‘They too have casualties, they too have captives and they have mothers who weep … Let’s make real peace”. Not a liberal peacenik speaking from the safety of London or Washington but Yaakov Argamani, whose daughter Noa was taken hostage by Hamas at a music festival near Re’im on Israel’s border with Gaza.
I hope I never have to face the torment that now engulfs Yaakov Argamani. But if I do find myself in as dark a place as that, I hope to possess even just a strand of his humanity and moral clarity.
What makes Argamani’s comments so startling is not just the depth of his empathy, especially from a place in which the desire for vengeance would be so understandable, but also the contrast with so much of the commentary over the past week.
Many have celebrated the murderous actions of Hamas gunmen. And many, even if they refrained from rejoicing, have tried to justify those actions. You have to put Hamas’s actions in context, they argue, to view it as part of the Palestinians’ long struggle for their own state, and as the product of the repression they have faced.
Yes, there is a historical context to Palestinian violence, and Palestinians continue to suffer from Israeli repression. There is, though, no context in which the mass murder of more than 260 revellers at a music rave, or a massacre in a kibbutz, comes close to being justified, let alone provides an occasion for rejoicing.
Nor can the barbarousness of the Hamas attacks be understood as the inevitable product of a history of oppression, still less as an aspect of Palestinian resistance. These were the acts of an antisemitic, theocratic organisation detached from the moral and political frameworks that guided traditional liberation movements. As with other jihadi groups, terror has become an end in itself.
To suggest that such butchery represents the Palestinian struggle is to demean the Palestinian people and their battle for freedom and rights, to view them in the same way as do those Israeli politicians and western commentators who talk of “animals” and “savages”. There have been Palestinian leaders, and supporters, who have deplored the depravity of the acts. Hamas represents a betrayal of Palestinian hopes as well as a threat to Jews.
Condemning Hamas, its policies and actions, is not, though, the same as supporting Israeli policies. Israel has cut off power, water, food and medical supplies to Gaza, begun mass, indiscriminate bombings, and a probable ground invasion. If the stories of Hamas killings are reminiscent of the savagery of Islamic State, the images of the bombing of Gaza recall the destruction of Aleppo in Syria or Bakhmut in Ukraine.
Yet, this collective punishment and killing of civilians has won the backing of western leaders, who justify it as Israel’s “right to self-defence” against Hamas. But as Daniel Levy, one-time adviser to the former prime minister Ehud Barak, asked a BBC presenter: “Can someone credibly tell me that when the leadership of a country says ‘We are cutting off food, electricity, water, all supplies, to an entire civilian population’, that they’re targeting militants?” [Continue reading…]