Of all the points of disagreement between Israel and Hamas, maybe the most profound is this one: Israel cares more about sparing innocent lives - including those of Palestinians - than does Hamas. Not only have Hamas and other militant groups this year sent more than 700 rockets crashing haphazardly into southern Israel, but Hamas instigated yet another war where the chief loser will certainly be its own people. If hell has a beach, it's located in Gaza.
The Gaza Strip is a congested, fetid place. In its slums and housing blocks, Hamas has hidden weapons, explosives and rocket launchers. Israel has gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. Its air force has used new, highly accurate ammunition aiming for rocket-launching sites and government installations. For the most part, it has succeeded.
For Hamas, civilian casualties are an asset. Palestinians love and grieve as do other people, but Hamas leadership knows that the world has gotten impatient with Israel. Increasingly, many people now see Israel as the aggressor, as Gaza's occupying power (never mind the 2005 pullout), and they overlook such trifles as the Hamas charter, which is repellently anti-Semitic and cites the discredited forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." In the Hamas cosmology, Jews are so evil that somehow, "they also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials." This, you would have to concede, is a wholly original take on the Holocaust.
Many in the West heroically ignore such nonsense. They embrace Hamas as the champions of a victimized Third World people. In recent days, some editorialists have bemoaned the war and Hamas' role in inciting it. But then comes the inevitable "however." "However, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu must also take much blame for stoking resentment among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank for so long," opined The Financial Times. The New York Times' caveat came lower down in its initial editorial on the war: "But it would be easier to win support for retaliatory action if Israel was engaged in serious negotiations with Hamas' rival, the Palestinian Authority." Apparently, 700 rockets are not enough.
Let us stipulate: Palestinians have suffered greatly. They have legitimate grievances. Israel has at times been a bully, and the slow and steady march of West Bank settlements is both wrong and destructive of the (nonexistent) peace process. But it is insane to apply the Officer Krupke rule (see "West Side Story") to Hamas: "We ain't no delinquents, we're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good." There is little good in Hamas.
Hamas is not the passive party here. It rules Gaza by force. The other day it murdered - please don't say "executed" - an alleged collaborator without the inconvenience of a trial, shooting the man on a crowded street. It chose to make war by allowing more militant groups to use Gaza as a launching pad for rockets and firing off the occasional rocket itself. No nation is going to put up with this sort of terror. The rockets do some (not a lot of) damage, but that's not the point. The point instead is that people who have the wherewithal will not continue to live in a place where even the occasional rocket can come down on your kids' school. This is not a mere border problem. For Israel, this is an existential threat.
What various editorial writers and others seem not to understand is that the very peace agreement they accuse Israel of forestalling is impeded by Hamas' use of violence. Who wants to make peace with extremists? Who wants to give up land for the promises of peace offered by zealots who read Hitler for inspiration? Israel pulled out of Gaza once already. Abandoned greenhouses were refurbished by Jewish philanthropists in America. The greenhouses were trashed and with them what now seems like naive optimism. Soon, Hamas took control and the rockets started hitting Israel.
This war between Arabs and Jews, between Israelis and Palestinians, is well over 100 years old. Both sides have a case and both sides have proved to be indomitable. But both sides are not equally right in all instances. Hamas sent rockets into Israel, not caring if they hit a chicken coop or a group of toddlers jumping in and out of a sprinkler. You want balance? Here's balance. Hamas didn't care if its own people died either.
Richard Cohen's email address is email@example.com.