Why Hamas Shoots Rockets

Note/Warning the following was published on Wednesday July 16th 2014. As of now there are over 200 Palestinian fatalities, and 1 direct Israeli fatality and 1 indirect fatality (heart attack from bomb siren). If things change in any way the thoughts below will not be relevant. And I expect there will be a change in public perception.

This article is my attempt to answer the puzzling question: Why does Hamas fire rockets, when it basically just confirms that they are terrorists, and isn’t this one of those few situations in life where they would be better off just doing nothing?

Basically I think the Hamas rockets have to do with Gandhi’s strategy of non-violence.

According to a short book that Norman Finkelstein wrote about Gandhi, he is very much misunderstood today. He didn’t mean by non-violence that you should be passive and hold a sign or something. He thought you should walk towards soldiers unarmed and with a smile on your face and get your brains blown out. And if you couldn’t do that, then you should fight.

Basically in politics there are two things that matter to get people to support your cause:
1. They have to approve of your cause.
2. They have to approve of your methods.

For example you can go on a hunger strike and no one will say that your methods are immoral, or that the ends don’t justify the means. But if they deeply object to your cause (say you’re going on hunger strike until homosexuality is re-criminalized), they will be happy to watch you die.

Now the ideal thing would be for the Palestinians to taunt the Israelis in a non-violent way or minimally violent way (throw rocks at soldiers or something). The problem is that the people who do that are young men, and the Israelis grab them, throw them in prison, throw away the key and no one hears about them. (Also in Gaza there are no Israeli soldiers within reach, they are policed from the outside).

But what they are doing now is perhaps the next closest thing.

In a strictly logical way attempted murder is as bad as murder. The fact that you fail to kill your intended victim, shouldn’t logically make you any less worthy of punishment. At least if the purpose of criminal punishment is to prevent further crimes. However this is not how human morality works. As is evidenced by the huge difference in jail time for the two crimes in almost all places. In a very rough way the rule is though shalt not kill, not “though shalt not try to kill”.

So when there are about 200 Palestinians killed 77% of which are civilians, with 1390 wounded. But on the Israeli side there’s 1 civilian killed and 27 wounded (21 of which are civilians). No matter how the media plays it they just can’t get any sympathy for the Israeli side, from a person who would naturally be sympathetic to the Palestinians. Remember the two points about politics above, people have to 2. approve of your methods, but first they have to 1. approve of your cause. People who view Israel as a new crusader state (as a positive thing) ridding the world of Muslim terrorists (I exaggerate but you get my point) are not going to care, but people who view Israeli rule of the Palestinians as fundamentally unjust will be moved.

I think an important point is a contrast with the 2006 war with Lebanon. I remember watching the round the clock CNN coverage of that conflict where each rocket landing in Israel was shown on the screen (with the Lebanese casualties, almost entirely ignored). But then 44 Israeli civilians died, (while about 1191 Lebanese civilians died). I think at least to me, most people are willing to believe that their government would go to war for 44 deaths in their country, but that their government would not kill 200 people for 1 death (which might well not have happened if the war had not been started).

In this sense I think the intensive promotion of the Iron Dome missile defense as an incredibly effective game changing system is counter-productive to the Israeli struggle to win in the court of public opinion. Because the perception that most of the rockets are getting shot out of the sky completely eliminates the cost of this type of war in the eyes of the international public. And in fact turns it from a war, into something completely different, a kind of one sided murder. So the question becomes, how many people living under your oppression would you kill to keep your citizens from being woken by bomb sirens? A question that makes you want to throw up. (although to be fair bomb sirens did lead to an Israeli lady having a fatal heart attack.)

Which is the only way I can explain the dramatically different coverage of the current conflict. It is hard to find a “hard” pro-Israel line in the mainstream press, e.g. Time Magazine, The New York Times, CNN, etc. (I basically can post the first hit I find on Google news onto Facebook, without having to sift for a “fair” article). It simply can’t be spun that way without lying. I mean they try to word titles a certain way, play with sentences a little, but the basic facts don’t lead to any kind of heroic narrative. (well except for CBC here in Canada, which still seems a little too biased to me)

For example compare Time Magazine:
Title: Why the Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire Failed
Subtitle (and reason for Hamas rejection): Hamas felt it wasn’t
consulted properly by the Egyptians brokering the truce — and that it
could have been offered more

With CBC:

Title: Hamas mortar kills 1st Israeli in renewed Gaza conflict
Subtitle: Hamas claims responsibility for deadly attack after man
delivering food to soldiers is killed
Reason for Hamas rejection: Pretty much the same but halfway through the
“Hamas officials on Tuesday rejected the Egyptian plan as is, noting
they weren’t consulted by Cairo. Some portrayed the truce offer as an
ultimatum presented to Hamas by Israel and Egypt.” and:
“Hamas seeks blockade easing”

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2 thoughts on “Why Hamas Shoots Rockets

  1. I would tend to agree basically to what you’ve written. But I doubt very much that Hamas has read Gandhi… or Finkelstein’s summary of Gandhi’s (To be honest, I am not so sure that a westerner can understand Gandhi; even great Indian sages claimed that Gandhi took advantage of their own Indian traditions for an ulterior motive which was not there in the first place).

    More seriously, given that the Iron Dome IS NOT efficient (cf. Ted Postol’s analysis)… and given that at least one rocket was sent by Hamas to Dimona (there is a nuclear reactor there and G-d knows what else)… I doubt very much they have any kind of responsibility even towards their own people. So Gandhi seems to be a bit out of place here.

    • I think you’re right. Hamas is not motivated by Ghandi. For example if they had better weapons, I doubt whether the tactics or results would be the same.

      I guess what I meant to say is that the reason their current tactics are working in terms of public sentiment is because they are close to what Gandhi would advocate. (but only because of their limited weapons, not because of a conscious choice to emulate Gandhi, although on the other hand since there is a conscious choice to use ineffective weapons, this might indicate they are thinking along these lines, of course it is just as likely that they are simply very desperate at this point)

      Also Hamas has other motivations. One of which someone brought up to me on Facebook, was their desire to win support among the Palestinians themselves, especially to gain credibility among the Palestinians outside of Gaza (in the West Bank), whose leaders are more or less collaborationist. Also of note is that especially in the case of rival groups like Islamic Jihad, I think it is possible that they launch rockets, carry out attacks, refuse ceasefires, etc., partly to get or maintain financial support from Iran (try to show themselves as more hardcore).

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