Last month, following a 50-day war, Israel and the terrorist group Hamas reached a truce. Even though the Palestinians in Gaza claimed a death toll of over 2,100 people, nearly 500,000 displaced persons and rubble lining the streets where buildings used to be, Palestinians filled the streets of Gaza in celebration as Hamas leaders are declaring victory over Israel.
With so much death and destruction, how is it possible that Hamas can claim victory?
It is actually quite simple. Hamas can declare victory because they do not care about the death and suffering of Palestinians.
During the war, Palestinians fired over 3,600 rockets and mortars into Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system shot down 735 of those rockets. With such an advanced protection system, Israel suffered a much smaller death toll of 70 deaths, 64 of whom were soldiers.
The Palestinians are claiming a death toll much higher than that of Israel. However, to Hamas, the death toll is almost completely irrelevant. Hamas has often repeated their desire for more death and destruction. In an announcement on Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas Chief of Staff Muhammad Deif stated, “[w]e love death like our enemies love life.” To Hamas, the death of Palestinians is only important when it can be used as a PR tool.
Hamas regularly places civilians in harm’s way and inflates their casualty numbers. Being able to cite a casualty rate 30 times higher than Israel’s was nothing more than fodder for Hamas to use when screaming to the international community that Israel is going beyond mere self-defense.
Hamas is not a responsible government. That is, they have no responsibility to respond to the needs of the people under their charge. Hamas uses private homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques to fire rockets with the expectation that Israel would respond by destroying those locations. The more destruction and suffering this caused the Palestinians, the better the PR fodder for Hamas.
Once you eliminate the idea that Hamas actually cares about the lives and suffering of Palestinians the easier it is to see how they can claim victory. Hamas used the fighting to gain in several strategic areas.
The cease-fire agreement reached between Israel and Hamas includes the extension of Gaza coastal water usage, opening the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, and narrowing the security buffer along the Gaza border. While the broadening of access to and from Gaza is for humanitarian purposes, Hamas has a history of utilizing goods, intended for humanitarian purposes, to aid in the construction of terror tunnels used to stockpile weapons and equipment, with the purpose to conduct assaults on Israeli civilians.
Additionally, Hamas has gained a level of international recognition, including from the United States. Palestinian activists lined streets of major U.S. cities chanting, “We are Hamas!” A de facto recognition started after the Obama Administration chose not to eliminate funding to the Palestinian government after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new unity government that incorporates Hamas appointed ministers. In an op-ed for Foreign Policy, former President Jimmy Carter went so far as to write that the key to ending the conflict is “recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor.”
Hamas is an openly anti-Semitic terrorist group, founded under a platform that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and of Jews around the world. The stated goal of Operation Protective Edge was to remove Hamas’ terror infrastructure. Many Israeli officials were calling for the organizations complete destruction. Yet, part of the cease-fire agreement was a pledge by Israel to cease the targeted killings of Hamas leaders. This concession, is in effect, recognition by the Israeli government that Hamas can continue to exist.
Starting with nothing, Hamas was able to kill Israeli’s, gain concessions that broaden access to Gaza, and gain international recognition. While many people cite death tolls as a proof that Hamas did not win this recent war, Hamas does not factor the death of Palestinians into the equation when calculating their victory. While Hamas may not have won the military victory, the fact that they still exist is a sign that Israel lost.
Alex VanNess is the Manager of Public Information for the Center for Security Policy.