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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Hamas’ New Strategy to Challenge Israel’s Sovereignty

Palestinian protesters burn a representation of an Israeli flag during protests along Gaza's border with Israel, on April 6, 2018. Arabic writing says, "Death to Israel." (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Hamas is adopting a new strategy to threaten Israel’s sovereignty and security. Since March 30, Hamas has mobilized thousands of Gazans to serve as human shields as they demonstrate on Israel’s border. Hamas has embedded its terrorists among innocent civilians—launching a wide range of attacks and seeking to penetrate Israel’s border. Using explosives, guns and Molotov cocktails, these terrorists ultimately intend to attack Israeli citizens within Israeli territory.

For more than 30 years, Hamas has worked to destroy Israel. The Gaza-based terrorist group’s charter promises to “obliterate” Israel and “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of [historic] Palestine.” Hamas has pursued this objective through suicide bombings, rocket strikes, kidnappings, attack tunnels and other forms of terrorism against Israeli civilians. Rather than meeting the basic needs of Gazans, Hamas has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in this fruitless enterprise.

Now Hamas has adopted a new strategy: employ violence while hiding behind “peaceful protestors,” in an effort to manipulate world opinion against Israel. Mahmoud al-Habbash, a senior advisor to Abbas, said on April 6 that “Hamas is deliberately sending Gazan civilians to their deaths to grab good headlines.”

Is Hamas’ intention to establish a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel? Hardly. On April 9, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (while standing in front of a banner featuring pacifist icons Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.) declared that, “We will break the walls of the blockade, remove the occupation entity [Israel] and return to all of Palestine.” By stating “all of Palestine,” Haniyeh is reiterating Hamas’ policy of seeking to destroy Israel.

Hamas’ use of civilian demonstrators as human shields is intended to pose a stark choice to Israel. Israel must either risk harming some number of Palestinian civilians by defending its borders and Israeli citizens, or avoid any harm to Palestinian civilians and so risk the death of large numbers of Israeli citizens. By necessity, the government of Israel has done what any Western democracy would expect its leaders to do: It has ensured its security and sovereignty while minimizing as much as possible the inevitable casualties that result from Hamas’ use of human shields. No country should be forced to make this choice, yet it is one that Israel must confront every time Hamas initiates a new conflict.

Over the years, Israel, with U.S. assistance and cooperation, has used its technological ingenuity to develop innovative ways to minimize casualties. It employs tear gas, water cannons, noise machines and rubber bullets in an effort to prevent Palestinian attacks. But these systems cannot guarantee success—requiring Israel at times to use live ammunition to defend its borders.

America must continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its ally Israel as it confronts these new and growing challenges from Hamas. We must recognize no equivalence between a liberal democracy acting prudently to protect its citizens and a terrorist group using its citizens as human shields in an effort to attack the Jewish state.

Fortunately, the United States is strongly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its borders. “We believe that Israel has the right to defend itself,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said on March 29. And on April 5, U.S. Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt said, “We condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protestors—including children—to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed.”

Further, the United States Congress is considering further sanctions against Hamas. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed (415-0) the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act (H.R. 3542) on Feb. 14. Authored by Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), this bipartisan bill condemns Hamas’ use of human shields and mandates sanctions against those members of the terrorist group who engage in the practice. The Senate must now act to pass this important bipartisan legislation.

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report