Why did Hamas attack Israel?
The singer for super-band U2 told the audience this week, “In light of what has happened in Israel and Gaza, a song about non-violence seems somewhat ridiculous, even laughable.” Bono went on to say, “but our prayers are always for peace and non-violence.”
If you call yourself a peace activist you are likely finding it difficult these days. If one supports Palestinians – must they support Hamas? And if one support Israelis, must they support the government of Benjamin Netanyahu?
Peace activists want to take the side of people – not governments.
Where is Vivian Silver?
Canadian peace activist living in Israel, Vivian Silver, 74, might agree. Her organization, Women Wage Peace, is a large grass-roots movement founded in the aftermath of the Gaza War of 2014 to promote a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the New York Times, the group declared Israel was an apartheid state. She made visits to the occupied territories to express solidarity with Palestinians. She volunteered with an organization that drove sick Palestinians from Gaza into Israel for medical treatment.
Unfortunately, Vivian Silver lived near the northern end of Gaza. It’s only a few kilometers from the music festival massacre on October 7. In her last text to her son, she said gunmen had entered her house. She is officially listed as missing.
BBC reporters visited the community. “On the way to the house where Vivian Silver lived, Moshe Minaker, a veteran volunteer, spoke of the horrors he had seen. “No studio in Hollywood can make this movie,” he said.
Experts suggest that the Hamas attacks on Israel were well-planned and coordinated, perhaps more than a year in the making.
The parallels to Al Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in 2001 come easily to mind. Not just in the shock, but the political momentum they created for Al Qaeda and even the Bush administration.
Al Qaeda was counting on the devastating American military response in the Middle East to galvanize the Muslim world to its fundamentalist cause.
The theretofore languishing George W. Bush administration and its hawks were handed the opportunity to brand its enemies the “Axis of Evil” and launch the “Global War on Terror,” no matter the dubious connection Iraq, Iran and North Korea had to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Then, as now, the calls for revenge made it difficult for peace activism. “You’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” declared President Bush. Nobody wanted to talk about “root causes” or “blowback” after decades of failed policies in the region.
This summer demonstrations against the Israeli government have been going for weeks, protesting its right-wing agenda and suspension of judicial authority. Just days before the Hamas attacks, the BBC reported, “The scale of the protests has escalated, with tens of thousands of people packing the streets in towns and cities across the country.”
All that was swept aside last weekend. President Netanyahu has escaped his precarious political position (for now) as the nation rallies around his coalition government in the wake of the unprecedented attacks by Hamas.
Now, almost a week later, we know the “what” and the “how” of the Hamas attacks for the most part, but not the “why.”
Why did Hamas launch such horrific attacks?
Al Jazeera journalist Joe Macaron says there are three reasons:
- The policies of the far-right Israeli government enabling settler violence in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem led to a sense of desperation among Palestinians and growing demands for a reaction.
- Hamas was emboldened after it managed to repair its ties with Iran (Iran has denied direct involvement in Hamas’s operation but it has expressed support for it.)
- The Hamas leadership felt compelled to act due to the acceleration of Arab-Israeli normalisation. In recent years, this process further diminished the significance of the Palestinian issue for Arab leaders who became less keen on pressuring Israel on this matter.
Yom Kippur War + 50 years
On the last point, it’s significant to note that the attacks on October 7 came 50 years and one day after Arab attacks on Israel that launched the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Mindful that this next quote comes from the U.S. perspective, the New York Times asked Martin Indyk, who has twice served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He had this to say:
“Let’s remember that, for the Arabs, the Yom Kippur war was seen as a victory… So for Hamas to show, 50 years later, that it can do the same thing—that is a huge boost to its standing in the Arab world, and a huge challenge to those countries and leaders that have made peace with Israel in the preceding 50 years.”
Peace activists pay the ultimate price
Many of Vivian Silver’s peace activist colleagues were killed by Hamas fighters last weekend. And now peace workers in Gaza are losing their lives, among the hundreds of other civilian killed by massive Israeli air attacks.
At least 11 United Nations employees have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza since the weekend, the UN said Wednesday, even as it called for emergency funding to continue humanitarian work in the embattled Palestinian enclave.
The UN staffers who were killed paid “the ultimate price,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a brief statement to press on Wednesday.
Among the dead are five teachers, a gynecologist, an engineer, a psychological counselor and three support staff, according to Jenifer Austin, UNRWA’s Deputy Director in Gaza, who added that some were “killed in their homes with their families.”
The invasion of Gaza by Israel seems a near certainty. As Ambassador Martin Indyk predicts,
[Israel’s leaders] mobilize the army, they attack from the air, they inflict damage on Gaza. They try to decapitate the Hamas leadership. And if that doesn’t work in terms of getting Hamas to stop firing rockets and enter into negotiations to release the hostages, then I think we’re looking at a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza.
Now that presents two problems. One is that Israel would be fighting in densely populated areas, and the international outcry against civilian casualties that Israel would inflict with its high-tech American weapons would shift condemnation onto the United States and Israel, and put pressure on Israel to stop.
The second problem is, if Israel succeeds in a full-scale war, they then own Gaza, and they have to answer the questions: How are we going to get out? When do we withdraw? Whom do we withdraw in favor of? Remember, the Israelis already withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and they do not want to go back in.
9/11 changed the world for more than a generation, maybe longer. I fear that this war in the Middle East, and the war in Ukraine, sets us on a dangerous path.
The BBC asked Vivian Silver’s son what Vivian might be saying right now. “That this is the outcome of war. Of not striving for peace, and this is what happens.” he replied. “It’s very overwhelming but not completely surprising. It’s not sustainable to live in a state of war for so long and now it bursts. It bursts.”
We need many more peace activists. I hope they find Vivian Silver soon.
- Read “Missing peace activist Vivian Silver – son awaits news, good or bad” by Jeremy Bowen, published on BBC.com on October 13, 2023