block houses and other military positions) are war materiel.
Did the Israeli authorities underestimate the chance of violence? Well, they were 81.6 percent, that is, five-sixths, right. Five of the six ships surrendered peacefully and were taken into port. Only one resisted. Two soldiers had their guns grabbed as they were beaten and stabbed. Reportedly, those hard-core Islamists who seized the weapons opened fire. One day we will know how many of the casualties were armed and how many were shot by their “colleagues,” not Israeli soldiers. Will that detail be widely disseminated?
Some of those on the ships were no doubt well-intentioned humanitarians. But they weren’t the ones who were determined to attack. Those directing the shipping operation were revolutionaries intent on supporting their Hamas comrades. The atmosphere among the Islamists is demonstrated by the talk of martyrdom and jihad. Indeed, al-Jazira broadcast the chanting of slogans about a new “Khaibar” and the return of “Muhammad’s army,” reference to the massacre of the Jews in seventh-century Arabia and the selling of the women and children into slavery.
There are, then, two main ways to see these events. One is of a group of humanitarians who just wanted to help people and were mistreated by evil Israel. The other is the perspective offered here, of the attempted manipulation of international public opinion by a combination of those intent on evil and those who don’t recognize the nature of its game.
Which one better explains these events, and what went before them, and what will come after? Given the facts, there can’t be much doubt that allying with and assisting Hamas, the closest thing to a fascist ideology and behavior in today’s world, is not a great moral act. If you want to have sympathy for the devil, so to speak, at least know who you are helping
There is a statement attributed to the British political philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Burke supported America’s revolution but was horrified by France’s bloody upheaval that resulted in terror and murder. He understood that in order to be a humanitarian one had to have accurate judgment and to distinguish between actual good and evil dressed up as good.
Actually, what Burke wrote is even more apt for the present day, in which democracies are threatened by a tidal wave of lies, hate, and dictatorship: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”