OpinionIsrael at War

There are no civilians in Gaza

In a culture where terrorists in the field don’t wear uniforms, where large families have sizable stocks of weapons, and where children are taught to kill and die, the externals don’t matter.

Palestinians line up in the Gaza Strip to receive drinkable water numbers while battles take place between Israel and Hamas in the southern city of Rafah on May 20, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians line up in the Gaza Strip to receive drinkable water numbers while battles take place between Israel and Hamas in the southern city of Rafah on May 20, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield is an Israeli-born journalist who writes for conservative publications.

Americans expected Osama bin Laden to be found in a cave in Afghanistan. In reality, he was living comfortably in a military town in Pakistan under the protection of local authorities. Similarly, Israeli hostages, including the four who were rescued last Saturday, have come home telling stories of being kept captive in “civilian” households.

Many in the West fundamentally misunderstand what Islamic terrorism is. It’s not a “fringe group of extremists,” as politicians and the media describe it, but an ethnic and religious movement. The religious values of Islamic terrorists are universally shared by the vast majority of Muslims, while the ethnic ones ground Islamic warfare in the interests of specific clans and families.

Hamas is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and has a widespread base of support across the Muslim world, which is dotted with branches of the Brotherhood. But its ethnic power base is also grounded in the key clans and families that control Gaza. That is why Hamas still retains the support of the majority of the Muslim colonists currently occupying Gaza. It’s also why those same “civilians” held Israeli hostages prisoner and could be trusted not to inform on them.

The latest Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll shows that 71% of Gazans support the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, and 56% expect Hamas to win the war. Some 62% in Gaza are happy Hamas’s performance during the war, and 59% want Hamas to stay in power.

That’s because they are Hamas and the terror group is also them.

The “Palestinian” myth is that the Muslim colonists occupying parts of Israel are the “indigenous” people. The reality is that they were Arab settlers who arrived with and after the Islamic conquest of Israel. Some, like the notorious Husseini clan, which produced Hitler’s mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, were relatively recent arrivals. The most powerful and wealthiest of these large families took control of urban areas, as the Husseinis tried to do in Jerusalem, and became a vital part of the Ottoman feudal order, serving as mayors and muftis. When the Ottomans were defeated, the clans fought to reclaim their power with movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, also known as Hamas.

Hamas is an ideological Islamist movement, but its control over Gaza depends on these large families. That’s why the idea that most people have that Hamas is a fanatical movement that exists apart from ordinary people and can be fought and defeated apart from them is wrong.

That’s also why so few of the hostages have been rescued. Like the recently rescued four, the hostages are largely dispersed among “civilian” clan families across neighborhoods controlled by them. These families are formally civilian households, but many of their members are affiliated with Hamas. Rather than being an army whose members belong foremost to Hamas, they are more like the mafia and belong foremost to their extended clan, and choose to lend their support to Hamas.

It’s not just that Hamas uses human shields, which it certainly does, it’s that its infrastructure depends on clans whose adults provide fighters, and whose women and children act as human shields for the greater glory of the clan and Islam. The same clans that will kill teenage girls for violating family honor will also serve up even younger children as human shields for honor.

There is no way for Israel to rescue its hostages without going into dense neighborhoods under the control of the clans to get them out. And that will lead to firefights and “Black Hawk Down” moments. Clan members, who never identify themselves as such, will cry that they were massacred. And foreign leaders and the media will condemn the deaths of “civilians.”

Defeating Hamas without civilian casualties is impossible because the Islamic terrorist group not only operates among civilians but is rooted in the society of Gaza. The clans that run Gaza, that provide the manpower that controls UNRWA institutions, and that are the mainstays of Hamas are also the large families that dominate the businesses, cultural and religious life in Gaza.

There’s no meaningful distinction between civilians and Hamas. Some clans reject Hamas authority and Israel has tried to solicit some of them to run Gaza. For now, with few results. The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq had similarly depended on swaying certain clans, elders and warlords into abandoning Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, with very temporary success.

Eventually the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, rebranded as the Islamic State, returned. And some of the same men we had armed and trained turned their guns on us. It is an almost inevitable outcome of counterinsurgency (COIN). When bringing democracy to the Muslim world fails, Westerners begin competing with jihadists for the support of the clans, only to be stabbed in the back.

The jihadists have the Quran on their side. To Muslims, their terrorism will always be more righteous than our fumbling efforts to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage. Appealing to moderates or promising a better life will not win their support. On the contrary, it only infuriates the imams in their mosques and the influential clan leaders into opposing us.

Instead, we must reckon with the reality that there are few civilians in Gaza or the Muslim world generally. And those who legitimately are civilians should be measured by their deeds, not their clothing. In a culture where terrorists in the field don’t wear uniforms, where large families have sizable stocks of weapons, and where children are taught to kill and die, the externals don’t matter.

There are no civilians in Gaza. The vast majority of the population supports Hamas or some Islamic terrorist movement. Only a tiny minority opposes Islamic terrorism and wants peace.

The distinction is not between soldiers, terrorists and civilians, but enemies and non-combatants. Israel and Western nations should stop thinking about civilians, a concept that does not apply in a battlespace where terrorists wear street clothes and entire neighborhoods are controlled by clans that hide hostages in plain sight, and think about enemies and neutrals.

An enemy is anyone, regardless of clothing or sex, who is aligned with Islamic terrorists.

Every poll continues to show that the vast majority of those in Gaza are aligned with the enemy. And if that were not the case, the war would have long since ended once locals informed the authorities of where the hostages are and where the remaining Hamas terrorists are set up.

Israel is not just at war with an organization, but with an enemy culture. As is most of the world, whether it chooses to admit it or not. The war is not defined by what they wear, but by what they think. As long as human shields, female suicide bombers and child soldiers abound, the war cannot be fought by treating civilians as noncombatants while hunting elusive terrorists.

The only way to defeat an enemy is to fight him as he is, not as we would like him to be.

It would be a far cleaner and neater war if Islamic terrorists fought like conventional armies. They do not. And it is time to fight them on their own terms instead.

Hamas can’t be defeated by waiting until its terrorists take off their civilian clothes and put on uniforms. Hamas are the civilians. They are the ones holding the hostages. The only way to free the hostages and defeat the terrorists is to destroy the terror culture in whatever form it takes.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates