What Would Hamas Do If It Could Do Whatever It Wanted?

After each of these attacks, Hamas leaders issued blood-curdling statements claiming credit, and promising more death. “The Jews will lose because they crave life but a true Muslim loves death,” a former Hamas leader, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, told me in an interview in 2002. In the same interview he made the following imperishable statement: “People always talk about what the Germans did to the Jews, but the true question is, ‘What did the Jews do to the Germans?’”

I will always remember this interview not only because Rantisi's Judeophobia was breathtaking, but because just as I was leaving his apartment in Gaza City, a friend from Jerusalem called to tell me that she had just heard a massive explosion outside her office at the Hebrew University (not far, by the way, from an attack earlier today). A cafeteria had just been bombed, my friend told me. This was another Hamas operation, one which killed nine people, including a young woman of exceptional promise named Marla Bennett, a 24-year-old American student who wrote shortly before her death, “My friends and family in San Diego ask me to come home, it is dangerous here. I appreciate their concern. But there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be right now. I have a front-row seat for the history of the Jewish people.”

Hamas is an organization devoted to ending Jewish history. This is what so many Jews understand, and what so many non-Jews don’t. The novelist Amos Oz, who has led Israel's left-wing peace camp for decades, said in an interview last week that he doesn't see a prospect for compromise between Israel and Hamas. "I have been a man of compromise all my life," Oz said. "But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: 'Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.'"

In the years since it adopted its charter, Hamas leaders and spokesmen have reinforced its message again and again. Mahmoud Zahar said in 2006 that the group "will not change a single word in its covenant." To underscore the point, in 2010 Zahhar said, "Our ultimate plan is [to have] Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics. We will not recognize the Israeli enemy."

In 2011, the former Hamas minister of culture, Atallah Abu al-Subh, said that "the Jews are the most despicable and contemptible nation to crawl upon the face of the Earth, because they have displayed hostility to Allah. Allah will kill the Jews in the hell of the world to come, just like they killed the believers in the hell of this world." Just last week, a top Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, accused Jews of using Christian blood to make matzo. This is not a group, in other words, that is seeking the sort of peace that Amos Oz—or, for that matter, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas—is seeking. People wonder why Israelis have such a visceral reaction to Hamas. The answer is easy. Israel is a small country, and most of its citizens know someone who was murdered by Hamas in its extended suicide-bombing campaigns; and most people also understand that if Hamas had its way, it would kill them as well. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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