L’havdil – I make a distinction up front. Let no one say that I am comparing the morality of Hamas with Menachem Begin’s Irgun. Begin, despite running a violent underground movement against the British and Arab fighters before the establishment of the state of Israel, did not deliberately attack civilians. Deir Yassir is an exception, and it is unclear in light of how Begin described this tragic massacre in his autobiography “The Revolt” what actually happened.
That aside, Menachem Begin was at one time a menace to the nascent state of Israel. On June 20, 1948, a month after the declaration of the state of Israel and during a time when the para-military units that fought the British and Arabs in the pre-state period were being absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces, the Irgun, under Menachem Begin’s command, brought to Israel from France a ship named the “Altalena” that was filled with 4500 tons of armaments and 800-900 men. Negotiations between Begin and Ben Gurion’s official representatives of the government of the state of Israel took place concerning the disposition of the contents of the ship and under whose ultimate command the ship and the Irgun would come.
After some negotiating, the new Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, David ben Gurion, gave an ultimatum to Begin and the Irgun that the ship “Altalena” must be surrendered to the Israel Defense Forces. Begin refused the ultimatum. Ben Gurion ordered the ship to be sunk.
This was a key moment of truth for the young state, whether all military groups would come under one command, or whether there would continue to be paramilitary and rogue units operating independently of the government of Israel. Ben Gurion understood what was at stake, and he acted. The result was the unification of all soldiers and armaments under the command of Tzahal.
Hamas, of course, is an organization of a different kind from the Irgun. It regards every Israeli man, woman and child as an enemy and as such, Hamas makes no distinction between soldiers and civilians. Hamas has sent thousands of missiles from Gaza into Israel indiscriminately aimed where Israelis live. Hamas is a massive human rights violator and is guilty of multiple war crimes.
That being said, we have seen historically how terrorist and criminal organizations can evolve into political movements that operate according to international norm.
Can Hamas do so? It would mean changing its mission to destroy the state of Israel, its very essence and raison de etre? Can it accept the existence of the state of Israel, agree to abide by all signed past agreements between the PA and Israel, and stop its terrorist activities?
Hamas and the PA have an opportunity to decide right now.
Based on a report published on June 29 in Al Monitor, written by Shlomo Eldar, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have positively identified the rogue Hamas clan that kidnapped Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gil’ad Sha’ar and Naftali Frenkel two weeks ago. This clan of 10,000 Hebron residents has consistently ignored Hamas’s own policies over many years and acted violently against Israelis, though it associates itself with Hamas.
The kidnapping suspects are Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha.
It is time for the Palestinian Authority (including Hamas) to demonstrate whether it is unified or not. The PA needs to cut off the head of the Qawasmeh snake, arrest all its leaders, and make it clear to all Palestinians who is in command.
Indeed, this is a Palestinian “Altalena Moment!”
There will come a time for Israel to have a second “Altalena” moment – when the Israeli government effectively challenges its right-wing extremist rogue settlers and lets them know that there can be no independent operations that challenge the authority of the government of the state of Israel. The problem for Israel, at the moment, is that the current government coalition is supporting those rogue settlers. As the following article suggests, if the Labor leader Isaac Herzog becomes Israel’s next Prime Minister as a result of Yair Lapid’s and Tzipi Livni’s resignation from the government and the calling of new elections, the second Israeli Altalena incident may come sooner than we might think.