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Hamas’s Strategy of Human Sacrifice Douglas J. Feith

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A young boy holds up a Hamas flag in between Palestinian Hamas militant during a military show in the Bani Suheila district in Gaza City, Gaza in 2017. (Chris McGrath via Getty Images)

On October 13, Israeli military commanders told Palestinians living in Gaza to evacuate to the south. The northern half of the strip is full of Hamas assets—from rockets to rifles, communications gear to personnel—that Israel plans to destroy in the coming days of the war. But Hamas leaders demanded that the people stay in place. Why?

While some of Hamas’s most brutal tactics, like systematic rape and beheading captives, are long-practiced atrocities for which the armies of Stalin, Hitler, and Genghis Khan are infamous, it is unprecedented for a party to adopt a war strategy to maximize civilian deaths on its own side. This is so strange and evil that it should appall any decent person. Contrary to conventional commentary, this is not a human shield strategy. It’s a human sacrifice strategy.

Since its birth in 1987, Hamas has declared its aim to destroy Israel. Its strategy is asymmetric—that is, because Hamas is smaller and weaker than the Israeli Army, it relies on a strategy designed to undermine Israel politically. In hopes (presumably) that it can induce Saudi leaders to drop their plans to normalize relations with Israel, Hamas launched this war with two goals. First, to provoke uprisings among Arabs and Muslims, both within and outside Israel. Second, to cause the rest of the world to view Israel with disgust and hatred. 

To achieve these aims, Hamas is ensuring that its war will harm and kill large numbers of Palestinians in Gaza. To bring this about, it has strategized and laid groundwork for years. Its aim is to propagandize a gullible world—to put the blood of Palestinian victims on Israel’s hands. 

Defense officials in numerous countries, for operational reasons and to comply with international laws of war, take pains to locate their military assets away from their civilians and to maximize protection for the latter. Hamas officials do the opposite. As United Nations officials and others have disapprovingly noted, Hamas stores ammunition in schools, puts missile launchers adjacent to mosques, sets up command centers in hospitals, and generally bases its operations in densely populated civilian neighborhoods.

This is not simply a human-shield strategy, where the aim is to deter an attack by using innocent lives as a barrier. Hamas is doing something far more insidious: it’s ensuring the mass death of Palestinians. Here is Hamas official Ali Baraka summing up the difference between the two worldviews: “The Israelis are known to love life. We, on the other hand, sacrifice ourselves. We consider our dead to be martyrs.” 

When Hamas fires rockets at Israel and kills, captures, and rapes civilians there, they know Israel will retaliate. Hamas leaders put their assets in civilian buildings not in hopes that Israel will hold fire, but in a cold calculation that the retaliation will do terrible harm to Palestinian civilians—despite the extraordinary efforts Israel’s army makes to avoid it. Hamas is working to maximize, not minimize, that harm. This is to generate international pressure on Israel to end its retaliation—and to strengthen Israel’s enemies in their depiction of the Jewish state as a villain.

Israel has moral and practical reasons for avoiding harm to Palestinian civilians. Israelis pride themselves on acting humanely, even in war. Their military officers—like those in the U.S. military—distinguish between civilian and military sites and never purposefully target the former. Even when attacking senior terrorist leaders, Israel tries to avoid harming their family members, let alone unrelated civilians. To avert collateral damage, Israel routinely provides warnings of attacks, even though they increase risk to Israelis and decrease an attack’s chances of success. In the current war, Israel has notified Gazans in various neighborhoods that there would soon be attacks there and they should hasten to designated safe areas. 

Hamas’s strategy is innovative in the worst way. For everyone who aspires to strengthen moral constraints on warfare, it is a huge step backward. It is savage, cynical, and unnatural—but what’s worse, it’s effective. That is why it’s being used. 

Innocent Palestinians deserve sympathy. But when Americans, Europeans, and others misdirect their outrage at Israel, failing to grasp Hamas’s responsibility, they are encouraging the very cruelty they intend to condemn. 

Blame for the purposeful sacrificing of innocent Palestinians goes first and foremost to Hamas, to be sure, but also to those of us in the outside world duped by this strategy. 

Schools, hospitals, and mosques will be bombed in the coming days. This is what Hamas wants, what it has made sure will happen. Those, however well-intentioned, who blame Israel are complicit in Hamas’s war crimes.

It’s time to place the blame rightly and stop incentivizing Hamas’s crimes against the Palestinians (let alone against the Israelis). For the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis, and to honor basic decency and law, it is the least we can do.

Douglas J. Feith, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the George W. Bush administration.

 

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Join Me at 6:00p.m. ET Tomorrow For a Q&A on Palestine Chris Hedges

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Join me tomorrow, Friday 6:00pm ET for a live Q&A on Palestine. We will be streaming on my Twitter account and on my YouTube channel.

We will be taking questions both live and from this post on Substack. To comment here, you must be a paid subscriber. Hope to see you there!

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June 19, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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This Company Believes in “Protecting Women’s Sports.” TikTok Banned Its Ad. Julia Steinberg

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Jennifer Sey started an apparel company that believes in “protecting women’s sports and spaces.” Its ad was just banned on TikTok. (XX-XY Athletics)

This piece was first published in our news digest, The Front Page. To get our latest scoops, investigations, and columns in your inbox every morning, Monday through Thursday, become a Free Press subscriber today:

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In March, our friend Jennifer Sey, the former Levi’s exec and Covid-19 lockdown critic, told us she was starting an apparel company for women athletes, and since then she’s done exactly that. Her company XX-XY Athletics has put leggings, t-shirts, tank tops, and hats on the market, with both women’s (XX) and men’s (XY) collections. XX-XY Athletics counts its mission, according to Sey, as “protecting women’s sports and spaces and encouraging others to do the same.” 

“If you want your daughters to have the same opportunities you had, stand up,” a recent XX-XY ad says, adding, “If you don’t think it’s fair or safe to allow men to play women’s sports, stand up.”

It turns out that this is not the sort of thing one is allowed to say on TikTok. The Chinese-owned social media platform quickly banned the ad on the grounds that it “may violate TikTok’s advertising policies by featuring offensive content.” Sey posted on X, “When you run an ad standing up for women and girls’ sports, you get banned for life from @tiktok_us.” 

Sey, who was a champion gymnast herself, told me that the ads were on TikTok for less than a week before they were taken down—and that XX-XY’s account has been suspended from posting any ads on the platform. “They offered no reason for how we violated their policies,” Sey said. “Despite the fact that I find the ad quite uplifting, it’s anodyne.” (Watch it for yourself here.) 

Sey’s team will likely appeal TikTok’s decision, which has become a critically important platform for reaching young people. “Fifty percent of people under 30 are on TikTok,” she said. “You gotta fish where the fish are.” At the very least, Sey wants an explanation of what policy she violated.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

 

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