Tuesday, 22 July 2014


I don't know whether it's my age or the fact that I'm a father now, or something else entirely, but the stupidity of the latest bout of killing in Gaza has struck me - and by "struck me" I means struck as in being on the receiving end of a blow, rather than struck as in "it struck me that I'd left my keys on the sideboard" - more than any other conflict I can recall. I don't think I'm alone either - my Facebook news feed is full of Youtube videos from Gaza showing apartment buildings being turned into rubble and re-posted news reports of Palestinian deaths. There is table after table listing Palestinian deaths and injuries opposite the much smaller numbers of Israeli deaths and injuries, as though some sort of horrific games is being played which the Palestinians are both winning and losing.

But there's something else. The vast majority of social media posts I've seen avoid any mention of the bombardment of Israel with rockets by Hamas.

That's understandable, to an extent. Hamas's attempt to kill Israelis has so far failed, more or less. I think as I write this that two Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the conflict escalated. Israel's attempt to target Hamas has failed in the opposite sense, killing people who probably have little or no involvement in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

But not mentioning what Hamas is attempting to do gives Hamas an implied moral authority that it has done absolutely nothing to deserve. Hamas wants to kill Israelis. Its public statements on that subject seem to have varied over time, and if you have a look on the website of the military wing of Hamas at the moment, it is careful to refer to its rocket attacks as being aimed at military installations. But to be honest you do not need to look at why Hamas says it is firing rockets at Israel. You only have to acknowledge the fact that it is firing rockets at Israel; rockets which can be aimed with no more precision than a bonfire night firework. And every time someone posts or publishes something describing the Israeli attack on Gaza without also mentioning Hamas's attacks on Israel, Hamas is being given a little pat on the back and being told that because it is doing such a poor job of achieving its aim of killing civilians, it is ok to go right on trying.

I can't imagine a more stupid approach to take in relation to Hamas. This is an organisation which prides itself in dealing with absolutes. It isn't a plucky underdog, fighting against overwhelming odds to secure a fair deal for Palestinians. It is a bunch of idiots betraying the trust of the people that it shares the Gaza Strip with on a daily basis, perpetuating the awful, cynical lie that attacking Israel will somehow make things better for Palestinians.

Let's look at that in a bit more detail: As far as I can see, Hamas's thinking follows two strands: First, it knows that firing rockets at Israel might kill Israelis. As I've said above, I think the fact that Hamas pursues this goal when it has the opportunity to do so is evidence enough that is is an aim of the organisation. Second, it knows that firing rockets will lead to an Israeli response, which in turn will lead to Palestinian deaths, which in turn will give Hamas headlines that it can use to weaken Israel's international standing. I'd hope that if you're reading this, you are hoping that you will live to see either a Palestinian state and Israel existing peacefully next to each other, or better yet a single state where Palestinians and Israelis both participate in a government and civic society that meets everyones' needs, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. And I'd also hope therefore that you'll follow me when I say that the last thing that you, I or anyone else should be doing is encouraging a lying, murderous, nihilistic organisation which glorifies the deaths of Palestinians but takes action directly leading to those deaths to believe that is it fires enough rockets and kills enough people, it will be able to dictate terms to Israel.

Hamas is morally bankrupt. It lies to everyone - to Palestinians and to the world at large. It knowingly perpetuates the idea that a military struggle will lead to victory over Israel, rather than the impoverishment and suffering of everyone in Gaza.  Hamas responded to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal first of all by continuing to fire rockets at Israel and second of all by suggesting that it was rejecting the ceasefire agreement because it would not allow it to claim a victory over Israel and it didn't like the way that it found out about it.

"In times of war, you don't cease fire and then negotiate." is how Hamas's spokesman Fawzi Bahum put it. Referring to the fact that the current Egyptian government no longer has the level of contact with Hamas that predecessors did, Sami Abu Juhri (described by the Washington Post as a "senior Hamas leader") said "We are holding in our hands a proposal that we got off social media. We refuse to be dealt with in such a way."

No-one should be encouraging Hamas to behave in this way. The establishment of a safe, prosperous Palestinian state  is going to take guts, wit and intelligence. Its going to need an ability to build bridges and accept compromises. It's going to need people who will start talking to their counterparts in the Israeli government and stick around to discover what they have in common, not throw their toys out of the pram because someone suggests negotiations without preconditions. I am sure there will be idiots in the Israeli government who will do their own bit to make things difficult. There will also, I am sure, be steps backwards every bit as bad as the Omagh bombing that followed the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998.

But the best way of dealing with setback, however terrible, is to engage and negotiate constructively. Every contact between Hamas and the rest of world should be aimed at encouraging and rewarding this approach.