Alex Ryvchin – A ‘Calculus of Death’: Hamas’ Propaganda War in Gaza

The following article was written by ECAJ co-CEO Alex Ryvchin, and was originally published by ABC Religion and Ethics.


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A ‘Calculus of Death’: Hamas’ Propaganda War in Gaza

Alex Ryvchin
ABC Religion & Ethics
May 23, 2018

Contrary to reports attributing the clashes on Israel’s border with Gaza to the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, the large-scale gatherings and attempts to breach the border began in earnest on 30 March.

The underlying motivation has been plainly stated by the Palestinian leadership in Gaza: to “remove the transient border” between Israel and Gaza, in the words of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, and to achieve a Palestinian “return” to “all of Palestine,” according to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

These objectives were supplemented with instructions to kill and abduct Israeli civilians and soldiers in the Israeli border communities.

Palestinians claim a “right of return,” not into a future Palestinian State, but into Israel, for up to 7 million descendants of Palestinians displaced during Israel’s war of independence 70 years ago.

The number of Palestinians alive today who were personally displaced following the invasion of Israel is estimated at around 30,000. The concept of hereditary refugee status in perpetuity for those who were never personally displaced is unique to the Palestinian cause and is claimed by no other people.

Veiled in the language of human rights and international law, the “right of return” is concerned with neither law nor human rights. It has long stood as a euphemism for the obliteration of any autonomous Jewish presence in the Middle East by turning the Jews into a minority in their own national home, and replacing it with a twenty-third majority Arab state.

While the march has predictably been framed – and virtually uncritically accepted – as a peaceful, popular demonstration, nothing happens in Gaza except at the direction of Hamas. And nothing done by Hamas is for peaceful purposes. It remains, openly and unashamedly, committed to the annihilation of the Jewish people and their nation-state. The complete absence of any democratic institutions in the Gaza Strip, let alone any civil society with the freedom or capacity to organize a demonstration, means that any public gathering occurs only at the behest of Gaza’s Islamist rulers and in keeping with its strategic interests.

To be sure, the majority of the tens of thousands assembled at the border did not engage in violence. However, facing squads of Hamas fighters armed with grenades, bombs and guns, embedded among the masses of non-combatants, Israel deployed its forces. It attempted to prevent breaches of the border with crowd control measures such as rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, and in response to the numerous attempts to bomb or infiltrate the border fence, it used live rounds.

The majority of the dead have been named by Hamas as its operatives. The widow of a member of the rival Fatah faction killed near the border left no doubt as to the responsibility for the violence: “The leaders are sending young men toward the borders. The people are the victims.”

Writing for Bloomberg during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, the American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg observed:

“Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse, but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior, because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.”

Alan Dershowitz had made the same observation a few years earlier when he referred to the “calculus of death” adopted by Palestinian terrorists. Dead Israelis constitute a success. While the higher the civilian death toll on the Palestinian side, the more effective the ensuing propaganda against Israel. In other words, death on either side serves the interests of the terrorists. The well-documented use of human shields by Hamas, the deployment of child soldiers, and the use of minors to goad Israeli soldiers in the West Bank as Palestinian parents record on their iPhones from a safe distance, are all outgrowths of this formulation.

There is a further component to this macabre equation that is essential to its success: the support of the West. To succeed, the strategy of Palestinian terrorists depends on a compliant press that will publish hagiographic renderings of “resistance” and heroism, a sympathetic civil society of NGOs and activist churches that will run campaigns based around the Palestinian narrative of victimhood, and a hollow United Nations to issue reflexive condemnations, and carry out politicized fact-finding missions and inquiries which never fail to accuse Israel and excuse the Palestinians.

This latest escalation has followed the same pattern. Hamas, which exercises absolute rule in Gaza, orchestrated a confrontation with Israel that once again has “no plausible strategic goal” beyond achieving crucial “propaganda victories.” Such is the calculus of Hamas. Like all autocracies, it views its people to be wholly dispensable, fodder on the path to a glorious victory. It is adept at exploiting the sympathies of the West, while reviling the Western values of which that sympathy is borne.

As long as Hamas can rely on Western audiences to imbibe images of young children marching on a border, without questioning at whose callous instigation that child has been sent forth and for what purpose, Israelis and Palestinians are destined to move from one bout of violence to the next.

Alex Ryvchin is the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. His new book is The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State.

Image Source: ABC RELIGION & ETHICS / MAHMUD HAMS / AFP / GETTY IMAGES