By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Some residents of Gaza were taken from their homes and shot in the legs or feet. Some were brutally beaten, and some were simply murdered, sometimes after hideous torture. If you are expecting -- based on everything that has happened -- that the awful Israelis did this, guess again. It was Hamas, the authentic and genuine government of Gaza. Well, no one's perfect.
The information about the shootings is taken from a report issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch. It says that "Hamas security forces or masked gunmen believed to be with Hamas" executed 18 people, most of whom were accused of collaborating with Israel, sparing the expense and bother of a trial. Others were shot, maimed or beaten, not for allegedly collaborating with the enemy -- or, as is often the case, having a house or woman that a snitch covets -- but for belonging to the opposition political party, Fatah.
Many of these murders and assaults took place during Israel's recent pummeling of Gaza. Yet, as Human Rights Watch goes to some pains to document, at no time did Hamas's security forces lose control of Gaza, so the murders and maimings were not a consequence of chaos but of government policy. Whatever the case, the murders, shootings and beatings continued even after the hostilities ended. Since then, at least 14 more people have been executed extrajudicially, which is to say murdered. Some were also tortured.
You can only imagine what would happen if Israel dealt with its internal political enemies or dissenters in such a fashion. Last month, for instance, Israel got a heap of criticism and abuse when it was reported in the Israeli media that some Gaza civilians had been unjustifiably shot by Israeli soldiers. The report was widely cited, not just for its shocking allegations but also because it was supposedly indicative of the sort of place Israel has become. The government said the allegations were based on hearsay. We shall see.
No doubt the Human Rights Watch report will be ignored or dismissed in the greater cause of demonizing Israel. This has been the trend of late. No doubt, too, some will excuse Hamas's criminality as the inevitable result of Israeli actions -- the Officer Krupke School of Behavior made famous by the singing gang members of "West Side Story." But as much as some would like to criticize Israel -- and I have done so myself -- they still have a minimal obligation to acknowledge the difference in core values between Israel and its enemies.
This does not mean that Israel is above criticism. After all, it has made life unbearable for some Palestinians, supported illegal settlements in the West Bank, been too harsh in squeezing Gaza, and, maybe most important, it ought to get out of the West Bank -- for reasons of justice and for its own sake. Still, it remains unimaginable that Israel would murder its domestic critics or silence dissent with the occasional kneecapping. These are the tactics of thugs.
Read the Hamas charter. It is not some uplifting cry of a downtrodden people seeking its freedom but a repellent anti-Semitic screed. It sees the Jews behind every major world event since the storming of the Bastille: "They were behind the French revolution, the communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions . . . for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests." The Rotary? The Lions? Why not Welcome Wagon?
When Israelis talk of the practical difficulties of pulling out of the West Bank, they mean the likelihood that Hamas will oust Fatah and launch rockets into Israel. They are both concerned and appalled by a Hamas charter that, in part, reads like it could have been written by Hitler. Withdrawal is necessary and right, but it cannot be done naively and without the participation of the United States. It's going to take American peacekeepers. It is that simple. No Israeli can trust Hamas to keep the peace.
Human Rights Watch is to be commended. It does not have one standard for Israel and another for Hamas, Hezbollah or the other despotic regimes of the Arab world. That is more than can be said, though, for critics who vilify Israel, romanticize Hamas and clearly have never had the inexpressible pleasure of living in a place where a chance remark can get your legs riddled with lead. Say what you will, but that place could never be Israel.
For more Washington Post opinions on this issue, read Charles Krauthammer's Moral Clarity in Gaza.