From Huffington Post by David Harris
For a number of diplomats and
journalists, predictable story lines have emerged, as the most recent round of
Israel-Hamas fighting continues into its fourth week.
At best, the struggle is essentially
a Hatfield-McCoy feud. It just goes round and round and round. No one at this
point remembers why it began, but no one is prepared to end it, either, so the
two sides, basically indistinguishable from one another, just keep at it.
At worst, it's a tale of the strong,
Israel, against the weak, Hamas. Thus, the relentless focus has become the
damage inflicted on poor, defenseless Gaza, as well as the comparative body
count, as if the side with the higher number of casualties is, by definition,
in the right.
In reality, though, neither version
comes close to the truth.
It is too intellectually lazy, not
to mention dangerous, to stand on the 50-yard line and assert that the two
combatants -- a democratic nation seeking nothing from Gaza other than a quiet
border, and a terrorist regime calling in its Charter for the elimination of
Israel -- are little more than mirror images of one another.
And to render judgments solely
according to body counts would have made Nazi Germany the hapless victim and
the U.S. the brutal aggressor. Among wartime civilians alone, the ratio of
victims was close to 100 Germans for every American killed. Among soldiers, it
was also strikingly (and fortunately) lopsided.
What's glaringly missing in all this
discussion is the ability of some to grasp the true nature of Hamas.
Not that it should be so difficult.
After all, Hamas is largely an open book. Yet too many, from the Brazilian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to BBC, don't seem willing to read the pages of
Instead, they resort to such
traditional tools of observation as blindness, denial, or projection.
They refuse to see, even if that
doesn't stop them from rendering judgments.
Or they look but don't allow
themselves to be persuaded by the facts staring them in the face, finding
comfort instead in airtight beliefs, ideologies, and presuppositions.
Or they succumb to projection,
believing that everyone else would act in particular circumstances just as they
would, thereby not allowing for the possibility of alternate patterns of
An example: An outsider might say
that she would never allow her children to go a school which is also used as an
arms depot. Unthinkable. And most assuredly, therefore, no other mother or
father anywhere would, either. Hence, the Israeli assertion that Hamas uses
schools to store weapons must be sheer propaganda. After all, no Gaza parent in
her right mind would do what she and all her friends in Boston, Berlin, or
Brasilia couldn't conceivably even begin to think about.
But it's precisely this failure of
imagination that gets to the root of the matter -- this unwillingness, or
inability, to accept another pattern of behavior so contrary to our own that it
challenges our most basic assumptions.
It's happened before, of course.
Most tellingly of many historical
examples, when Hitler came to power in January 1933 and until his invasion of
Poland in September 1939, for 80 months the Western world was treated to one
example after another of governments, scholars, and journalists who simply
couldn't, or wouldn't, grasp the true nature of the Third Reich or its
Here, too, Hitler didn't exactly
hide his world view in "Mein Kampf" or his speeches, but his words
were too often dismissed, minimized, or deemed hyperbole.
As many as sixty million people paid
with their lives, not to mention the wounded, displaced, and exiled, for this
failure of imagination.
Hamas in its Charter calls for the annihilation
of Israel. The Charter also has some pretty revealing things to say about Jews,
the West, women, etc. It should be required reading before anyone offers a
comment on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Is what's written in that document
just meaningless, distracting, or irrelevant, or might it actually be a key to
understanding what's going on?
In the same spirit, Hamas uses
schools, including UN-run educational institutions, to hide weapons. That's why
Israel has no choice but to enter these compounds.
The fact that this positioning of
arms caches seems beyond imagination for many outside Gaza is beside the point.
It is a stark reality, one Israel must confront.
The same with hospitals and
It wouldn't for a moment occur to us
-- indeed, the very notion would be so utterly repugnant -- to violate the
sanctity of medical facilities by using them for terrorist headquarters,
transportation, or storage. But this is precisely what Hamas does, again
forcing Israel to take action.
And what about houses of worship?
Well, why be so generic? After all, there are no synagogues in Gaza and only a
handful of remaining churches, since Christians have had a hard time of it at
the hands of the ruling jihadists. So, yes, mosques are also being used as an
integral part of the terrorist infrastructure.
How could that possibly be? For us,
houses of worship of any religion are deemed sacred spaces. Surely, this must
be an Israeli fabrication. Yet it isn't, not at all. To the contrary, evidence
abounds of the use of mosques in the Hamas war waged against Israel.
Hamas with its wily PR and a
gullible, sometime intimidated, diplomatic and media community in its thrall,
rushes to show damage to schools, hospitals, and mosques, as if any
destruction, ipso facto, is proof of Israeli culpability.
And what about the use of civilians
in the Hamas campaign?
Again, it's way beyond our
imagination to think that women and children could be exploited as human
shields, indeed be placed, willingly or unwillingly, in the crosshairs of the
conflict to protect the Hamas masterminds, and, of course, to draw world
sympathy, especially if this vulnerable population gets added to the casualty
At the end of the day, our corner of
the world is about the affirmation of life. That defines the core of our being,
the essence of the societies we aspire to build, and the way we conduct
ourselves. Even if we sometimes fall short in practice, it doesn't change the
How then can we possibly make the
mental leap to another place -- the world of Hamas and the other members of its
jihadist family tree, from Boka Haram to Hezbollah, from Islamic Jihad to
al-Qaeda -- who fantasize about death, and who yearn for "martyrdom"
and the lure of the life in the hereafter?
Countries, institutions, and
individuals far from that world may be lucky in their geography, but they have
a profound stake, whether they realize it or not, in Israel's success. What
Israel faces is increasingly surfacing elsewhere as well. European countries,
for instance, are now waking up to the fact that thousands of their citizens
are fighting in Syria and perhaps Iraq as well. Many will one day return to
England, France, and Germany. What will they do next? Well, we have at least
one answer. The suspect in the May murder of four people at the Jewish Museum
in Brussels was a French resident who had indeed fought in Syria.
Israel is on the front line against
an adversary that few understand. It is an enemy that plays by different rules
entirely. Accordingly, Israel has to adapt in order to survive and fulfill the
most basic function of any government -- the protection of its people.
Others may suffer from a failure of
imagination. Israel, however, cannot.
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