The Washington Post's Jerusalem bureau chief, Howard Schneider, does a commendable job in writing about the growing dilemma facing Hamas in Gaza as this terrorist organization is caught between a rock and a hard place -- how to improve miserable conditions for ordinary Gazans while waging war against Israel ("For Hamas, Challenges May Be Growing -- Shootout With Splinter Group Suggests Movement Faces Tough Options, Analysts Say").
But in reporting the violent attack by Hamas forces on a mosque in Rafah in which an anti-Hamas, Qaeda-like, ultra-fanatical outfit, the "Warriors of God," was holed up, Schneider gives Hamas a pass for failing to exercise due diligence to prevent unnecessary casualties. By the Post's own account, when the clashes ended, 22 people were dead, including one child, and 125 were wounded. While most of the fatalities appear to have been members of this splinter group, including its leader, it's unclear how many were actually non-combatants. In any event, Hamas's tactic of moving in with grenades and blazing machine gun fire showed little regard for how much collateral damage might be occasioned -- or whether such a direct assault was necessary at all.
Hamas, which prides itself as a deeply religious organization dedicated to the teachings of Allah, thought nothing of desecrating a mosque and shedding human blood inside.
And what was the provocation? The "Warriors of God," while critical of Hamas for not being sufficiently observant of the Koran's dictates, had refrained from any violent attacks on Hamas. They had gathered in a mosque, with their arms, and proclaimed Gaza as an Islamist emirate. And that was enough to trigger the lethal assault on the mosque.
Schneider quotes Hamas officials as saying "they had little choice but to confront such a direct challenge...It was a total violation of the law and a revolt against the government."
But was this Hamas's only available option once they had surrounded the mosque? I don't think so.
Remember back in 2002, at the height of the second intifada, when dozens of Palestinian terrorists who actually had engaged in violent conflict with Israel holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to escape arrest? Israel didn't move in with guns blazing. Instead, it waited the terrorists out for 39 days in order to spare damage to a holy site, while terrorists inside looted the place of valuables. In the end, under a negotiated deal, the terrorists came out and agreed to go into exile in Europe and Gaza. The church was spared and, while there was some exchange of sniper fire, casualties were relatively minimal.
Why couldn't Hamas have followed Israel's example? And why didn't Schneider ask the likes of Human Rights Watch or the UN Human Rights Council, which at the drop of a hat accuse Israel of "war crimes," whether they are ready to investigate if Hamas committed any war crimes in using maximum violence to eliminate a political opposition group. Did Schneider check with Bishop Tutu or Jimmy Carter if they feel that Hamas acted commendably in this instance?
And if not, why not?
Why this double standard by the Washington Post, which eagerly gins up story after story about purported Israeli "war crimes" but lets Hamas off the hook in its use of firepower against a hostile group, which according to U.S. jurisprudence, merely exercised its First and Second Amendment rights -- the right of free speech and to bear arms?
Schneider, however, seems singularly disinterested in calling Hamas to account -- in sharp contrast to his hyper-critical treatment of Israeli counter-terrorism operations.
In fact, his piece actually suggests that Hamas may have been justified in blasting its way into the mosque -- without regard to how much innocent blood would be spilled or whether it was necessary at all to proceed this way. Schneider ends by giving the last word to Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas spokesman:
"We are a liberation movement with an Islamic hue. We are not the Taliban or al-Qaeda. We like law and order."
Next time, Israel retaliates against terrorist attacks, will Schneider also give the last word to an Israeli official declaring "We like law and order"?
Don't bet on it.