In mid-June, the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, seized control of Gaza in a bloody conflict with their Fatah rivals. The New York Times placed the death toll at 120 for the first days of fighting, while The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that intra-Palestinian violence has taken more than 600 lives since the Palestinians' 2006 elections.
In much of the media analysis, this was more political brouhaha than combat, with reports much closer to a contentious dispute between Democrats and Republicans over a Supreme Court nomination.
Michael Matza spent several years as the Inquirer's Jerusalem bureau chief. In March 2006, he characterized Abdel Aziz Dweik, the newly elected Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament, as "imbued with democratic values, including a deep respect for freedom of speech."
Little wonder that his Page 1 analysis, "Palestinian percolations reached the boiling point," characterized the problem as a philosophical conflict between Hamas' Islamic fundamentalism and more secular Fatah.
"The United States will have to rethink its diplomacy in the region, too," wrote Matza. "Its policy of withholding donor aid and political recognition in an effort to marginalize and ultimately unseat Hamas clearly has not worked."
The Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, Steven Erlanger, took a similar approach in his June 17 front-page analysis. In "New Mideast, New Strategy: Palestinian split poses a U.S. policy quandary," Erlanger wrote that Hamas "favors Israel's destruction."
"Favors" hardly seems to do justice to the beliefs of a group whose charter reads, "For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah's victory prevails."
Yet like Matza, Erlanger goes on to declare, "Efforts to reach a shared political consensus will have to continue, because Hamas is clearly not going to go away."
In a piece elsewhere that same day in the Times, Craig Smith and Greg Myre provided their own analysis. "Many ordinary Palestinians," they suggested, "are upset with both factions for allowing the feud to spiral out of control and for their inability to work toward the larger goal of Palestinian statehood and the prospects of a secure economic future." Yet it was Hamas-driven violence originating from Gaza — the first Palestinian self-ruled territory — which made statehood impossible.
Smith and Myre went on to recount that during Jordan's control of the West Bank (journalists almost never describe either Jordanian or Egyptian rule, prior to 1967, as an "occupation"), Jordan "suppressed Palestinian nationalism in favor of Jordanian identity," ignoring the fact that today's Jordan represents nearly 80 percent of the original Palestinian League of Nations Mandate. Jordan, too, was Palestine.
Hamas members and their Islamist brethren have far more in common with the notorious tyrannies of the last century than with Western democratic states. Confronted with Hitler's conquest of Europe and designs on Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill vowed to "never surrender." President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised after Pearl Harbor "inevitable triumph."
Hamas has repeatedly shown that it promises to fight until Israel's destruction. Yet all three media commentaries treat an Israeli victory, à la Churchill and Roosevelt, as not even worthy of consideration. Indeed, reports turning Israel's victory in 1967 into a defeat were widespread just days before Gaza imploded.
Watching the brutality inflicted by rival Palestinian factions, while also recalling years of suicide bombings and other attacks throughout Israel and the Middle East — with thousands dead or injured — can there be any doubt what Hamas fighters would do to Israelis if, God forbid, they were ever given the chance?
This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.