Hamas is Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

In an interview on Palestinian TV on July 14, 2014, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, addressed a question to Hamas. “What” he asked “are you trying to achieve by sending rockets (against Israel)? We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.” Even if his second statement is dubious, his question was answered by Hamas which parenthetically refers to him as a “criminal” and speaks of him, in what must come as a surprise to Benjamin Netanyahu as a “member of Likud.”

The simple answer of Hamas is that it is trying to kill as many Jews as possible and to eliminate the State of Israel. It proclaims, in a bizarre mixed metaphor, it will “raze Israel to the ground, exterminate the cockroach’s nest, and banish all the Zionists.” It is a call for genocide.

On any rational view Hamas should be otherwise engaged. In 2005 Israel withdrew all the 21 settlements with their 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip, and also all synagogues. The sensible thing would have been the promotion of the Gaza beachfront on the lines of Tel Aviv. Instead, the Strip became the site for housing and then firing rockets. Since Hamas took power in 2007 it has launched more than 5,000 rockets against Israeli civilians. Even the most “evenhanded” observers must find this “disproportionate.”

The barrage of rockets launched against Israeli civilians in July 2014 must also be regarded as “disproportionate.” A commentary on Hamas aggression has come from an unexpected and improbable source, Ibrahim Khreiseh, PLO Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council. He declared that the Hamas missiles “now being launched against Israel -- each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, because it is directed at civilian targets.”

In spite of the rhetoric and actions of Hamas, many in the “international community” persist in a stance of moral equivalence holding Israel and Hamas equally to blame for the fighting. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu explained the asymmetrical behavior, “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.” 

Apart from its uncontrollable hatred of Jews, it is difficult to explain the belligerent aggressiveness of Hamas at this point. Many of the countries in the Arab world are in turmoil and cannot approve or support Hamas aggression. Hamas, and indeed all Palestinians, should recognize that their issue of self-determination or statehood is no longer central, even rhetorically, to the Arab agenda.

The Arab countries are in general preoccupied with their own problems, their local interests -- feuding tribal clans, bitter confessional rivalries, and resistance to Islamist fanaticism. More specifically, four of them, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, are in a condition of chaos, and can barely be called “states.” The terrorist group Hizb’allah dominates Lebanon. This makes the official government unimportant, and the condition of Christians perilous. The brutal civil war in Syria has led to 200,000 deaths and millions uprooted, causing a refugee problem affecting Lebanon and Jordan.

By contrast, Israel, though it has its own internal problems, is a stable, modern state. It is now obvious that Israel is the only state established after World War I that is connected historically with a people and with a land.

Jewish occupation of the land has been traced back to at least the 12th century BC., eighteen centuries earlier than the arrival of Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula. After the end of the Israeli Kingdom, the land was occupied by a number of different ruler but some part of the indigenous Jewish population remained. After World War I the land was transferred from Ottoman Empire to the control of the Allied Powers.

The map of the Middle East was redrawn, delineating the boundaries of new states, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen. However, the inherent problem since then is that the boundaries did not reflect the demographic and religious reality on the ground.

The existing Arab states are artificial creations and have little relation to any particular people. Iraq became an independent country in 1932, Syria and Lebanon in 1943, and TransJordan in 1946. They do not resemble modern nation-states. This is not to deny the Arab contribution to world culture in the past, in subjects as well as their control of territory. Arabs were once important in mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and architecture, Cities such as Cordoba, Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo were metropolises of creativity, with relative tolerance of minority groups.

The decline of the Arab world, apart from the oil-rich states, since then has been difficult to explain in any simple way. Various factors are relevant: economic and social disparities, inferior position of women, high birthrate, displaced peasants, high unemployment, patriarchal culture in deference to elders, poor education, illiteracy, colonial intervention favoring Westernization, and the understated reality that Islam has handicapped any process of modernization.

Arab history has been a continuing series of brutal dictatorships, undemocratic autocracies, religious persecution, confessional tensions, and wars. The truth, now universally understood, is that the post World War I Arab states have not made a success of nation-building, nor do they have acceptable boundaries. They remain challenged by internal rivalries. The border between Syria and Iraq has not really existed since 2012, nor has the Syrian-Lebanese frontier.

Three important changes have occurred. The Kurds have reasserted their demand for an independent state, now virtually in existence in northern Iraq. A second is that the Christian presence is being eliminated: in 1914 Christians in the Middle East numbered about 20 per cent; they now account for about 5 per cent. The third, the forerunner of danger to come, is the establishment of an Islamic state.

That state extends from eastern Syria to western Iraq and aims to expand in the future to include, as a minimum, the areas of Palestine-Israel. The terrorist group ISIS declared the area it controlled, the province of Anbar and Fallouja, a caliphate, to be called State of the Islamic Caliphate, and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed Commander of the Faithful, the leader of all Muslims, the successor to the Prophet. However it is doubtful that his claim will be accepted by other Muslims, especially by the rival terrorist group al Qaida and its affiliates such as AQAP in the Arabian Peninsula. But the new state is now a major center for Islamist jihadists. 

Hamas appears to be unaware of the dramatic changes in the Arab world, and even of the virulent Islamist extremism. The Western world is aware of these developments and is now even more aware of the relentless aggression of Hamas. The Obama Administration should follow the advice of the PLO delegate in Geneva and call for action against Hamas, guilty of criminal behavior.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.