News reports on the exploding conflict in the Middle East surround the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by "Palestinian militants." On the surface there are few religious issues in play here, but a little digging will indicate that the religious convictions of two groups of people are central to the region's conflict. There is the obvious fact that one side is Muslim and the other is Jewish, but the tough questions lie in the differing factions in these two groups. For starters, someone might explain the political (theological?) differences between Hamas and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba. Then there are the left-leaning and right-leaning parties (also theological) in the Israeli government. Then there are those shades of grey.
The views of the Israeli political parties are well known. One side wants aggression against the Palestinians, the other wants to work things out. Coverage of the Palestinians is less thorough.
For instance, here is one thing I would like a reporter in the Middle East to explain to me: why do some Palestinians, usually given the bland term "militants," continue to lob rockets with the intent of hurting people and then get all surprised when the Israeli military punches back? I am sure there are several answers to this question, depending on who you ask, but it deserves at least an attempt at an answer.
Two articles -- the first by The New York Times and the other by The Washington Post -- do little to explain the all-important differences, but that is OK since there's little room for background in a fast-developing news story.
For help, I want to turn to The New Republic, which (with Martin Peretz at the helm) has been fairly consistent on the Middle East. Here is part of TNR's report filed by foreign correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi, who has highlighted a key shift in the Hamas government:
Resuming assassinations against Hamas's political echelon is, of course, a declaration of war against the Hamas regime. But given its official sanctioning of kidnapping, Hamas has already declared war against Israel. Hamas's adoption of the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq comes as no surprise. After the killing of Zarqawi, Hamas issued a statement mourning his death and urging continued "resistance," thereby making the Hamas regime the world's only openly pro-Al Qaeda government. Unfortunately, the international media missed the significance of that moment.
That lapse in media judgment is worth recalling in the coming days, when much of the media will be presenting the "prisoners' document" -- a set of demands drawn up by Hamas and Fatah members imprisoned in Israel -- as a historic Hamas concession, offering "tacit" recognition of Israel. In fact, the document does nothing of the sort. Nowhere does the document recognize the right of Israel to exist. Instead, it calls for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, followed by the "right" of Palestinian refugees to resettle in Israel and demographically overwhelm the Jewish state. The prisoners' document, in other words, is a plan for the phased destruction of Israel -- precisely why Hamas can endorse it.
The article provides a good amount of history and a bit on the theology behind Israel's seemingly harsh reaction against Hamas for the kidnapping, but the item that caught my attention the most was that Hamas has shifted toward Al Qaeda. Is this merely a political move? Why so little coverage? Where is the theological connection between the two groups that would make this union work? Or is a connection even necessary?
Top photo courtesy of Flickr.