Writing for Bloomberg during the 2014 Israel- Hamas war, Jeffrey Goldberg observed: “Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse, but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior, because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.”
Alan Dershowitz had made the same observation a few years earlier when he referred to the “calculus of death” adopted by Palestinian terrorists. Dead Israelis constitute a success, while the higher the civilian death toll on the Palestinian side the more effective the ensuing propaganda against Israel. In other words, death on either side serves the interests of the terrorists. The well-documented use of human shields by Hamas, the deployment of child soldiers, and the use of minors to goad Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, as Palestinian parents record on their iPhones from a safe distance, are all outgrowths of this formulation.
There is a further component to this macabre equation that is essential to its success – the support of the West. To succeed, the strategy of Palestinian terrorists depends on a compliant press that will publish hagiographic renderings of “resistance” and “heroism,” a sympathetic civil society of NGOs and activist churches that will run campaigns based around the Palestinian narrative of victimhood, and a hollow United Nations to issue reflexive condemnations and carry out politicized fact-finding missions and inquiries which never fail to accuse Israel and excuse the Palestinians.
This latest escalation has followed the same pattern. Hamas, which exercises absolute rule in Gaza, orchestrated a confrontation with Israel that once again has no plausible strategic goal beyond achieving crucial propaganda victories.
Beginning on March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians marched toward Israel with the stated aim of “removing the transient border” between Israel and Gaza, in the words of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared that the march is the beginning of the Palestinian “return” to “all of Palestine.” Palestinians claim a “right of return” not to a future Palestinian state, but to Israel, for up to seven million descendants of Palestinians displaced during the Arab invasion of Israel launched at Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. The number of Palestinians alive today who were personally displaced or fled their homes in 1948 is estimated at around 30,000. Hereditary refugee status for the descendants of those actually displaced is a concept unique to the Palestinian cause and claimed by no other people.
While the march has predictably been framed (and virtually uncritically accepted) as a peaceful popular demonstration, nothing happens in Gaza except at the direction of Hamas. And nothing done by Hamas is for peaceful purposes. It remains, openly and unashamedly, committed to the obliteration of the Jewish people and their state. The complete absence of any democratic institutions in the Gaza Strip, let alone any civil society with the freedom or capacity to organize a demonstration, means that any public gathering occurs only at the behest of Gaza’s Islamist rulers and in keeping with their strategic interests.
This was a staged provocation by a despotic band of Islamists that has grown adept at skillfully exploiting the sympathies of the West, while reviling the Western values of which that sympathy is born.
Facing tens of thousands of Gazans amassed at its border that their leaders had pledged to “remove,” Israel did precisely what every other state would have done – it mobilized its forces and attempted to hold the masses back with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, and in response to the numerous attempts to bomb or infiltrate the border fence, used live rounds. 17 Palestinians were killed, the majority named by Hamas as its operatives, others claimed as martyrs by rival armed factions. The widow of a Fatah member killed near the border said, “The leaders are sending young men toward the borders. The people are the victims.”
Such is the calculus of Hamas. Like all autocracies it views its people as wholly dispensable, fodder on the path to a glorious victory. As long as Hamas can rely on Western audiences to imbibe images of young children marching on a border, without questioning at whose callous instigation that child has been sent and for what purpose, Israelis and Palestinians are destined to move from one bout of violence to the next.