Thank you for your note saying how sorry you were about the Hamas murders of Israeli civilians. It was emotionally intelligent of you to realise how welcome it would be to hear from you as a non-Jew. It suggests you understand how isolated and scared the community feels at the moment. Hearing from you confirmed my instinct that we are not alone and that was very reassuring.
I wish I could say the same about the rest of your email, no matter how well intentioned it was.
Within a couple of sentences of your condemnation of Hamas and as its terrorist acts (though this wasn’t the phrase you used) you expressed the hope that Israel wouldn’t “seek revenge” and that “all sides should show restraint”. This was as frustrating as the beginning of your message was heart-warming.
We’ve known each other a long time and I respect you greatly. I understand that you are desperate about the innocent lives that will inevitably be lost in the war that Hamas has started. I know your reaction comes from a place of deep compassion.
But nonetheless I feel it is desperately wrong. Let me explain.
The place to start is with the Free Palestine chant, to be heard all over London accompanied by the message that this should be “from the river to the sea”. There have been various attempts to suggest that Jews are wrong to be concerned about this as it refers to Palestinian civil liberties, not to the eradication of Israel. Similarly we shouldn’t worry about people calling for jihad as there are many different meanings of this.
I oscillate in my reaction to this. Some of the time I laugh at people prepared to believe something so obviously ridiculous. And some of the time I am furious that I am being fobbed off with something so obviously ridiculous, and feel the people doing it don’t believe it themselves and are laughing at me.
A Pro-Palestinian protest near the Israeli embassy in London in May 2021 (Photo: Getty Images)
But either way, the truth is being ignored. Hamas do not want civil liberties for Palestinians or indeed for anyone else. They are opposed to the very notion of civil liberties. They are a murderous, extremist cult who suppress dissent of all kinds brutally. They have fought alternative Palestinian leadership as viciously as they are fighting Israel.
From the river to the sea is their policy and jihad is their desired method and they know exactly what these things mean and why they want people to chant them.
What this means is that as long as Hamas dominates there can be no Free Palestine. No liberty. No freedom. No security. I don’t just mean for Israelis. I mean for Palestinians too.
For as long as Hamas dominates, it will launch wars against Israel, as it did earlier this month. It does this as a strategy to provoke nice people like you to put pressure on Israel to allow Hamas more freedom. So every time you write to me as you did, you are encouraging them to carry on. This, I know, is far from you what you want. But it is the practical effect.
Urging Israel to hold back now, or call a ceasefire, is not the same as wishing for peace or urging a two state solution, or saying you don’t like Benjamin Netanyahu or arguing that the settlements are a moral and strategic error. It is not the same as trying to be liberal and pacific.
It is, instead, arguing that Hamas ought to be rewarded for their action and that peace and security is possible with them next door. Which it simply isn’t.
What freeing Palestine requires above all is for Hamas to be completely defeated. This may not be sufficient, but it is certainly necessary. And what that means is that Israel has to see through its policy of defeating them. And you have to support it. Not (and this is important) despite the impact on innocent Palestinians. But because of the impact on them. Because they need liberation and security from Hamas as much as any Israeli does.
It is impossible to pursue a policy of defeating Hamas without resolve. And that resolve needs your backing. So as thoughtful as it was of you to be in touch, that’s really not going to be enough.