U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired general, says Israel is “driving” Gazans “into the arms of the enemy.” A few weeks ago, another general, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Charles Q. Brown, charged that Israel’s anti-terror actions in Gaza are turning the average person there into “someone who now wants to be the next member of Hamas.”
Generals deserve our deepest respect for their service and sacrifice. But that doesn’t mean they are always right. General George Patton used Nazi Party members in the postwar U.S. administration in Germany, resulting in his dismissal. General Douglas MacArthur was fired for defying President Harry Truman’s orders in the Korean War. General Curtis LeMay wanted to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam.
When it comes to understanding what causes young Palestinian Arabs to become Hamas terrorists, President Biden’s generals are getting it all wrong.
It is not Israel that drove Gazans into the arms of Hamas or turned young Gazans into terrorists. It is the Gazans themselves who long ago chose Hamas as their leaders. Democratic elections were held there in 2006, and Hamas was allowed to participate at the insistence of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Hamas won 76 out of the 132 seats in parliament.
Afterward, Secretary Rice acknowledged she was “caught off guard” by the outcome; the result “does say something about us not having a good enough pulse,” she conceded. At the same time, Rice defended the inclusion of Hamas on the grounds that “You ask yourself, ‘Are you going to support a policy of denying the Palestinians elections that had been promised to them at a certain point in time because people were fearful of the outcome?’”
For the Truman administration and the U.S. military governors of postwar Germany, the answer to an earlier version of Rice’s question was a resounding “yes.” They denied the right of the Nazi Party to run in postwar elections, regardless of how many Germans wanted to vote for it.
Defense Secretary Austin and General Brown might want to ask themselves why it is that children in postwar Germany did not grow up to be Nazis. The American military’s devastation of much of Germany did not cause those children to embrace antisemitism or terrorism. Yet tens of thousands of Gazan children who grew up in a region from which Israel completely withdrew in 2005 embraced antisemitism and terrorism; they are the ones who fill the ranks of Hamas today.
A crucial difference between postwar Germany and Gaza today concerns their respective educational systems. Under the Allies’ deNazification program in postwar Germany, school curricula were purged of Nazi racial ideology, militarism, and antisemitism. Similar methods were used in postwar Japanese schools. The Hamas-controlled schools in Gaza, by contrast, glorify Jew hatred and terrorism. Young Gazans are not being “driven into the arms of Hamas” by Israel; they have been indoctrinated by Hamas for nearly two decades.
Where there is substantial domestic opposition to a totalitarian regime, those kinds of indoctrination efforts will be only partially successful. In Iran and Syria, where the governments have used schools to spread extremist beliefs similar to those of Hamas, there has been significant evidence of opposition. Large numbers of Iranians have risked their lives to protest against their regime, and Syrian opponents of their dictator have been waging a civil war for years. Not so in Gaza.
Moreover, the advice that Secretary Austin and General Brown are now giving Israel feels like a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.” On November 9, the day that Gen. Brown made his statement, U.S. bombers carried out an airstrike on a target in Syria. And a week before that, they bombed two other sites in eastern Syria. Yet Austin and Brown do not appear to believe that those military operations will turn Syrians into anti-American terrorists.
American or British leaders in World War II apparently didn’t fear they would cause German or Japanese children to grow up to become anti-American terrorists, even though the Allies leveled Hamburg (40,000 dead), destroyed Dresden (many tens of thousands killed), firebombed Tokyo (over 100,000 civilian fatalities), and used nuclear bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki (approximately 135,000 and 64,000 killed, respectively).
In fact, even though the Allies deliberately attacked those civilian targets (unlike Israel, which takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties), Germany and Japan became close allies of the United States after the war.
Suppose Secretary Austin and General Brown want Gazans to one day relate to Israel the way Germans and Japanese today relate to the United States. In that case, they need to recognize that Israel is not to blame for the Gazans’ attitudes. They need to support a postwar policy in Gaza similar to the ones the Allies imposed in Germany and Japan after World War II.
(Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. And available on Amazon, as are his other books)Dr. Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His most recent book, America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, was published by the Jewish Publication Society of America / University of Nebraska Press. And available on Amazon, as are his other books)