I met a Hamas commander in 2010 when I visited an Israeli prison holding convicted terrorists. What he said to my group through a fellow terrorist translator captures the real reason why Israel is fully justified in its response to the vicious and evil October 7 attacks by Hamas.
Israel is being encouraged to respond “proportionately” (or not at all) by those who are claiming a moral equivalence between Hamas’ terrorist attacks and Israel’s military response. The claim that a proportionate response is required is in fact an argument from Just War Theory. But the laws of war are only being applied to Israel and not to Hamas.
Hamas has violated nearly all the prescriptions of Just War – their just cause (elimination of Israel and the Jews) is not a legitimate one; their terrorist attacks are not a last resort; their leadership is not competent or just; they do not humanely treat their prisoners of war or distinguish between civilian and military targets; and they perform acts that are evil by nature.
Hamas’ just cause, as they claim it, is not only the question of Palestinian authority over their divinely promised lands (“waqf”) or throwing off the Israeli blockade of Gaza. It is the complete annihilation of the Jewish people. Despite some public statements to the contrary, it is in their 1988 charter and clearly that goal is held personally by Hamas leaders.
Inside the Israeli prison, we asked the commander a series of questions in light of two important concepts: hudnah, a temporary truce to rebuild and fight again, and salaam, a state of peace and harmony where all people have become Muslim.
“What would happen if the Jews left the West Bank and Gaza?” (part of the typical two-state solution). His response: “hudnah.”
“What if the Jews were expelled completely from Palestine?” (the waqf, ‘from the river to the sea,’ from Lebanon to Elat). His response: “hudnah.”
“What if all the Jews on earth were dead?” His response: “salaam.”
Think about that.
Probably the greatest just cause that a nation can have is fighting for its very existence. A proportionate response is one that equals the severity of the threat, not the body counts on both sides. A ceasefire and a negotiated peace right now would mean hudnah, a chance for Hamas to rebuild and attack again with their final solution in mind. Although they changed their charter in 2017 to consider a two-state solution, a legitimate question is whether Hamas would ever give up – in words and deeds – its commitment to destroying the Jewish people. The events of October 7 show that they have not given up.
Along with its unjust cause, Hamas is fighting an unjust war. The laws of war require that state actors follow certain norms of behavior when they fight.
One is that a nation must discriminate between civilians and legitimate military targets. For more than a decade, Hamas has fired rockets at Israeli civilian centers. In contrast, Israel does more than any other country to avoid civilian casualties – e.g., warning them by phone and air-dropped flyers to evacuate before they destroy a building. Hamas makes civilian casualties inevitable by building tunnels directly under hospitals and placing rocket and missile launchers in or near mosques, schools, and UN buildings. In complete disregard of its own people, Hamas wants to create civilian casualties to win the global PR battle.
They violate their own commandments. We asked the Hamas commander whether the Quran would legitimize targeting women and children. He said no. Yet previously he had directed a suicide bombing against a Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, which killed sixteen innocent people including seven children and one pregnant woman. On October 7, Hamas terrorists clearly targeted civilians including babies and the elderly.
Another requirement is that one refrains from taking actions that are mala in se – things that are evil in and of themselves. Nobody can disagree that raping women and beheading children and hostages are evil deeds. Hamas is following the twisted ISIS social media playbook, and they want to bring that shock and horror to Israel and the world to enrage the West.
If the Palestinians as a people wish to be treated as a viable nation state, they must act like one. That means jettisoning the corruption and evil of Hamas and following the laws of war. But the Western idea of the laws of war is based on the Judeo-Christian tradition, explicitly rejected by the divine mandate Hamas claims to be following. The ongoing Israel-Hamas war is more than a local or regional conflagration, it marks a point of serious conflict between Western ideals and ultra-conservative Islam.
This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.
Dr. Tom Copeland is the Director of Research at the Centennial Institute. He is the author of Fool Me Twice: Intelligence Failure and Mass Casualty Terrorism, and editor of Drawing a Line in the Sea: The 2010 Gaza Flotilla Incident and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He writes regularly on public policy and the intersection of politics, culture, and religion. The views expressed by the author are his own and do not represent the views of Centennial Institute or Colorado Christian University.
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