As the one week mark of hostility between Israel and the Palestinians passes, many in the US and the West have quickly aligned themselves with the Palestinian cause. To garner sympathy, some have sought to analogize the Palestinian resistance to other movements or resistance groups from the past or present. Prominent organizations such as Black Lives Matter have made direct comparisons to the fight against the South African apartheid regime, and viral Instagram posts have placed images of George Floyd’s murder side by side with pictures of arrests of Palestinians in Jerusalem. These comparisons are dangerous; many in the United States may be unfamiliar with the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and could be drawn to these simplistic equivalences that misrepresent Israel and validate the tactics used by the terrorist group that is Hamas. Hamas is not the sole representative of the Palestinian people, but as the main Palestinian player in this crisis, it is their representative in this conflagration. Considering its incessant attacks on Israeli civilians, exposing Hamas’s true dangerous face is critical.
For examples of misleading portrayals of the Palestinian cause, take a look at widely circulating BLM Instagram posts that name Israel as an example of “settler colonialism” much like South Africa. Another post amplified by Gigi Hadid implores her followers to not “ignore the Palestinian oppression” if they believe in “racial equality.” Dianne Morales, an NYC mayoral candidate, pointed to “Colombia, Brazil or Israel-Palestine” as regions suffering “state violence.” So let’s be clear on the differences: Since 1948, Palestinians have repeatedly squandered any chance at independence from Israel – most recently in 2000, when Yasser Arafat rejected Israel’s offer to withdraw from 97% of the West Bank. But after Israel withdrew from Gaza anyway in 2005, offering the Palestinians there a chance at self-determination, Hamas turned it into a large-scale missile factory.
The story of the Palestinian cause does not mirror that of black people in the United States, who were denied equality for centuries and continue to face systemic racism, nor that of black South Africans, who never stood a chance to gain freedom under the apartheid regime. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have sadly rejected every opportunity to gain self-determination. Under Hamas, they have turned to persistent violence against Israel, creating the need for the military occupation and blockades in place today. For that reason, Hamas’s “resistance,” after years of the Palestinians’ rejectionist attitude, is incomparable to that of African-Americans or black South Africans.
In the wake of tragic Jewish-Arab riots still ongoing in Israel, in which both Jews and Arabs have been attacked, another common refrain has been that there is “no difference” between each side’s tactics, and that both Israel and Hamas are equally cruel. But yet again, this is a patently false comparison. After Jews brutally beat an Arab man in Bat Yam, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly condemned it, saying, “I do not care if your blood is boiling.” Even one far-right Member of Knesset blasted the “atrocious cruelty.” Now, compare that to a senior Hamas leader calling last week for Jerusalemites to “buy a knife, sharpen it, put it there, and just cut off [Israelis’ heads]. It costs just five shekels.” Or, contrast Hamas’s targeted attacks on civilian areas, including a school in Ashkelon, with Israel’s tireless efforts to evacuate Gazan towers of civilians before striking them.
It is critical to understand who the parties in this conflict are in order to see that the equation of the conflict’s belligerents is baseless. One celebrates and organizes violence against civilians; the other does everything it can to prevent it. Israel is not perfect, however, and there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether it is doing enough to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza. But its good faith efforts to save lives are the antithesis of everything Hamas stands for. What might make for a more accurate comparison with Hamas? Al-Qaeda, and its attacks on American cities, has much in common with Hamas’s rockets directed at buildings in Tel Aviv. Or maybe the Islamic State and its disregard for human life, much like the ⅓ of Hamas rockets that have landed within the Gaza Strip, killing at least two Palestinian children, according to Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP).
As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays out in the court of public opinion in the United States, it is imperative for Americans to see fair and accurate comparisons to Hamas. Many are surely unaware of who and what the terror group is, and conflating Hamas with the popular BLM movement leaves Israel as the aggressor, plain and simple, in the eyes of many. Americans must know that Hamas is supported by adversaries like Iran, burns American flags, and punishes homosexuality by death – they must know it does not share their values.
Failing to portray Hamas as the terrorist entity it is has real consequences for Israel’s public relations standing. For example, the hugely popular comedian Trevor Noah recently posted a video which went viral on Instagram, criticizing Israel for its disproportionate response to Hamas and noting the disparities between Israel’s and the Palestinians’ death toll. Like many of Israel’s critics, he implied that since Hamas “cannot beat” or destroy Israel, Israel had an obligation to temper its response, and he compared the dynamics to that of a teenager fighting a four-year-old child. Yet after the 9/11 attacks on American cities, would anyone have claimed that since Al-Qaeda could never have actually “beat” America, it should relax its response? While Noah took pains to say that he was not comparing the Palestinians to a child, the implication was clear: Hamas is no more malign than a four-year-old is to a teenager. In order to justify its strong response in recent days, Israel must prove to the world that that is false.
As this conflict continues, the American people and the world deserve to know who the parties to it really are. The conflict is complex and nuanced; Palestinians have real aspirations, and Israel has many flaws. But the Palestinian belligerent in this war, Hamas, must be exposed as the indefensible engine of hate and terror that it is.