A Dishonorable Opponent
I commend my colleagues Mr. Silberthau and Mr. Fattal on their civil discourse concerning the recent abductions and murders that dramatically raised tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. However, with the initiation of an air strike campaign in the Gaza Strip by Israel and an intensification of rocket fire from Hamas, the focus of this debate is now squarely upon Gaza.
Hamas, while democratically elected, is recognized by Western nations as a terrorist organization. Sympathizers and supporters of Hamas often tout the fact that it was put it in power through a democratic process as proof of its legitimacy. However, with the resumption of military action in Gaza, the question at hand is not Hamas’ philosophical right to govern, but their actions. As I stated in no uncertain terms in a recent debate on U.S. Middle Eastern policy, “terrorist groups that are democratically elected are still terrorist groups.”
One could think that being democratically elected increases the legitimacy of Hamas’ actions, but in actuality being elected only serves to spread the culpability. Let us take Hamas at their word: if they were in fact elected to lead Gaza through fair and open elections, then, barring a severe case of voter’s remorse, the civilians of Gaza share the culpability for Hamas’ terrorism.
I would advise the reader to think very critically about what I and the mainstream international community mean when we use the term “terrorist”. Palestinian sympathizers often use terms like “resistance” and “freedom fighters” to describe Hamas. There is undoubtedly a very fine line between a guerilla group/resistance and a terrorist group, but that line is still crystal clear: an individual or group is engaging in terrorism if they intentionally direct harmful force against civilians unrelated to the military in order to sow fear amongst a people.
During the Second World War, many civilians were killed on both sides by bombing campaigns, but this was in a case of total war. In total war, the lines between soldier and civilian are necessarily blurred; a civilian working at an oil refinery or tank factory regrettably becomes a fair target, even if they were press-ganged into service. Following such regrettable destruction, the modern rules of war, as observed by civilized nations, mandate that belligerents must not intentionally kill civilians or kill them through negligence. In other words, nations at war must do whatever they can to limit civilian collateral casualties, as we have seen Israel demonstrate well with its warning leaflet campaign and novel “knock on the roof” technique. Neither is foolproof, but they are a best attempt to reduce civilian deaths, and for that Israel should be commended; it should be noted that such practices would be much more successful and much less necessary if Hamas did not routinely use civilians as human shields.
However, Hamas does not play by these civilized rules. Hamas consistently launches rockets directed towards civilian areas of Israel, terrorizing the population. These rockets are crude and unguided; Israel developed an ingenious defense system—the Iron Dome—to intercept incoming rockets, but the threat still exists. Saying that, with such a system, Israel should simply ignore the rockets is the epitome of malarkey, akin to saying that a person wearing a bulletproof vest should not mind that his neighbor regularly shoots at him. In fact, I would go so far as to deem Hamas’ usage of such a weapon system anywhere near civilian areas to be categorically wrong. Hamas could say that they are “attempting” to strike legitimate military targets rather than civilians, but the indiscriminatory nature of its rocket fire places civilians in mortal danger regardless; thus, this is a case of informed and willful negligence. Hamas may wish it had more discriminatory weapons systems, but they simply do not, and so choosing to fight against their technologically superior neighbor with what they do have necessarily results in them committing war crimes for which they should be held fully culpable.
It is difficult to know precisely whether Hamas launches rockets to target military installations (and civilian areas only coincidentally end up in the line of fire—after all, they are just colonialist pigs, right?), to intentionally kill Israeli civilians, or to spread fear and terror amongst the Israeli population, but that is not eminently important because all three constitute nothing short of barbarism.