What Would Israel Do in Hamas' Shoes?

The Palestinian response to the killing of Mohammed Deif’s wife and son will be exactly like the Israeli response in the reverse situation: Vengeance and retribution.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Relatives of 27-year-old Vidad Deif, the wife of Hamas's military commander Mohammed Deif, carry her body during her funeral procession, Gaza Strip, August 20, 2014.
Relatives of 27-year-old Vidad Deif, the wife of Hamas's military commander Mohammed Deif, carry her body during her funeral procession, Gaza Strip, August 20, 2014.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Think of a terrible scenario: Hamas, heaven forbid, kills Sara and Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife and son. Another scenario, no less terrible: the targets are Revital and Nadav Gantz, the IDF chief of staff’s wife and son. What would Hamas have gotten out of such horrific murders? And how would Israel have reacted? Submitted to its demands? Would public opinion have moderated? Would Israel ever forgive?

And what would Hamas benefit if it succeeded, heaven forbid, to kill the prime minister or the chief of staff? Wouldn’t we have found substitutes? Would Israel have renounced its leadership? Bowed its head to its leaders’ assassins? Would Israel have hastened to build them a deep-water seaport and airport in Gaza?

Whoever decided to try to assassinate Mohammed Deif and succeeded in killing Widad, his wife, and Ali, his son (an 8-month-old infant), didn’t think in those terms. Israelis are never willing to play the opposite-role game and consider what would have happened if we were in their place. It’s part of our dehumanization and demonization of the Palestinians. Murdering their leaders and commanders? Legitimate. Murdering ours? Monstrous horror. How can you even compare?

Those responsible for murdering the members of the Deif family were looking for a victory picture, or at least a pain photo, painful enough to stop the rocket fire. But the effect was, and always will be, the opposite. This action too will only intensify the resistance, extremism and resolve, just as it would have done in the reverse situation, of killing an Israeli leader.

A war that began with the “pain map” drafted by the Air Force, which included bombing the homes of “Hamas operatives” – a wondrously flexible term that comprised bombing the homes and families of a hospital director and police chief – was looking for a happy ending. The moral issue of bombing a house with all its residents inside, of attempting to assassinate Deif and killing his wife and baby son – aren’t they innocent? – raise only a snigger in the Israel of today. Setting the moral issues aside, as there’s no demand to consider them, what about sense or reason? That is likewise not a prevalent commodity. Not to mention learning the lessons from the futile past of targeted killings. The people want an assassination – let’s give it one.

The Palestinian response to the killing of Deif’s wife and son will be exactly like the Israeli response in the reverse situation. Vengeance and retribution. We saw it in Tuesday's and Wednesday's barrages and we’ll see it in the days to come. There will be no substitute for Deif’s wife and son, but there would most certainly be one for Deif – as there was one for all his predecessors, fatalities of Israel’s targeted killings over the generations.

None of the replacements was more moderate than his predecessor. Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi wasn’t more moderate than Ahmed Yassin, Deif is not more moderate than Ahmed Jabari, and Yahya Ayyash’s heir was not Mahmoud Abbas. No assassination has ever changed the picture for the better. Israel only hung more scalps on its belt, a false display of victory. Israel got nothing out of them but bloodshed, lust for revenge and feelings of hatred. But why should Israel learn from its past? That’s too sensible and self-evident.

Like a used-up wad of chewing gum stuck to one’s sole, this war is sticking to Israel and Gaza, refusing to let go. Its end is nowhere in sight, it has no conclusion. Tuesday’s assassination only prolonged its days.

Nobody knows what terms the Israeli delegation agreed to in Cairo and, just as inexplicably, nobody knows what terms it refused, either. The impression emerging from the smoke screen is that Israel did not agree to give Gaza much, if anything, and Hamas reacted, in self-evident frustration, with rocket fire.

There are other (imaginary?) scenarios as well. For example, Israel saw the chance to kill Deif, so it retracted its agreements, preparing the ground for the mother of all victory photos. But what good did that do? Nothing. No quiet, not even a mock victory photo, only more blood and retribution.

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