[First published on July 25 at my JPost blog.]
TV screens, newspapers around the world and the social media are full of images and stories highlighting the suffering of Gaza’s population during the current fighting. Audiences everywhere are encouraged to focus on the “voices of the victims,” and the implication is usually that they are victims of Israel’s merciless onslaught against Gaza.
While I and virtually all of my Israeli friends would agree that at a time like this, there is undoubtedly much heartbreak in Gaza, many leftists worry that Israelis don’t feel enough empathy for the suffering of Gaza’s civilians. Writing in Ha’aretz under the appealing title “Humans of Gaza, Humans of Tel Aviv,” Josie Glausiusz rightly argues that we risk losing part of our own humanity if we forget that people in Gaza are human just like we ourselves are. She emphasizes that she has no sympathy for Hamas, citing the paper’s columnist Chemi Shalev’s description of the terror group as a “cruel, fanatic, fundamentalist, reactionary, totalitarian, misogynistic, Holocaust denying, human rights-abusing, anti-democratic, anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic movement that embraces terror, sanctifies martyrdom, glorifies death and condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden.” However, Glausiusz also believes there is an important “but,” for which she cites Sari Bashi, founder and former executive director of Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement: “Gaza is not Hamas.”
This is obviously true; indeed, a recent survey – taken before the current escalation – indicated that Hamas was becoming very unpopular, though another recent survey showed that Islamic Jihad was gaining support in Gaza at the expense of Hamas. But the fact that these two terror groups together have the support of a solid one third of Gaza’s population still means that some two thirds of Gazans may have “moderate” political views.
Unfortunately, however, it is not at all clear that this matters much in a situation like the current one.
I have already described in a previous post that a young doctor from Gaza, who spent much time sharing the suffering he encountered in his hospital on Twitter and on BBC Radio, adamantly opposed a cease-fire that would not meet the demands of Hamas. In the meantime, Dr. Dabour has continued to share heartbreaking stories of the suffering endured by his fellow Gazans, but when the terror organization Al Qassam Brigades claimed a few days ago that it had captured an Israeli soldier (who is missing but presumed dead), Dr. Dabour declared jubilantly that it had all been worth it:
Dr. Dabour was not alone: the claim triggered widespread celebrations and it didn’t take long before Hamas released a song to mark their purported “achievement” and “Ramadan victory.” The “song” was also promoted by the supposedly “progressive” Ali Abunimah, whose Electronic Intifada was hyperactive in putting out claims about Israeli atrocities and stories of unimaginable suffering in Gaza.
These reactions reminded me of a remark by the well-known Palestinian psychiatrist and award-winning peace and human rights activist Eyad Sarraj. According to the documentary “The Gatekeepers”—a film that was widely praised for providing harshly critical views of Israeli policies – Sarraj explained during the time of the bloody Al Aqsa Intifada that, irrespective of the price they have to pay, Palestinians regard it as a worthwhile “victory” to make Israelis suffer.
As I have argued after previous rounds of fighting against terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, there is plenty of evidence that Palestinians are indeed willing to put the ideology of Islamist terrorist “resistance” above their own well-being. They may want empathy from others, but if they have the feeling that the “resistance” of Hamas and Hezbollah leads to Israeli suffering, they are only too willing to brush off whatever they have to endure. As Dr. Dabour put it so chillingly: all sorrows – hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded – are “forgotten” as soon as the Qassam Brigades claim to have abducted a single Israeli soldier. Or, as implied in Sarraj’s remark: Palestinian suffering doesn’t matter as long as it leads to Israeli suffering.
That is of course the ideology of Islamist terror groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad – and whenever they decide to drag Palestinians in yet another round of war, most Palestinians seem to embrace this masochistic stance. As long as this remains the case, our empathy with grieving families in Gaza should not distract from the fact that those who are buried in Gaza – just like those who are buried in Israel – are the victims of a jihadist death cult.