Faced with the onslaught of rockets that Hamas has rained down on Israeli cities since May 10, it is impossible to avoid asking a few simple questions: What does Hamas hope to gain? What is it seeking? What is its war strategy?
It can’t be the end of the “Israeli occupation,” because there has not been a single Israeli soldier stationed in Gaza since the withdrawal engineered by Ariel Sharon in 2005. Ergo no occupation, colonization, or territorial dispute of any kind.
Given the continuous fratricidal war that has simmered between Hamas and its “brothers” on the West Bank since the former wielded terror to take control of Gaza two years later, the goal obviously can neither be to show “solidarity” with the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.
Nor can it be the “blockade” that is supposedly strangling the enclave, and this is so for three reasons. First, Gaza has not one but two borders with the rest of the world, so the “anti-blockaders,” if they were sincere, should also consider Egypt, which controls Gaza’s southern border. Second, of the two borders, the one with Israel is the less closed, since it allows daily passage, even in wartime—of water, gas, and electricity. As well as the hundreds of trucks that supply the enclave’s everyday needs. Not to mention the flow in the other direction of hundreds of Palestinian civilians who come into Israel each day to receive medical treatment in Tel Aviv’s hospitals. And third, since the blockade affects only items that can be used to produce military equipment like what is now being used to attack Israel, all that Hamas would need to do to lift the blockade would be to cease the attacks, which, only serve to tighten the blockade.
Hamas has no clear objective that might be the subject of a dialogue and eventual compromise.
More precisely—because “objective” can be translated in two ways in Carl von Clausewitz’s language—it has no Ziel (a concrete, rational aim about which the antagonists could negotiate during and after a ceasefire), but it does have a Zweck (that is, one strategic objective, which is the reaffirmation of its utter merciless hate and intended annihilation, spelled out in its charter, of the “Zionist entity.”
I ask myself another simple question, as should others, whenever thousands of demonstrators take to the streets in Paris, London, or Berlin “to defend Palestine.”
Is it the death of Palestinian civilians that bothers them? If so, it is hard to understand why they are silent when it is Palestinians who are pursuing, tormenting, gunning down, assassinating, or using artillery to attack other Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel or Fatah.
Are they concerned with human rights, everywhere and under all circumstances? Then one wonders why, without going all the way back to the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda or the massacres of Muslims in Bosnia and Darfur, we hear nothing from the protesters in defense of the Uyghurs being “cleansed” by the Chinese dictatorship, the Rohingyas being “displaced” by the Burmese junta, or the Nigerian Christians being exterminated by Boko Haram and Islamist Fulanis. We hear nothing about the violations of human rights being committed on a grand scale in Afghanistan, Somalia, Burundi, and the Nuba Mountains, places I’ve visited and know well and where it’s not hundreds, but thousands, and even tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians who are dying from conflict, some at a simmer, some at a boil.
Are the demonstrators outraged by the indifference of a complicit West that allows a Muslim city to be bombed? If so, why didn’t they spill into the streets to show their solidarity with the Kurds of Kirkuk, assaulted in October 2017 by planes financed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards? Or with the Kurds of Rojava bombarded by Erdogan in 2018 and 2019? Where were they when Syrian cities were barraged by the planes of dictator Bashar Assad, supported by those of Vladimir Putin, with a savagery seldom seen.
However you look at it, there are crowds of people in France, the United States, and Great Britain who are not truly interested in human rights, forgotten wars, or even the Palestinians. They simply seize the opportunity to demonstrate only when it enables them to kill two birds with one stone and chant “down with Israel” or “death to the Jews.”
Faced with such hypocrisy, I am proud to say that I have not changed my position for 50 years.
The number of civilian victims of the absurd, criminal war started by Hamas breaks my heart. And even though the Palestinians’ claim to statehood is of relatively recent origin, even though it is regrettable that their leaders have not used the billions in international aid and subsidies they have received to take even the tiniest step toward forming a government worthy of the name, I believe the Palestinians have the right to a state of their own.
But not if it’s just one more tyrannical regime.
Not if it’s a gangster state that takes its own people hostage, that makes them live in an open-air prison, and—every three or four years, when its political grip becomes wobbly—sacrifices a new contingent of human shields so that it can use their martyrdom to refurbish its lost legitimacy.
And finally, not if that state has no reason to exist except to serve as a launching pad for rockets intended to destroy Israel.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than 30 books including The Genius of Judaism, American Vertigo, Barbarism with a Human Face, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, and The Empire and the Five Kings. His most recent book, The Will to See: Dispatches from a World of Misery and Hope, was published on October 25, 2021 by Yale University Press.