Amidst the clamour for a ceasefire in the current hostilities between israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza, little attention has been paid to the war aims of Hamas.
Its no coincidence that Hamas in Hebrew means violence, If one bothers to read what Hamas itself says, it is clear that Hamas has no legitimate grievance with Israel. Their purported reason for fighting is a red herring, Rather than Hamas shooting rockets to reverse an unjust blockade, the import restrictions on Gaza were imposed in response to Hamas’ and others’ acts of aggression. The raison d’etre of these terrorist organisations is to kill Jews; lifting the blockade is merely an instrumental consideration.
Which makes it all the more odd that western diplomats still talk of negotiations for a ceasefire which will solve the “underlying issues” as if they didn’t know that the underlying issue for Hamas is that Jews are still living and breathing in the land of Israel.
But let no-one say that Hamas are stubborn or uncompromising. They are generously prepared to postpone their (thankfully unsuccessful) attempts to murder every Jew in israel. Media reports indicate that if Israel agrees to; cease military operations, open the border, permit the construction of a seaport and airport and extend the zone in which Palestinian fishing boats can operate to 12 nautical miles, then then Hamas and their friends will agree to stop fighting Israel for an undefined period of time.
Stripped down, the Hamas demands are an offer to suspend the current war only under conditions which enable them to re-arm and improve their stockpiles, until they no longer deem it advantageous to ceasefire. Israel has two choices; a present war or a future war against a better-equipped, better-trained enemy. What would you do?
Expecting Israel to agree to a ceasefire of this nature is madness and hypocrisy. If Israel must inevitably fight a war then it is better to fight it now when the terrorists are relatively weak. In addition, every other nation on earth would respond to similar aggression exactly as Israel has or do worse, Yet, friend and foe alike are urging Israel to accept a deal which is entirely without merit; hinting at something altogether more sinister; the abandonment of reason and international law.
The moral reasoning offered for western pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire appears at first glance to be utilitarian in nature, The suffering of civilians is observed and it is argued that the moral course of action is to do that which minimises the pain and suffering of the innocent. There is of course a certain instinctive appeal to this point of view, no-one can view the footage and images emerging from Gaza and feel nothing for those who suffer and die through no fault of their own.
There are, however, several problems with this argument. Firstly, it ignores Hamas’ stated aims. Hamas is not interested in any solution other than the destruction of Israel. There is no reasonable compromise to be had with this position. However, reason does not ignore unpleasant realities.
Secondly, the argument wholly ignores principles prevalent in all moral discussion, those of intention and by extension the doctrine of double-effect, and any notion of moral responsibility. Sane observers note that Israel goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties; dropping leaflets, sending text messages, and making telephone calls advising civilians to leave the area due to impending military action. Despite this the IDF often aborts raids due to the presence of innocent bystanders. It is clear that Israel is not intentionally targeting civilians and even those who conclude that moral judgements should place greater value on outcomes than intentions also accept that an outcome intended is more morally culpable than arrived at unintentionally,
Furthermore, in pressurising Israel to ceasefire without addressing Hamas’ aggression and war crimes, the international community seems to be dispensing with the notion of moral agency. In a genuine moral discussion, responsibility is assigned to the party which undertakes unethical actions. Hamas is an aggressor targeting Israeli civilians and hiding behind its own civilians. It is Gazan terrorists that are committing war crimes and they are fully responsible for the resulting civilian deaths on both sides. Asking Israel to change its behaviour is this instance is simply addressing the wrong party, In asking Israel to postpone the conflict until such time as its enemies are better prepared is effectively punishing Israel for acts over which it has no control.
Thirdly, If the appeal is indeed to utilitarian reasoning, then viewed in the context of Hamas’ war aims, an immediate ceasefire is the morally wrong position. Whilst a halt to the fighting may spare lives in the immediate future, if Hamas’ conditions are met this will simply mean a longer and bloodier future war. Whatever it may be, less suffering now in exchange for greater suffering in the future is not a utilitarian argument. Since this reasoning fails and there seems to be no other plausible moral argument for denying Israel the right to self-defence, the Israeli government is correct to insist that any ceasefire must result in the disarmament of Hamas.
Lastly, but no less important, the demand for an immediate ceasefire on the grounds of civilian casualties, would seem to incentivise both state and non-state actors to engage in illegal aggression from behind a civilian shield, itself a war crime. If the risk to life of civilians in and around military objects effectively renders those sites immune to military attack, then not only does this directly endanger the very people it claims to protect, it incentivises such crimes. It is hard to understand why any responsible government would wish to encourage, albeit indirectly, acts that are currently considered crimes under international law. .
The panicked rush to a ceasefire and condemnation of Israel, is not based on any recognised moral principle and abandons several other established concepts. It comes as no surprise that Islamic fanatics have no time for reason and international law. The question is why the International community, and those who claim to favour justice and human rights see fit to follow suit.