The deliberate viciousness of the attack by Hamas on southern Israel was an announcement of the tribal nature of the conflict. Although it is true that the initial assault troops were followed by a civilian rabble that participated joyfully in the mass murder, rape, and looting, the Hamas soldiers themselves received explicit orders (this is documented) to perpetrate a terrorist massacre with all the trimmings, and they did so exceeding the expectations of their commanders.
This wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t merely an outburst of the hatred that is drilled into all Gazans by their Hamas-controlled (and UN-supported) educational system, although that is what made it possible for human beings to become monsters. The savagery was fully intended by the Hamas leadership.
A tribal war is fought for territory, but it is also fought for honor. And honor is gained (or in the case of Palestinians, lost honor is regained) by humiliating the enemy. And this is done here in the Middle East by exaggerated cruelty, especially to the weakest elements of the enemy tribe. That’s why Hamas fighters and their followers tortured women in unmentionable ways and overcame the normal human resistance to hurting children and the elderly.
There is little distinction between civilians and soldiers in tribal warfare, except insofar as soldiers are considered more dangerous. An enemy is an enemy, and you kill enemies.
This did not endear Hamas to some in the West, which had adopted humanistic standards for warfare after WWII, when the folks who had incinerated hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German civilians decided that they would outlaw tribal forms of warfare (indeed they even outlawed war itself). But tribal peoples, like those who inhabit our region, never signed on to the Western vision expressed by the UN Charter; indeed, they never really bought the idea of nations, and certainly not a framework defined by international law.
They operate in a different framework, one in which there are friendly tribes and there are enemy tribes; and what you do to an enemy is kill him before he kills you. You kill him by any means necessary, and you don’t spare women and children. And if you are Hamas or the PLO, you employ the Arab equivalent of WWII’s strategic bombing – murderous terrorism against enemy civilians. The object is to remove the enemy tribe from contact with yours. Genocide is a strategy.
But now we come to our situation. Americans and Europeans who seem to have forgotten Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Dresden, expect Israel to play by the rules that they made up (and don’t follow). Which is hard to do when you face an enemy whose very basic ways of fighting – human shields and hostages, terrorism of every kind, random rocketing of civilian areas, etc. – violate the laws of war that the West expects us to obey more carefully than they ever do.
One of the interesting things about humans is their ambivalence toward cruelty. On the one hand, we saw some reactions of revulsion to the massive pogrom (notably including the US president), even on the part of a few who had heretofore accepted claims that Israel oppresses the Palestinians in Gaza. But at the same time, there was a massive outpouring of support for Hamas, huge demonstrations in cities like London and New York, and of course on college campuses. Some of the demonstrators were were Palestinians or Muslims who were expressing their tribal loyalty, but others were Westerners whose primitive, atavistic lizard brains reveled in the blood and suffering of the Jews. And of course it was cause for great celebration among the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, as well as throughout the Arab world. In this respect, the Hamas strategy paradoxically achieved a propaganda victory.
We in Israel do not want to fight like Hamas. We don’t want to rape their women and butcher their children. On the other hand, we are not interested in committing suicide for the sake of the moral principles of the hypocritical West. And we have a message to send to Hamas and to all our enemies: we can and will fight as brutally as necessary. If we don’t do this, if we allow this campaign to end with an inconclusive whimper as so many previous ones have, then it will just be a matter of time before we are forced to leave up our beautiful homeland, perhaps for the last time, for an increasingly dark diaspora.