Gaza & Hamas

Gaza & Hamas

By David Warren - January 5, 2009

Perhaps we might start by noting that war is hell. Notwithstanding correspondents who believe the contrary (I have several who call me a "chickenhawk" from time to time), I have long known this. I learned it from a grandfather, and father, who both fought in wars. As a very young man, I saw what they meant in e.g. Vietnam. I have had some further taste of wars, and the aftermath of wars, in my peregrinations; I have had the experience of being in danger.

Yes, it is unfortunate that wars occur, as they have been doing since time out of mind. Yes, it is unfortunate that freedom must be purchased with blood. But I have seen nothing with my own eyes, and will see nothing to persuade me that peace must be purchased at any price.

What has happened in Gaza is horrible. It is not even necessary to look at the sentimentalized atrocity pictures, which are the specialty of Gaza's freelance photographers, to understand how horrible. Of course we condemn war, and do so most effectively through literature and art. But it is trite to condemn war without qualification -- when everyone knows that war is hell. And, trite moral posturing is itself an evil.

Moreover, in the case of recent Israeli operations in Gaza, it is not enough to justify them, by mentioning the (literally) thousands of rockets Hamas has been pumping into every Israeli town within their range, expressly to massacre the defenceless. This, and this alone, necessitated decisive Israeli action. A government has a solemn duty to protect its people from gratuitous acts of violence. The Israeli government is unambiguously justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to make the rocketing stop. Hamas carries the entire moral responsibility for putting the people of Gaza in harm's way.

But we should not stop at justifying Israeli action. As their allies against a common enemy -- against Islamists who consider the West to be their ultimate target -- we should be offering our help and encouragement for the completion of the stated Israeli task: the complete annihilation of the Hamas organization. For by no other means can peace be obtained across the Gaza frontier.

An organization that persistently declares Israel has no right to exist, and persistently acts upon this premise, cannot be negotiated with. The Israelis have the material means to destroy Hamas, and therefore the moral imperative to do so.

Israel also has the misfortune to be defending herself today in a world that is lost in moral fog. The predictable, asinine resolution from the United Nations ("both sides stop shooting right away") is, alas, representative of public opinion in many Western countries. We are nearly incapable of making hard decisions, let alone sticking to them. We did not cry, "Both sides stop shooting right away," on D-Day. The correct response was, "Onward to Berlin."

My particular fear is that, again, as in 2006 against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israelis will succumb to the pressure of international blathering. From what I can see, I cannot even be sure they were determined not to repeat the mistake of going half-prepared into battle. Such actions as avoiding the house of the Hamas "prime minister," while demolishing the surrounding compound, telegraph more pulled punches. They suggest Israel intends to negotiate, in the end.

Again: it is wrong to negotiate with such an enemy. It leaves him to fight another day, and then another. It thus condemns people on both sides to additional death and destruction down the road, while depriving them of the peace and order that can come only from a definitive resolution of the conflict. Moreover, it plays into the hands of an enemy whose strategic purpose is to wear Israel down.

The Western doctrine of just war, echoed in the articles of international law, moreover demands that the Israelis finish what they've started. It doesn't say "never fight," as the ignorant suppose. On the contrary, it says if you must fight, be sure to win; that victory should be achieved as promptly and humanely as possible, while observing the various formal conventions. To those who refuse to observe the conventions, it offers no quarter. Those who, for instance, fire rockets at civilian targets while themselves masquerading as non-combatants are entitled to no consideration, as prisoners of war or otherwise. Those who use civilian "shields" are responsible for their fate.

These principles are humanitarian. You don't "attrit" a cancer, then await its regrowth: you root out every speck of it. In the long run, the Germans were better off for the destruction of Nazism; and the Palestinians would be, for the destruction of Hamas. If they don't know this now, they will know it later. For those who cannot live peacefully with their neighbours must be stripped of the power to disturb them. The compulsion to live peacefully can then lead towards the habit of living peacefully.

The sad truth is that these precepts are not well understood in Gaza at present. They must therefore be inculcated. Those who truly want peace, will pray for an unconditional Hamas surrender.

© Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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