But in all his moral outrage, that is mirrored now across the world, he declines to address the central charge. The leadership of Hamas is more than willing to sacrifice Palestinian children for its own political advancement, and climb back into a position of relevance in a world on the backs of grieving parents. As always, the world may be in flames, but the Palestine-Israel conflict evokes all the outrage. Vladimir Putin is leading a hot war in eastern Ukraine, feeding tanks to “local militias” and ultimately shooting down a civilian airliner. ISIS has expelled the entire Christian population of Mosel under threat of beheading. But it is Hamas and the Israelis that the United Nations Human Rights Council decides should be subject to a war crimes inquiry for “indiscriminate attacks on civilians.”
Within the progressive Jewish world, there is always outcry when Israeli bombs kill civilians, both out of moral outrage for the death and destruction, and because of the ultimate bankruptcy of an Israeli strategy for which there is no endgame. But with each successive conflict, as Hamas missiles reach deeper into the country, those voices become less vocal. While for some the broader conflicts in the region have emphasized the importance of pressuring Israel to remove settlements from confiscated Palestinian lands and live within its own borders, for others the emergence of ISIS has only emphasized the long history of conflicts in the region and made the Hamas commitment to the destruction of Israel the sine qua non of the conflict. It is neither a metaphor nor a bargaining chip. In that reality, there is no room for discussion, only survival.
It is hard for many to accept the implications of that stance, but with each war Hamas aids our understanding and acceptance of their commitment. Thus, the voices on the Jewish left become quieter. This should be a troubling sign for those progressives within the Palestinian community, as the hardening of the conflict has pushed apart those in the two communities who for years have seen a logical middle ground solution.
Indeed, Hamas has achieved what Bibi Netanyahu could not: they have enable progressive Jews to accept the logic of even many of the harshest Israeli policies. The international community objected to Israel blocking the shipments of building materials and concrete into Gaza, but in this war we have see the complex network of tunnels built with an estimated six hundred thousand tons of concrete that we were told was urgently needed for schools and hospitals that remain unbuilt. The international community objected that Israeli was undermining Gaza economic development by preventing unfettered shipping into a Gaza port, but when ships were boarded they were found to be filled with armaments intended to be used to kill Israelis.
Then, last week, after the United Nations itself found that two of its schools were being used as missile bunkers by Hamas--schools adjacent to facilities for displaced Palestinians--the UN agency did not demand the destruction of missiles, or removal by an international agency, but rather that they be removed from the school by local officials. Thus, within the same week, the UN delivered back to Hamas missiles whose only conceivable use is for firing at randomly target civilian areas, thereby becoming an active co-conspirator in exactly the type of war crime it announced that it is seeking to investigate. So now what is it intending to do, investigate itself?
Perhaps the most insightful response to the Palestinian dilemma has come from the leaders of the Kurdish community in Iraq. With the ISIS uprising and turmoil in Iraq, the world has come to recognize the enormous strides that the Kurds have made over the past decade. Many do not remember how for decades or more the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran fought utilizing guerrilla and terrorist tactics to have their own state.
For decades, before George W. Bush labeled the Global War on Terror, the Kurds were the model of the ethnic guerrilla movement, the warriors of national liberation. They fought their national overlords in Bagdad, Tehran and Istanbul and became one of the models for the Palestinian national movement treatment. And they were treated brutally in response by each of those governments. Their treatment at the hands of Saddam is something that today’s Palestinians—perhaps their Egyptian Muslim Brothers can attest—cannot imagine.
With the fall of Saddam, Kurdish leaders could have continued down their historical path of armed conflict against regional regimes, and launched a terrorist campaign against Baghdad, but they chose not to. Instead, they chose a path that would provide a future for their people rather than continued sustenance only on memories of the past and fantasies of the future, a path of real nation building that recognized that the institutions of civil society have to precede, not follow, the declaration of statehood, and indeed can be its prerequisite. The Kurds were playing a long game as well, but in their case it was a willful determination to build the infrastructure of statehood, in order to be prepared for that moment when statehood itself became a possibility. They believe that that moment is at hand.
All the talk about international aid to Gaza will be pointless if no other factors on the ground change. Billions of aid dollars will be wasted, as billions have been wasted before, and the only sure fact about the future is that next time the missiles will fly farther and the tunnels will be dug deeper. A conference in Paris of donor nations will be met with nothing but deeper cynicism if the Palestinians themselves cannot find a different pat forward.
Just as the Kurds blazed the trail forward that the PLO followed, so have they done so again. This time, it is a path that offers what Hamas cannot, a future for Palestine’s children with books instead of missiles in their schools. It is a path that focuses on building the institutions of civil society within Palestine and ceasing to be a threat to their neighbors. In the words of Barham Salih, the former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government:
“Compare us to other liberation movements around the world. We are very mature. We don’t engage in terror. We don’t condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people. Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority areas to the Palestinian national authority. … We have spent the last 10 years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society... What have the Palestinians built?"
But this is a path that cannot be forced upon them by the nations that will gather in Paris, or for that matter given to them. But it is a path that must be demanded by Palestinians on the ground, and those in the diaspora who have remained too silent as Hamas has destroyed--and, yes, forced Israel to destroy--what the future holds for Palestine's children. They have to stop blaming the world for their fate, and finally choose a different one for themselves.