Israel vs. Hamas: An Irreconcilable Conflict

Jun 26th, 2021 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Senior columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Ari Shavit, has written that the 20th century was “the most dramatic century in the dramatic history of the Jews.  In its first half, we lost a third of our people.  But the second half of the century was miraculous.  In North America, we created the perfect diaspora, while in the land of Israel we established modern Jewish sovereignty.  The Jews of the 21st century have today what their great-grandparents could only dream of: equality, freedom, prosperity, dignity.  The persecuted people are now emancipated.  The pitiful people are now proud and independent . . . [Israel] is the demography of hope: an almost extinguished people renewing itself.” Shavit also documents the staggering success of the Zionist movement in Israel:  “In 1897, approximately 50,000 Jews lived here.  Now the Jewish population exceeds six million . . . In 1897, Jews living in Palestine represented only 0.4 percent of world Jewry.  In 1950 we accounted for 10.6 percent.  In 1980, 25.6 percent.  Now we make up almost 45 percent.  The historic project that aimed to congregate most of the world’s Jews in the Promised Land has had mind-boggling success.  Today, the Jewish community in Israel is one of the two largest in the world.  Given current trends, by 2025 the majority of the world’s Jews will be Israelis.”

But, as the most recent 11-day war with Hamas has once again demonstrated, the greatest existential threat to Israel remains militant, Islamic terrorism, bent on the destruction of Israel.  Prominent among such groups is Hamas.  Some historical background:  From 2000 to 2003, violence exploded across Israel in what has been called Intifada II.  It has also been called the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” because in September of 2000, Ariel Sharon, the leader of the Likud Party in Israel, visited Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which incited a massive violent response from the Palestinians.  The violence was dreadful, for it included numerous homicide bombings killing dozens of Israeli citizens.  Seeking to kill or capture the terrorist leaders, Israel retaliated, in what was known as Operation Defensive Shield, by invading Palestinian cities, refugee camps and other terrorist hideouts.  Israel even blockaded Arafat’s compound in Ramallah.  In addition, the new Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, implemented a different strategy, the physical separation of the Palestinians and Israelis.  An immense security fence, and in some sections a wall, were built during 2003-2004—and the terrorist violence and homicide bombings ended.  Further, Sharon ordered the Israeli evacuation of the Gaza Strip, turning it over completely to the Palestinian Authority in the summer of 2005.  In 2006, elections in Gaza were held and Hamas won a resounding victory.  Today, Palestinian control of the disputed territory is divided between the Palestinian Authority (the West Bank) and Hamas (Gaza).  The PA continues to negotiate with Israel; Hamas refuses to do so.

As with the first and second Intifadas (1987-1991 and 2000-2004), the Palestinians, especially Hamas, are challenging the result of 1948, when Israel defeated the Palestinian militias, along with Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and established the nation-state of Israel.  In that deadly time about 700,000 Palestinians were uprooted.  This is now called the Nakba, or “catastrophe.”  As Benny Morris argues correctly, “For Hamas, the current round of hostilities is merely the latest effort to chip away at the Jewish state, bit by bit, with the ultimate purpose of destroying and replacing it with a fundamentalist Islamic polity.”  Since Hamas won elections in Gaza in 2006 and took full control in 2007 (forcing out a more moderate Palestinian leadership), Israel has been locked in a seemingly never-ending cycle of war with Hamas.

Most of the world regards Hamas as a terrorist group.  Egypt along with Israel have enforced a crippling blockade on Gaza—to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons and war material.  Hamas remains a major threat to Israel’s existence because it still has about 8,000 rockets and several hundred rocket launchers.  It houses these missiles in schools and mosques, sets up headquarters in the basements of hospitals and fires its missiles from sites next to apartment buildings and hotels housing foreign journalists.  This can prevent Israel from returning fire or, when Israel does retaliate, Hamas wins the propaganda battle disseminated by television and the social media.  As Walter Russell Mead demonstrates, Hamas remains committed to merging Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into a single state under radical Islamic governance.  In their worldview, there is no two-state solution, no one-state solution, no confederation with Jordan, etc.  Hamas desires to extinguish the Jewish state of Israel.  So, the only way there will ever be any other alternative but war is for Israel to humiliate and decisively defeat Hamas.  Therefore, the US must support Israel’s strategic objective to do so.

In the most recent conflict a few weeks ago, Hamas fired its unguided rockets indiscriminately at Israel’s residential areas.  Israel was much more careful in its artillery barrages and bombing raids.  Israel even called Palestinians in Gaza to warn them of an imminent bombing raid.  In addition, many bombing raids were canceled because of potential civilian casualties.  Israel’s primary target was the 250-mile tunnel network that allowed the militants to hide from airstrikes, move around without detection by Israeli drones, and to launch rockets from underground facilities.   One Israeli officer declared Israel managed to achieve more in 50 hours this spring than it did in 50 days in the 2014 conflict.

As Mead argues, four new realities now characterize the Israeli-Palestinian struggle:

  • A new strategic alignment between Israel and a bloc of conservative Arab states, including Egypt and much of the Persian Gulf.  That “alignment has cut the ground out from under Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and pushed Hamas and other radical groups in the Palestinian movement closer to Iran.”
  • Iran and Turkey have replaced the Arab world as the most important allies of the Palestinian movement.  The current Gaza war is, among other things, a proxy war between Israel and Iran.  Hamas’s rocket barrage attempted to test the Iron Dome, helping Iran figure out whether Hezbollah’s 100,000 plus missile arsenal can overpower Israel’s missile defense system.
  • America has less leverage than in recent memory.  The chief goal of the Obama and Trump administrations had been to reduce America’s Middle East footprint.  The Biden administration seems committed to this as well.  For all three administrations, the rising power and influence of China in Asia seem to be the reason.

This most recent conflict has once again demonstrated that every rocket that Hamas fires proves that it is not interested in anything but the destruction of Israel.  Hamas is more interested in firing rockets than improving the lives of Gazans.  Its rival, Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) in the West Bank has not done much better.  Because Hamas is a terrorist group, the subsequent blockade by Egypt and Israel has resulted in Gaza being cut off from the rest of the world.  Gaza struggles to keep the lights on and its tap water is filthy.  Unemployment hovers around 50%.  The world says negotiations are the solution.  But with whom is Israel to negotiate?  Hamas has no interest in negotiations; it only wants Israel’s total destruction.  Fatah?  The Palestinian Authority has no popular support and is incompetent, corrupt and ineffectual. But Israel has one power on its side—the power of God.  In Ezekiel 36-37, God declared that He would bring His covenant people back to their land.  He is doing so!  No human power on earth can thwart God’s commitment to His covenant people.  He will fulfill His unconditional covenant promises to them!

See Ari Shavit, “The Real News From Israel” in the Wall Street Journal (30 November-1 December 2013); Ari Shavit, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2013), p. 387; Benny Morris in the Wall Street Journal (22-23 May 2021); Patrick Kinsgley and Ronen Bergman in the New York Times (22 May 2021); Walter Russell Mead in the Wall Street Journal (18 May 2021); The Economist, (15 May 2021), pp. 10, 38-39; and Bret Stephens in the New York Times (14 May 2021).

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