The word Hamas means "zeal" in Arabic and "violence" in Hebrew. The group lived up to its name, zealously firing thousands of rockets into Israel over the course of the latest Gaza conflict. If it were not for the miraculous Iron Dome missile defense system deployed by the Israelis, the rockets could have killed hundreds or even thousands of innocents. Yet, somehow, the group has found a small but obstreperous gaggle of congressional apologists in Washington. The very existence of a "Hamas caucus" is beyond odd given how positively Americans typically view Israel and how much terrorism is reviled by both Democrats and Republicans alike.
If you read the accounts of how this most recent round of fighting began, many reporters have parroted the line that Israel was evicting Arab residents from their home in Jerusalem. This, in turn, was said to trigger Hamas. The group began firing rockets at Israel, Israel responded, and all hell broke loose.
A few additional facts about Hamas are useful here. First, Hamas is a designated terrorist group in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere around the world. In the United States, Hamas was designated in 1997, after carrying out a gruesome campaign of suicide bombings designed to disrupt the Palestinian-Israeli peace process that had gathered momentum at the time. The group has molted over the years. It has received a large amount of cash, weapons, and training from the Islamic Republic of Iran. So, whereas it was once a domestic Islamist group driven by an amalgam of domestic and Islamist ideas, it is now a full-fledged proxy of Tehran. And it launches wars against Israel every few years, usually with new weapons and new deadly tactics. Israel has bested the group each time.
During this latest conflagration, the decision to pick a fight was once again pursued by Hamas. The group watched all the way from Gaza as tensions simmered in Jerusalem. Amid the typically tense month of Ramadan, Israel's judicial system was expected to rule against Arab residents of Jerusalem in a property dispute. Hamas had recently been blocked from taking part in the Palestinian elections. It was looking to reassert its political primacy.
So, it launched a war in the name of defending Jerusalem. On May 10, Hamas issued an ultimatum, demanding that Israel remove its security forces from the sites of tension in Jerusalem and release Palestinian prisoners. If Israel did not meet these unrealistic demands by 6 p.m., Hamas and other terrorist groups would attack. And they did.
In the course of nearly two weeks, Hamas and a handful of allied Palestinian terrorist groups launched more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli population centers, killing a dozen people. Because the projectiles were rockets, not missiles, they were mostly unguided — meaning that the group was firing blindly into Israel, with the hope of killing civilians. Around one-fifth of Hamas's rockets landed in Gaza, causing death and destruction among its own people. Even more appalling, many of those rockets were fired in or near civilian areas of Gaza. Using human shields is a war crime.
While these facts are hard to ignore, legislators nonetheless have effectively shrugged and instead condemned Israel for defending itself with too much force. Rep. Ilhan Omar attempted to cast doubt on Hamas's usage of human shields. She later accused Israel of "crimes against humanity" and "human rights abuses" stemming from its response to Hamas's rocket onslaught. Rep. Rashida Tlaib accused Israel of killing babies even though all loss of life came as a result of Hamas's first decision to begin launching rockets into Israel. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also lashed out at Israel, tweeting, "Apartheid states aren't democracies." It was unmitigated animus on display.
Such displays are undoubtedly designed to signal support for the Palestinian cause. But shrugging off the deleterious impact of Hamas is anything but "pro-Palestinian." Ever since the group seized the Gaza Strip by force in 2007, in a brutal civil war with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas has given the coastal enclave's 2 million Palestinian residents nothing but misery. The group knows it is picking an asymmetric fight with a well-armed and trained regional power that is essentially unwinnable. This is the fourth round of senseless fighting the group has brought to Gaza in recent years. Each time, more innocents are killed and more homes are destroyed.
It's also odd for American lawmakers to ignore Hamas's crimes against their own countrymen. Indeed, Hamas has killed at least 25 Americans in Israel since 1993. Some of these attacks were drive-by shootings on teenagers; others were suicide bombers who detonated their explosives in crowded buses and cafes. One was a car-ramming of a 3-month-old in Jerusalem in 2014.
President Joe Biden got it right, at least for most of this recent conflict. As the fighting dragged on, he pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to wrap up Israeli operations. But to his credit, for more than a week, he let the Israelis defend themselves as they saw fit. It was a green light to fight terrorism.
This should not be surprising. Biden as a senator helped spearhead the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which prohibits American assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it is "effectively controlled by Hamas." In other words, he understood the deadly nature of Hamas when he was a legislator and sought to deprive it of American aid.
Of course, this raises questions as to why Biden appears so eager to return to the horrendously flawed 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. America's role in that agreement will yield billions of dollars of sanctions relief to Tehran.
One can only hope that the White House reverses course. But if it doesn't, Hamas will eventually benefit from Tehran's financial windfall. Cash will flow to Gaza. This will enable the group to develop new ways to attack Israel during the next round of conflict.
Perhaps in the next round, we'll see a new fleet of armed drones, or unmanned underwater vehicles — two weapons seen on this most recent battlefield. This would put Israel under threat, and the Middle East on tilt. Just as Iran likes it. Perhaps a few legislators like it that way, too.
Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where David May is a research analyst.