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Why Is the Left Silent About Gaza Tunnels?

The recent discovery of yet another Hamas tunnel from Gaza into Israel elicited shock and condemnation throughout the Jewish world.


Actually, though widely reported in Israel, and sporadically here in the United States, you could hear a pin drop in much of the progressive world, especially among those organizations pressing Israel to pursue peace with Palestine.

This deafening silence is a moral and political mistake.

As discussed in a comprehensive piece in The New Yorker last February, it is clear that Hamas tunnel building has been going full throttle since the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014. It’s unlikely that Hamas has built the 50 tunnels that it’s boasted of, or that there are really “thousands” of people doing the work. But Hamas is building: to smuggle supplies from Egypt, to smuggle arms around Gaza, and to facilitate attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians within Green Line Israel.

It is also quite clear that, if unchecked, the tunnels will lead to another war. This means that, while those of us on the left can debate the extent of Israel’s actions in 2014, it is Hamas that now bears responsibility for escalating tensions. Hamas’s tunnels will inevitably lead to loss of life (primarily, down the road, Palestinian life). They are the enemies of peace — so why are pro-peace organizations like J Street, Peace Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now and others so quiet?

Consider J Street, the most moderate of the bunch. As of May 9, its website had only a couple of buried links to news coverage of the tunnels. Compare that with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which tweeted twice about them in the previous 72 hours, and had 13 pages about them on its website. Is opposing terror tunnels only a right-wing position?

In fact, the more one opposes excessive Israeli militarism, the more one should oppose Hamas terrorism. If we care about the loss of life that will likely result, surely the time to protest is now. At the very least, America-focused organizations could applaud the $120 million in U.S. aid that has reportedly gone to bolster the anti-tunnel effort. Surely this is the kind of aid to Israel that all pro-Israel organizations should support.

Such support will not be found further left, of course. But there is soul-searching to be done there as well. Surely, even if the tunnels are an act of resistance to Israeli domination, they are a moral evil that cannot be defended under any circumstances. Israeli kibbutzniks residing within the Green Line are innocent civilians, not enemy combatants, even if Hamas (and some advocates of boycott, divestment and sanctions) think of every “Zionist” as an occupier.

Indeed, it’s just that kind of slippery language that makes the BDS movement impossible for many of us to support. If, as that movement’s rhetoric often states, the children on Kibbutz Sa’ad are colonialists, occupiers or whatever, then attacking them is a justified act of resistance. But they aren’t. They are civilians who should be left in peace, just like the civilians in Gaza who suffered so much during the bombardments of 2014. Even if resistance to occupation may be justified, the targeting of innocent people must never be, regardless of who practices it. It is immoral, no matter what.

And yet, all we hear from the moderate and far left about the latest tunnel discovery is… crickets.

When the left fails to condemn Palestinian terrorism, its condemnations of Israeli actions — settlements, checkpoints, wars of attrition — ring hollow. It’s easier for the right to label the left as simply taking the Palestinian side, and to act accordingly by taking “Israel’s side” no matter what. If this is just about my team and your team, anything goes.

But it’s not. There are pro-peace and anti-peace camps within both Palestinian and Israeli societies. And whatever the debates and shifts within Hamas, at the very, very least its continued tunnel building, along with many other things, confirms that it is not pro-peace. Not only is it opposed to peace with Israel in principle, its practice of war overtly targets innocent civilians. And while “terrorism” is often more of a political term than a usefully descriptive one, surely building tunnels to attack farmers and their children fits the bill.

I’ve been dismayed to see these facts fudged by many who stand in solidarity with Palestine. Some, including friends and acquaintances of mine, have even traveled to the West Bank and Gaza, where they have internalized a giant load of bullshit from Hamas propagandists who point out their schools and day care centers, hospitals and clinics, as if Hamas were some kind of neighborhood benevolent association and weren’t building tunnels into Israel in order to kidnap, murder and maim innocent people.

This is not to say that Hamas is only a terrorist organization. There is good reason to believe that it was voted into power because Gazans perceived it as less corrupt than the greedy ex-Tunisians of Fatah, who reprehensibly pocketed millions of overseas aid dollars and built themselves luxury villas while their own population starved in squalid refugee camps.

But Hamas is a terrorist organization nonetheless. Whatever good it has done in Gaza, its continued embrace of violence against civilians should place it beyond the pale of anyone identifying as progressive or pro-peace. Should Israel negotiate with Hamas? Maybe. Should any progressive support the organization, tacitly approve of it or remain silent in the face of its terrorist acts? No. Solidarity with Palestine does not mean solidarity with every manifestation of Palestinian resistance. If BDS is truly nonviolent, then its proponents should condemn violence on all sides.

Condemning terrorism should not be left to conservatives. The left’s silence implies that right-wingers are the only ones who care about it, and that their policies — get tougher, don’t yield an inch, wear down the enemy over time — are the only meaningful response. That’s not true politically, and it’s not correct morally. As vocal as the left is in correctly calling out Israeli provocations, land grabs, anti-democratic laws and rejectionism, so, too, it should be calling out Hamas’s acts of terrorism, every single time they are discovered.

The tunnels are evil. Progressives need to say so.

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward. Follow him on Twitter @JayMichaelson


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