On November 11th, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of London to demand a cease fire between Israel and Gaza. They joined voices in New York who protested outside the UN, along with hundreds of government officials, political staffers, foreign officials, and active citizens. Calls for a cease fire flood campuses and city streets. They are pervasive. What exactly are they demanding?
A “cease fire” refers to a “a time when enemies agree to stop fighting, usually while a way is found to end the fighting permanently.” This definition assumes that there is a mutual interest in cessation of violence, that a compromise will be honored, and eventually, that civil peace between nations will be achieved. If one or more of the participants in a conflict are unwilling to entertain a peaceful respite, a cease fire is impossible. One of the easiest ways to tell whether a party would flout a cease fire is if they say so explicitly at every opportunity. If, for imagination’s sake, Hamas officials said that they intended to continue slaughtering Israelis under all circumstances and by any means, or called for an unending war with the express goal of exterminating or evicting all Israeli civilians with the eventual goal of erasing Israel from human memory, that would effectively silence all calls for a cease fire. Right? …Right?!
Unfortunately, these are the exact circumstances under which the global community is conducting their demands. In an interview with The New York Times, Hamas media adviser Taher El-Nounou said “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders…” In another interview with The Times, senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya announced that “Hamas’s goal is not to run Gaza and to bring it water and electricity and such… This battle was not because we wanted fuel or laborers. It did not seek to improve the situation in Gaza. This battle is to completely overthrow the situation.”
In an October 24th interview with Lebanese TV channel LBC, Hamas official Ghazi Hamed stated plainly “Israel is a country that has no place on our land. We must remove it because it constitutes a security, military and political catastrophe to the Arab and Islamic nation. We are not ashamed to say this.” He assured listeners that “there will be a second, a third, and a fourth” iteration of the massacre on October 7th. “Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it. We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs… On October 7, October 10, October one-millionth, everything we do is justified.”
It seems then that “cease fire” is not being used here in its normal, bilateral sense, but that the word means something entirely different in this context. Since Hamas has clearly expressed their disinterest in ceasing to fire (Hamas has fired over 9,500 rockets into Israel since October 7th), its proponents must be calling for a one-sided cessation of military action. Namely, that Israel should cease fire while Hamas does not. The insidious implication here is that Israel does not have a right to defend itself. When we say that Israel and only Israel should cease fire, we are effectively suspending the traditional rules of war and demanding that Israel turn the other cheek. “I know they have your babies and elders in captivity, but don’t make such a fuss about it,” say protesters in London, New York, France, and Saudi Arabia. From this perspective, what initially seemed like a non-partisan peace plan becomes deeply insensitive and dangerous.
Sometimes I wonder what Hamas could possibly say or do to discourage their supporters in the West. One would think that expressing explicit genocidal intent, deliberately targeting civilians, and celebrating the murder of babies would be enough to force our seminarian scions of social justice to reconsider their allegiances. And yet, many (if not most) of them do not. Why do Americans refuse to believe Hamas when they tell us who they are? Why do citizens of the U.S. and U.K. continue to apologize for genocidal warmongers?
Many Jews fall back onto the catch-all justification for the popularity of our enemies: antisemitism. The irrational hatred of Jews is woven into the fabric of our history, and obviously continues to be relevant today. Attacks on synagogues, Jewish university students, public figures, and centers for Jewish life definitely demonstrate a deep antisemitic ethos amidst the current global turmoil. In this particular case, however, I believe it to be insufficient. While I think the old, undying specter of antisemitism is certainly a critical element in understanding the global response, it does not explain rampant defenses of and justifications for Hamas. News outlets insist on calling Hamas operatives “militants” or, egregiously, “freedom fighters.” It is hard for me to chalk that up to the unadulterated Jew-hatred I grew up with. There is something else at play here.
Western countries have an unfortunate history of imputing their own ideologies onto foreign nations. They assume that their basic beliefs are largely shared by others, who must fundamentally want what America has. This assumption has long been the bread-and-butter of their incursions into foreign countries. One could argue that ideological imperialism masquerading as charitable aid has been a defining characteristic of the last century of American foreign policy. American college students assume that because they wish for peaceful resolution, so must the leaders of Gaza. They cannot imagine that someone could really, truly see the murder of babies as a holy act, worth videoing and broadcasting to the world. In a move that is as parochial and narcissistic as it is prospecting, they excuse Hamas’s hateful tirades as the predictable anger of chronic oppression. Defenders of Israel contend with two fronts: the murderous violence of their enemies in Gaza, and the contrived accusations of revisionist “peace” advocates.
Pretending that foreign leaders do not mean what they say is one of the most imperially reductive denigrations of a group that I can imagine. We cannot deny the opinions of others because they seem unconscionable to us. The leaders of Hamas must be permitted to voice their own opinions, and we must treat them accordingly. When Hamas says that their goal is to extirpate the Jewish people from Israel and kill their babies, it is imperative that we believe them. Ghazi Hamed is not a confused child or hapless dog who needs an Ivy student with a Free Palestine belly button piercing to pat him on the head and apologize for his rhetoric. He is a conniving and intelligent adult, fully capable of speaking for himself, his collaborators, and his backers — if we let him.
We are often asked to put ourselves in the shoes of others to understand their plight. On this occasion, I ask all those who dismiss the statements of Hamas’ leaders to leave their shoes alone, and allow Hamas to stand in its own shoes for a change.