There are two misperceptions that are repeatedly and confidently asserted about the war between Israel and Gaza. The first is that the war was unprovoked. The second is that it was caused by the internal divides within Israel, or the approaching normalization with Saudi Arabia, or the incompetence of the Israeli government, or the fiftieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, or….
The problem with the “unprovoked” argument is that it turns Hamas into irrational actors. Since there must be some explanation for their acts of barbarism, it must be that they’ve been driven to these savage and desperate acts by the ongoing Israeli occupation of their people. What else, so the argument goes, can they do under these insufferable circumstances?
The truth, however, is that Hamas is provoked by the existence of a non-Muslim state in a land that was once under the control of Islam, what is called in Arabic, dar al-Islam. Hamas isn’t killing Israelis because they’re Jewish.
Hamas is killing Israelis because a sovereign Jewish state in what was once the abode of Islam is an affront to Hamas’ Islamist ideology. Israel’s existence is the provocation, and, therefore, short of committing national suicide, there is nothing that Israel can do to achieve détente as Israel has been able to do with its secular neighbors: Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well the countries comprising the Abraham Accords.
I believe the occasion of this war was the prospect that Saudi Arabia was about to announce normalization with Israel. That has now been put on hold.
Another possible candidate for the war’s occasion is the massive protests against the judicial coup perpetrated by the Israeli governing coalition. The Israeli society is deeply divided. But we should not confuse occasions with causes. Pundits can argue about what occasioned the war at this very moment. But there is only one cause for the war: Hamas’ rejection of a sovereign non-Muslim state within dar al-Islam, the historical abode of Islam.
Israel’s ground invasion has begun. The blockade continues. Egypt could allow the Gazans humanitarian passage into the Sinai. But, they refuse. Hamas could restore the 150 hostages to their families and end the blockade. But, they refuse.
Hamas could end the suffering of the Gazans by surrendering and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. But, they refuse. Hamas could have used the billions of dollars it received in international aid since 2014 to build electricity plants rather than rockets, roads rather than tunnels into Israel. But, they refused.
The arguments and images about to be deployed against Israel will pull at the heart. The Gazans truly don’t deserve this. But the ability and responsibility to protect Gaza is Hamas’ alone—not Israel’s, not Egypt’s, not their Muslim and Arab brethren, and not the international community. Hamas must finally decide between its medieval ideology and its people’s welfare. The choice is theirs alone.