Springtime for Hamas

It wasn’t reported as a stand-alone piece in The New York Times or Washington Post for some reason, but on March 19 Hamas security agents raided the Gaza offices of Reuters, seized reporters’ cameras, beat an employee with a metal bar, and announced their intention to throw another (employee, that is, not metal bar) out a window. What brought about the theft, assault, and threatened defenestration was the fact that a reporter in the building had filmed a demonstration taking place on the street below.

A demonstration, it should be noted, in favor of reuniting Hamas, which is pledged to Israel’s destruction, with its current rival Fatah, which administers the West Bank and is, at least in principle, at peace with Israel.

Mere days later, the atmosphere had clouded—maybe cleared would be a better description. First, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that his boss considered unity with Hamas so important that even the withdrawal of American aid to the Palestinian Authority—currently hundreds of millions of dollars annually—would not derail a planned re-alliance of the two Palestinian parties.

Then a prominent Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, visiting Egypt for the first time since its former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, announced that Egypt is actively involved in forging a reconciliation between his group and Fatah. Shortly thereafter, the Arab League moved to endorse the effort, offering to host the necessary talks.

It’s springtime for Hamas. And the season has never smelled so bad.

The end of March brought us something else too: Hamas’ and Fatah’s reaction to reports that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—the UN arm that provides services to “Palestinian refugees”—was planning to include a short study of the Holocaust in its schools’ human rights curricula. The notion that the 200,000 children in UN-funded Gazan schools and thousands more in other UNRWA-administered areas might be apprised about what happened to the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s was apparently too much for the Palestinian parties to digest.

“Playing with the education of our children in the Gaza Strip is a red line,” Hamas Education Minister Mohammed Asqoul declared, adding that that his group would block any such plan “regardless of the price.”

Zakaria al-Agha, the leader of Fatah in Gaza and a member of Fatah’s central committee, put it baldly: “Teaching the Holocaust to Palestinian students in U.N. schools is unacceptable.” The Associated Press reported that approximately a dozen Gazan schoolteachers who were interviewed decried the plan too, and “warned of rebellion” were any attempt made to implement it.

None of them need worry. Holocaust education no longer seems to be on the UNRWA’s plate, if ever it seriously was. The agency’s representative in Jordan was quoted by a paper in that country as asserting that no curricular changes, in the end, were being planned.

Witnessing such unhidden contempt for history puts one in the mind of recalling part of President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo. After declaring that America’s “strong bonds with Israel” are “unbreakable,” he took pains to remind the Islamic world about the Holocaust. Noting that he was headed the very next day to Buchenwald, “part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich,” he pointedly pointed out that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was greater “than the entire Jewish population of Israel today.”

And he continued, equally pointedly, that denying the Holocaust “is baseless, ignorant, and hateful,” and that “threatening Israel with destruction—or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews—is deeply wrong.”

Some observers criticized Mr. Obama for, as they chose to see it, eliding the inherent Jewish claim to Eretz Yisrael. (Presumably he should have quoted the first Rashi in the Chumash.) But, to less jaundiced ears, his words were a worthy rebuke of Arabdom’s willful ignorance and Jew-hatred. Not to mention, a worthy introduction to his main point: “Palestinians,” he said, “must abandon violence.”

Should Hamas’ fetid springtime indeed bloom, and we become witness to the recreation of its unholy alliance with Fatah, one hopes Mr. Obama will well recall Hamas’ foundational pledge to destroy Israel, the Palestinian non-narrative of the Holocaust—and his own trenchant words in Cairo.


[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]

The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

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