Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Tragedy of Dogma at All Costs

By Rabbis Reuben Poupko and Chaim Steinmetz, Co-chairs, Canadian Rabbinic Caucus

Violence once again dominates the news from the Middle East. Canadians watch images of aerial bombings and rocket attacks, and are sickened by the bloodshed. Sadly, these tragic events are driven by a fanatical ideology that rejects compromise and reconciliation. These events are the result of the tragic pursuit of dogma at all costs, which has brought death and destruction to the entire region.

This dogma was on display in a recent rally in Vancouver. Rather than calling for peace, the rally’s participants chanted the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free.” For those unfamiliar with this slogan, the explanation is simple: these demonstrators were reiterating the Hamas dogma that the Jewish State must be destroyed and replaced with a Palestinian one.

Sadly, as Israel becomes more willing to compromise, Hamas has become increasingly fanatical. In August 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew its entire military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip. This withdrawal came in the context of a wide consensus in Israel, one that developed in the 1990’s, to seek a two State solution to the conflict. The Gaza withdrawal was understood by all parties involved as a test run for a radically new approach to the conflict that had caused so much misery to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

We now know the result. The withdrawal was a golden opportunity for Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to be a peaceful neighbor. Instead, the absence of the Israeli military was used to increase rocket attacks on the Israelis. (Currently, 700,000 Israelis live in areas targeted by Hamas rockets.) Instead of peace, Hamas chose war.

Hamas chose war because it insists on dogma at all costs. Hamas, funded by Islamic radicals (such as Iran), represents the worst elements of Islamic radicalism. For Hamas, there is no possibility for a two state solution. Theologically, it cannot accept the possibility of any Jewish state in Israel, which, in Hamas’ view, is an insult to Islam and must be destroyed. In other words, Hamas would acquiesce to the destruction of Gaza, if Israel would be destroyed at the same time. That is why Hamas takes sadistic joy in killing Israeli civilians; suicide bombers who kill Israelis, including young children, are celebrated as heroes. In the past few days, Hamas TV has featured images of “Israeli” skulls dripping with blood, with the caption "Let them taste violent death" as well as the narration "Send them to Hell! Tear them to pieces!".

Ironically, the greatest victims in Hamas’ war on Israel are the Palestinians themselves. After pushing the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza, Hamas embarked on uncompromising strategy of terror. Instead of building the foundations of a future state, Hamas poured its energy into kidnappings and Kassams, and the economic development of Gaza was held hostage by a leadership intent on war. It may be puzzling for Canadians to comprehend how Hamas, which is at a military disadvantage to Israel, still insists on attacking Israeli civilians again and again. But intent on pursuing dogma at all costs, Hamas does the irrational. Perhaps Bassem Abu-Sumayyah, the director of the Palestinian TV & Radio Authority, said it best: "Hamas blocked its ears… They should have had even a little bit of political and security sense, and not left the people wandering, and losing their way, getting killed and injured. It is clear that Hamas was struck by megalomania since they took over Gaza…. Hamas behaved like a superpower…..”. In the grips of a fanatical megalomania, Hamas is willing to destroy Gaza in order to inflict pain on Israel. That is why responsible leaders in the region, including the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, have condemned Hamas in the sharpest terms possible.

No sovereign state can tolerate constant attacks on its civilian population. Hamas has been launching rocket attacks for nearly eight years now, and Israel has tolerated these attacks far longer than any country should. Now Israel has to protect herself. If there is hope for a two state solution, Israelis must be convinced that territory under Palestinian control will be used for development of Palestinian society, and not as a launching pad for attacks against Israeli civilians. If Hamas, which pursues its extreme dogma at all costs, continues to control Gaza, there will be no chance for peace. A permanent two state solution depends on compromise and moderation.

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