I am not usually inclined to use this space for what others might call a “rant.” But this day, I feel there are some points that need to be made.
Today, Hamas claimed responsibility for the murders of four Israeli settlers along a West Bank road. One good friend of mine questioned why I use the term “murder” rather than killing. Another good friend spoke of the need to put the killings in “context” of occupation and the ongoing crimes attached thereto.
And so, I was motivated to write, because when I hear these things from good people I start to wonder about our moral compass.
Why is this murder? Well, it seems to me when gunmen ambush a car full of civilians (yes, even if the civilians are criminals) and shoot them to death in cold blood, outside of anything that could remotely be called a combat situation, that’s murder.
Settlements are criminal; they are impediments to peace and encroachments on land that does not belong to Israel. They cause enormous human rights violations to Palestinians. But those who live in them have not thereby forfeited or in any way diminished their right to keep their lives.
I don’t see, quite frankly, what is so complicated about this. Hamas’ diabolical act today was not an act of desperation. It was not a cry from an oppressed and occupied people. It was a calculated act of murder, intended to further Hamas’ political goals. Was their goal, as many assume, to derail the direct peace talks before they even got started? Was it, as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum “…meant to highlight the failure of the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel?” Whichever it was, the tool Hamas chose to further their goal was murder.
If an Israeli soldier or settler willfully kills a Palestinian outside of a combat situation and without immediate provocation, we rightly show zero tolerance for that. And we rightly call it murder. This is no different.
And some may argue that we in the peace movement should contextualize this so people can understand the need to end the occupation.
Nonsense. Sure, this act wouldn’t have happened if the Israelis weren’t there, but the occupation is simply wrong, and must end. Let’s not send Hamas the message that the way to convince Israel of that is to kill civilians. It’s just what they want to hear, and they will no doubt happily comply.
I suspect for some on the left – those who have been bending over backwards to make the case that Hamas is reasonable and really not the right-wing, reactionary sort of group that most in the West believe – there will be scrambling to criticize the act while at the same time saying it is understandable and to be expected because of the occupation.
That is wrong-headed and shows just how far some of us have wandered off the path. An act like this is never understandable, it is never justifiable and there is no context in which it is anything less than cold-blooded murder.
An attack such as this one leveled at soldiers is also illegal and unjustifiable. But in this case, along the roads in the South Hebron Hills, it is not hard to find Israeli soldiers. This attack was therefore directed quite intentionally at civilians, despite the fact that it need not have been.
On every level, this was a heinous act. Anyone who fancies him or herself a progressive should have no trouble condemning it unequivocally, just as he or she would if an Israeli soldier knowingly and intentionally shoots a Palestinian in Gaza carrying a white flag. There is no moral difference between the two.
And yet, too many on the left will downplay the horrific nature of this act and somehow continue to make excuses for Hamas.
We’ll also know that we’ve made progress when it is politically feasible for the Palestinian Authority to condemn such acts for being wrong, not just because they are against Palestinian interests (which they most certainly are) but simply because they are wrong.
I have said (and am even currently working an article to reiterate) that it is necessary to talk to Hamas, to bring them into a unified Palestinian government. That is a practical necessity. But today’s act reminds us that we in the US and our fellows in Israel may have to do that, but we should never forget who it is we’re dealing with. And we who work for peace and justice must keep in mind that these principles apply to all, and we should stop romanticizing those, like Hamas, who would commit such acts as the one that they committed today.