Is poverty the root cause of Palestinian Arab terrorism?
That’s what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seems to think. At a press conference during his recent visit to the Middle East, Blinken argued that the forthcoming U.S. aid package to Gaza will defeat the terrorists.
“Reconstruction and relief for the people of Gaza” will “undermine Hamas,” he claimed. “I say that because Hamas thrives, unfortunately, on despair, misery, desperation, on a lack of opportunity.” If the United States provides “genuine prospect for opportunity, progress and material improvement in people’s lives,” then “Hamas’s foothold in Gaza will slip. We know that, and I think Hamas knows that.”
We know that? How, exactly? Usually, the way we know things is from past experience. We know something happened in the past, so we conclude that if we duplicate those conditions, that thing will happen again. If the billions of dollars in aid that the United States sent to the Palestinian Arabs in the past had led to a decrease in terrorism and the undermining of Hamas then, yes, it would be reasonable to conclude that we should do more of that. But in reality, the exact opposite happened.
With the signing of the Oslo Accords, America began sending $500 million annually to the Palestinian Arabs, including to Gaza, then ruled by the Palestinian Authority. That’s a total of $10 billion-plus from 1994 to 2006.
If anything would have “undermined” Hamas, that largesse should have done it. Yet somehow, all the “opportunity, progress and material improvement” that money brought didn’t convince the people of Gaza to reject terrorism. On the contrary, in the Palestinian parliamentary elections of 2006, the voters democratically gave Hamas a majority of the seats.
In June 2007, Hamas became the ruling regime in Gaza. Every few years since then, Hamas has attacked Israel, the Israelis have bombed Gaza, and the United States and the international community have rushed in with hundreds of millions of dollars in “humanitarian aid.” Yet that aid has never undermined Hamas. Fourteen years later, Hamas is still in power.
Certainly, it’s true that in the United States, poverty contributes to crime. The mistake that Blinken is making is to assume that the Mideast is similar to the American Midwest and that terrorism is just another form of crime. Neither of those assumptions is valid.
The main cause of terrorism is ideology, not poverty. That’s hard for some Americans to comprehend because it’s so different from our own experience. Most Americans are not ideological. American culture doesn’t accept political violence. The American government does not promote the use of violence. The religions that most Americans embrace do not espouse violence.
Contrast that with the Middle East, where Muslim fundamentalism actively encourages violence, and governing regimes such as the Palestinian Authority actively promote terrorism and glorify terrorists as heroes and martyrs. The Palestinian Arab public is inculcated daily through the regime-controlled media, with pro-violence messages. Children in P.A. schools absorb those messages daily in their classrooms. Summer camps in Gaza teach children to crawl under barbed wire with weapons, albeit fake ones, in their hands.
The stereotype that Palestinian terrorists are all single, unemployed young men who are lashing out because of their poverty is nonsense. Studies of suicide bombers, for example, have found that many were well-educated, employed, and family men and even women.
Remember the 415 Hamas terrorists whom then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deported to Lebanon in 1992, in response to a wave of terrorist attacks against Israelis. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time that “many” of the deported terrorists were “businessmen, academics, lawyers [and] doctors.”
Likewise, the co-founder and longtime leader of Hamas, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, was a practicing pediatrician. By day, he treated Palestinian children; by night, he organized the murder of Israeli children. Rantisi, of course, is just one example of a successful, educated Palestinian Arab professional who chose to become a mass murderer.
There are countless others.
This applies to other Mideast terrorist groups as well. In 2016, the World Bank undertook a study of 4,000 foreigners who joined ISIS. Here were the report’s key findings:
- “These individuals are far from being uneducated or illiterate … 69 percent of recruits report at least a secondary education … a large fraction have gone on to study at university. Only 15 percent left school before high school and less than 2 percent are illiterate.”
- “Foreign recruits from the Middle East, North Africa and South and East Asia are significantly more educated than what is typical in their region.”
- “The vast majority … of [ISIS] recruits from Africa, South and East Asia and the Middle East … declared having an occupation before joining the organization.”
The authors of the study wrote that, as a result, their conclusion “is consistent with a number of other studies that come to a similar conclusion: poverty is not a driver of radicalization into violent extremism.”
Blinken is wrong. The Biden administration’s plan to send hundreds of millions of dollars to Gaza will not undermine Hamas. It won’t promote moderation. It won’t increase the chances for peace. It will just be throwing good money after bad.
Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terrorism.”
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