By Jeff Robbins- Boston Globe
December 30, 2008
LAST MONTH'S commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provided the occasion to ask difficult questions about societies whose political leadership serially violates them. What, for instance, is to be done about places like Darfur or Zimbabwe, or any one of a multitude of places governed by leaders whose consciences appear untouched by the suffering they are causing? To the list of grotesque human rights violators must be added Hamas, whose disdain for the suffering its policies cause the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip is exceeded only by its open, and even proud, infliction of atrocities on Israeli civilians.
This year alone, Hamas, which expressly calls for the obliteration of Israel, has launched approximately 3,000 rockets and mortar bombs into Israeli civilian centers, always for the purpose of killing and maiming Israelis if possible, and terrifying those who are not actually hit. In the last week or so, Hamas has fired some 200 rockets and bombs into Israeli communities.
Under these circumstances - circumstances which would have continued without end had the Israelis failed to act - it seems clear that the Israeli military response was not merely a necessary one. It was, regrettably, the only one left.
Israeli author Amos Oz, whose call for peace with the Palestinians is shared by a majority of Israelis, succinctly described the brutalization of Israeli civilians in terms that cannot fairly be disputed. In a recent piece entitled "Israel Must Defend Its Citizens," the longtime advocate for reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis wrote: "The systematic bombing of the citizens in Israel's towns and cities is a war crime and a crime against humanity."
Oz is correct. But it isn't only Israelis whose fundamental human rights Hamas is violating. It is those of the Palestinian population about whose welfare Hamas professes to care.
In direct contravention of international law, Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, utilizing homes, schools and community centers as launching pads, content in the knowledge that if innocent Palestinian civilians are caught in the cross-fire, it will be Israel that is criticized. This amounts to a sort of Daily Double of human rights violations: the use of innocent Palestinians as human shields for the infliction of violence upon innocent Israelis.
It is Hamas that perfected the use of the suicide bomb, by which young Palestinians were induced to kill themselves so that Israelis could also be killed. It is somehow apt that Hamas should be forever associated with the suicide bomb, for in a larger sense Hamas has proved to be an instrument of the demise of Palestinians in Gaza.
Hamas's persistent call for the annihilation of Israel through jihad, its unequivocal rejection of any peace with Israel under any circumstances, its seizure of Gaza through a coup d'etat, its repression of women and freedom of expression, and its embrace of Iran have all disgusted the international community, which will have little to do with it. Hamas has likewise repelled numerous Arab governments, which might otherwise have been expected to dip into their ample reserves of petrodollars to provide much-needed aid and foreign investment to Gaza, but which have steered clear of it.
Thus Hamas leads the Gazan population on a kamikaze course. The suffering of Gazans cannot conceivably be a genuine concern of the leadership, given the perpetuation of that suffering for which Hamas is responsible. And the suffering of Israelis is its avowed goal.
Whether it was South Africa or Sudan, the international community has understood that the way to deal with truly egregious human rights violators is not to placate them, but to speak the truth about them, and to them. If the truth is spoken plainly enough, and forcefully enough, to a Hamas leadership whose cruelty and callousness have reached alarming levels, it may be that the Palestinians and Israelis alike may be spared further suffering of the kind to which they have been relegated in the past.
Jeff Robbins, an attorney, was a US delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission during the Clinton administration.
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