Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Are we destroying Hamas or helping them?

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The Times of Israel reported that support for Hamas among Palestinians is on the rise. CNN, meanwhile, sported this headline: Hamas gambled on the suffering of civilians in Gaza. Netanyahu played right into it.

Both of these insights have been obvious to many of us since the beginning of the war. What is becoming ever clearer is that Bibi is continuing to support the Hamas ‒ at the expense of more moderate Palestinians who might conceivably create a less militaristic state on our border. He does so at the expense of the hostages still alive in Gaza.

He does so by refusing to plan an end to the war. He does so by rejecting, out of hand, plans that would include the Fatah ruling party of the Palestinian Authority in a solution, and he does so by refusing to consider the possibility of a Palestinian state.

“We’re going to destroy the Hamas,” Bibi claims, banging his fist on thin air. Yet Hamas, for all of their fighters we have killed, continues to fight on, and even to launch a rocket or two at our border. Bibi knows, as well as our commanders and anyone who watches or reads the news, that Hamas leader Yehia Sinwar is sitting dozens of meters underground with hostages around him acting as human shields.

He knows the IDF has swept all the way to Gaza’s southern, Egyptian border, and the intensive, above-ground battle is nearly finished. That means, if we do not begin to envision a new form of government for Gaza, we will revert to military rule and engaging in guerilla warfare. We’ll find ourselves fighting a war we’ve already tried and found we cannot win.

The choices are not optimal: Bring in a temporary government made up of Fatah and others from the Arab world to run things in Gaza’s northern half and let people slowly return; extend the war for years, including trying to wrest power from Hamas and institute military rule; or withdraw and return power to Hamas.

By refusing to negotiate with the Fatah – a group that may not love the Jewish state, but in practical terms has cooperated with us on a decent level – Bibi is letting go of the first option. Even though some in our government openly prefer the second option, at some point, America, the half of Israel who believes hostage release should take first priority, or the world will force him to agree to withdraw IDF troops, effectively enabling the third option.

The organization might shrink, but the ideology continues to expand

As we learned soon after Oct. 7, the Hamas war machine was funded by Qatari money that Bibi had funnelled to Gaza in hopes of balancing power against the Fatah in the PA. As we fight this war, we are continuing to feed Hamas’ strength at the expense of Fatah.

Hamas is an organization, but it is also an ideology. The organization might shrink, but the ideology continues to expand. Our army is equipped to fight the soldiers of that organization, but it is not equipped to fight the beliefs. We have fought them with our own brand of extremism, begetting more extremism. Our soldiers and planes are killing machines, but we forgot to worry about cutting off support for the hateful dogma, fuelling it, instead, with insensitive shoving of the population to one corner and then another, with scenes of death and destruction, with killing civilians – if not intentionally then without too much thought for their welfare.

Both winning the war and returning all the hostages has never seemed farther away. Benny Gantz made good on his ultimatum and stepped down from the war cabinet, in part because he sees the need to signal the willingness to negotiate a cease fire in return for hostages. But Bibi does not need Gantz next to him in order to continue fighting a war with no real plan.

A settlement with Hamas will be the most likely outcome of this war, whether it ends today or next year. If the two leaders were tired of the fight, it could end tomorrow. But each one gains, at least personally, by extending the battles: Sinwar in a twisted equation in which suffering and dead equal support, Bibi in one in which war means no new elections.

By doing nothing, Bibi supports the Hamas. By demanding conditions for hostage deals he knows Israel will reject, Sinwar supports the continuation of the war, and thus Bibi’s hold on power.

While the two of them are winning, rest of us are losing.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.