The Death of Hamas’ Weakness Excuse, or Why Might Can Be Right

The west is in love with the idea that morality is simply a function of who has power and strength. If you have it, you're morally bad. If you don't, you're morally good. On Saturday, Hamas showed how this is nonsense.

(Source: Schaeferle, Pixabay)

I still remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was almost two decades ago. A journalist came to our university to discuss the challenges of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After talking about the ins and outs of both sides, he blurted out that “It’s David against Goliath! It’s David against Goliath!”

That was the trump card for him, and presumably for many others. Hamas’ intentions didn’t matter. Their rhetoric didn’t matter. Even the horrific nature of their actions – at the time, “only” suicide bombings, individual shootings, and rocket fire on civilians – didn’t matter. Hamas is weak and Israel strong, and that’s the end of the moral discussion.

Hamas leaders themselves played on those sentiments, claiming that the reason they target civilians was because they lack F-15s like Israel. Their weakness, so goes the argument, “forced” them to act against and outright ignore modern rules about moral warfare. Presumably, once Hamas was strong and resilient and confident enough, it would join the ranks of relatively civilized nations, and while not acting perfectly in war – no country does – they would no longer feel forced to do things most people think barbaric and abhorrent.

That claim was completely destroyed last Saturday.

By all accounts and reports on all sides, the Hamas force that raided and invaded Israel was a serious one. It was not a ragtag group of desperate, crazed “open-air prisoners” or amateurs who have no choice but to hit soft targets. This was a disciplined army, with weapons, training, and tactics to match. They knew how to deploy effectively, to set ambushes, to fight enemy fire with fire. Everything, in short, that a civilized army does.

Except that far from behaving like a newly inducted and respectable member of the international world, the Hamas force behaved even worse than it did when it was but a “weak” organization blowing up buses. All that discipline, training, and skill was laser focused on committing crimes of such cruelty and barbarity, it was reminiscent of the kind of horrific human behavior which international treaty after international treaty was supposed to stamp out.

This was not an act of desperation. This was a conscious, deliberate choice.

It turns out, contra the journalist who spoke at my university, that intentions do matter. As does rhetoric and ideology. It turns out that weak people are not necessarily good just because they’re weak, they may indeed be evil themselves - and when they become strong, they simply become better at being evil.

The fact that they claim to speak for possible legitimate grievances does not say much about their moral status, either. History, after all, is filled with horrifically evil movements that appeared powerless at first and which championed popular grievances – the Nazis attacking the Versailles Treaty, the Bolsheviks attacking Czarist oppression – only to show that once in power, these were mere tools to further a moral vision that makes their enemies’ claimed misdeeds, real or alleged, seem minor in comparison.

The same is true in the reverse. Israel has been the militarily more powerful side in this fight since Egypt and Jordan took their armies out of the conflict, even if Israel has often been at a serious disadvantage in other spheres such as foreign affairs. It has maintained this power for years, yet despite this, Israel has never conducted or even contemplated doing anything within the same universe Hamas did with a fraction of the IDF’s conventional power. It turns out that being moral is simply a function of being moral, and the presence or absence of strength or weakness says little about whether you will be so.

So some people might still cling to the belief that the weak are always in the right and the strong always in the wrong. I think anyone who ponders the past week’s events will see it’s nowhere near that simple.


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