The Road to Total Isolation: Reflections on Hamas’ Response to 17 April Tel Aviv Attack
During my time working as a news editor in the West Bank, I learned that the Hamas movement came closer to abiding by the Cairo Declaration (a multilateral peace treaty signed by Palestinian factions in March 2005) than any other signatory. While the movement did commit some infractions, most observers were surprised by its unprecendented level of restraint. During the summer of 2005, Hamas, which in previous years lead the way in terror attacks against Israel, stood by in the wake of two separate shooting incidents during which radical Israeli settlers murdered a total of nine Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. Nor did Hamas retaliate when nearly 1,500 of its members were arrested during large scale arrest raids throughout the West Bank in September and October. The absence of Hamas’ militant activity seemed to indicate that the movement sought to bolster legitimacy and credibility and demonstrate its willingness to act as a political movement capable of disavowing violence. At that point, Hamas appeared to be focused on the parliamentary elections, which it won by a substantial margin in January.
While I feel no practical or ideological affinity for Hamas and its agenda, I believe that movement’s recent ascendance was in line with democratic principals. Palestinians, fed up with years of Fatah’s corruption and ineptitude, turned out en masse to cast votes for something different. Hamas, while notorious in Israeli and international eyes for its egregious terror attacks, concurrently provided a wealth of social services to the poorest elements of Palestinian society.
Feeling abandoned and manipulated by Fatah, Palestinians came to respect Hamas, the leadership of which lived alongside refugees in camps throughout the territories. Fatah officials lived in the house on the hill, driving luxury cars and sending their children to European boarding schools while average Palestinians lived in squalor. Considering this, I believe that Hamas’ victory had little to do with increased fundamentalism and militance among average Palestinians and everything to do with the common person’s frustration with Fatah’s corruption and inability to procure peace and prosperity. Palestinians did not view Hamas as a God send, but the lesser of two evils.
In a recent piece about Hamas’ electoral victory I argued that the movement would moderate its anti-Israeli positions as a result of the broader Palestinian desire for peace. My view in the article was that owing to Hamas’ popular mandate, the strong desire for stability among Palestinians would force the movement to modify its charter and negotiate with Israel. While I maintain that this prediction is accurate, I could not help but lament over Hamas’ reaction to Monday’s attack.
I support Hamas’ right to rule on the basis of democratic idealism, not because of agreement with its ideology or practices. I would argue that any party, in any county has the right to rule if the populous elects it democratically. In recent months, I’ve argued with people contest this assertion and insist that Hamas is nothing more than a terrorist organization that has no business in the political sphere. During such exchanges, I’ve touted Hamas’ record in abiding by the Cairo Declaration and its unrivaled restraint on occasions at which many armed brigades, including those affiliated with Fatah, would have reacted. The remarks of Hamas officials in the wake of Monday’s attack made it increasingly difficult to continue arguing on the movement’s behalf.
Bombing civilians, let alone those who reside dozens of miles from the combat zone is never an act of “self-defense.” In fact, in the context of Israeli-Palestinian violence, such actions are anything but defensive considering that they almost always provoke an Israeli military response. I am well aware of the conditions that lead young Palestinians to bomb themselves in marketplaces. At times, I’ve felt as though I could empathize with their complete and utter desperation. The acts, however, are no way to win wars. Hamas’ willingness to condone the murder of innocents only negates the few legitimate credentials it earned over the last thirteen months. The reaction of senior officials after the bombing made me question my own commitment to democratic ideals. I expected more from an organization that is known throughout the territories for their unrelenting pragmatism.