In the Hamas-built hellscapes of Gaza, there is little doubt that Israel will ultimately win the shooting war. But a harder question is, can Israel also win the peace? That is, can Israel not only defeat Hamas, but also permanently end the recurrence of Gazan terror?
The answer to that question turns on the recognition that the war does not end when the guns fall silent. At that point the military aspect of the war may have concluded. But the equally important ideological component will remain to be fought and won.
The Ideological War
Just what is the “ideological component” of the war? In sum, and much like what faced the victorious World War II allies upon Nazi Germany’s surrender, there will remain the critically important job of expunging from Gaza’s institutions and society, Hamas’s deeply embedded genocidal ideology.
As I have written elsewhere, in both Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank, there exists the world’s most powerful ideological ecosystem for the mass production of terrorists. Though often underreported, the schools, mosques, and media across those territories indoctrinate their children and citizens 24/7 in hatred and demonization of Jews and Israel and glorify suicide bombers as noble “martyrs.”
Across Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) runs 278 schools serving over 291,000 students. UNRWA schools have been shown time and again to be conduits of Nazi-like Jew hatred. A 2023 audit found that UNRWA schools in Gaza “regularly call for the murder of Jews, and create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, [and] demonize Israelis…” Their textbooks lionize terrorists like “Dalal Mughrabi, murderer of 38 Israelis,” for whom an entire chapter is “dedicated to her role as a model of female empowerment.” More than 100 UNRWA educators were found to be “praising Hitler and inciting Jew-hatred” on social media.
Schools across the West Bank similarly demonize Jews and glorify mass murders of Israelis. High school textbooks “teach their children to hate Israel and vilify Israel’s existence while they glorify terror.” And when the school year ends, Palestinian children attend summer camps named after suicide bombers, which indoctrinate their campers in hatred and terror-worship.
For Palestinian adults, the incitement continues unabated in all variety of state-run media. The PA’s daily newspaper publishes a steady diet of defamations, such as: “[m]assacre is the basis of the State of Israel”; the Jew is “the disease of the century”; Israelis “are the new Nazis upon the earth” whose crimes are “worse than . . . [the] gas chambers”; “Israel . . . is . . . a cunning Satan”; and Jews are “‘Shylocks of the land, busily emptying Palestinian pockets.”
This hate propaganda is effective. Countless video recordings demonstrate that after each successful terror-murder of one or more Israelis, Palestinian communities across both Gaza and the West Bank erupt in public celebrations, with dancing in the streets, fireworks, shooting of weapons, and handing out candy to children.
For anyone seeking to understand the ideological landscape of Gaza, a compellingly intimate account is provided by journalists Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg in their book The Road to Martyr’s Square: A Journey Into the World of the Suicide Bomber. This was published in 2005, the year before Hamas ousted the PA as Gaza’s governing power. Even then, as the book abundantly documents, a tsunami of propaganda flowing through the schools, mosques, and media of Gaza raised the suicide bomber to the pinnacle of communal admiration and aspiration. And then as now, there has been no shortage of young men who respond to those powerful social incentives.
Funerals of suicide bombers regularly become occasions for mass celebration. “Martyr cards” portraying the killer are printed and distributed throughout the community, and “martyr posters” of the killer are plastered across Palestinian public spaces. Palestinian political analyst Addie Awad confirms that “the veneration of martyrs is part and parcel of the Palestinian national identity.”
Statistics validate the lethal toxicity of this hate indoctrination. In the years just before and during the “second intifada” (1997-2003), which followed Yasir Arafat’s rejection of a generous Palestinian statehood offer, calls for jihad and Jew-murder proliferated across Palestinian media. And as shown by economist Alan Kreuger, per capita terror attacks across the Palestinian territories in those years were the highest in the world. They exceeded the second highest, Sierra Leone, by more than 350 per cent.
Consistent with those statistics, Hamas leaders during that same time-frame reported that they were experiencing a surplus of “young men who beat on our doors, clamoring to be sent” on suicide missions. “Those whom we turn away again and again . . . pester[ed] us, pleading to be accepted.” The flood of hate propaganda had turned Gaza into an assembly line for the mass production of terrorists.
It is no mere coincidence that Palestinian schools, mosques, and media replicate the propaganda environment of Nazi Germany. The Palestinian national movement began in the 1930s under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, who successfully led the effort to conclude an Arab-Nazi alliance during World War II. In 1941 al-Husseini and Hitler jointly pledged to conquer the Middle East, annex it to the Nazi empire, and build death camps across Palestine. That this second Holocaust did not happen is owed entirely to the British-American defeat of Hitler’s North African armies in 1943.
Al-Husseini also spent those years poisoning the Middle East’s political discourse, as a principal organizer of a massive Nazi propaganda campaign across the region. And unlike postwar Europe, this annihilationist ideology never was expunged from Palestinian culture. On the contrary, in subsequent decades al-Husseini and his two successors, Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, continued and expanded this genocidal indoctrination of their people.
Accordingly, even if every Hamas terrorist is killed, Gaza’s educational and media environment, if left in place, will soon plentifully produce a new generation of terrorists hell-bent on massacring every Jew across Israel. This is why a secure peace with Gaza cannot be won by military means alone.
Eradicating the Ideology Requires an Interim Occupation
Just as was done in postwar Nazi Germany, the expunging of Jew-hating terrorist indoctrination from Gaza requires a wholesale process of replacing, restaffing, and retraining its education, media, governance, and religious institutions. This cannot be done during the military phase of the war, and it will take some time afterwards to accomplish. Hence the need for an interim period of occupation.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration already has warned Israel not to undertake an occupation. If followed, this request would leave Gaza’s robust industry of terror-indoctrination intact, guaranteeing future mass murders and mayhem much like the horrors of this past October.
Accordingly, Israel’s fundamental security needs preclude compliance with a “no occupation” request. No doubt, Israel’s refusal on this will strain the US-Israel alliance. But in defense of Israel’s imperative refusal, it bears noting just what the scope of Israel’s losses have already entailed.
Israel’s population of nine million is less than one thirty-seventh that of the United States. Hence in proportionate American population figures, the more than 1,200 murdered and 240 kidnapped would equal more than 44,400 American civilians murdered in just one day, and over 8,800 kidnapped. This also follows 17 years of missile barrages from Gaza targeting Israeli schools, hospitals, and homes. If murder and mayhem on this scale were raining down on the United States, it is inconceivable that America would leave the battlefield without completing the job, namely, making absolutely certain that no such carnage could ever happen again.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent statements partially acknowledge Israel’s need to permanently end attacks from Gaza – but only while also ruling out Israel’s doing the very things needed to accomplish that. On the one hand Blinken declared, “We can’t go back to the status quo. . . with Hamas being in a position in . . . governance of Gaza to repeat what it did . . .” But then Blinken insists, “No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends,” and “No attempts to blockade . . . Gaza.” Pressed on this point, he grudgingly conceded that “there may be a need for some transition period” – an acknowledgment that will need to be pressed hard in the months ahead.
Given the paramount need for a transformative occupation of Gaza, there remain three critical questions going forward. First, what are the goals of an interim occupation of Gaza, and by whom shall this be done? Second, at the end of the occupation, to whom should governance be turned over? And third, what are the chances of success, that is, how likely is this to achieve a sustainable long-term peace?
Occupation for What and By Whom? (Not the UN)
The goals of an interim occupation are quite straightforward: to end Gaza’s status as a base for repeated terror attacks, by deradicalizing and demilitarizing its governance and population while establishing a functioning peacetime economy.
The very first task will be to rebuild critical infrastructure, consisting of core systems and structures like water, electricity, hospitals, and housing. Here is where the so-called international community could and should step up, with both financial assistance and construction/engineering teams. This includes the many Arab League nations that regularly claim to support the Gazans in their times of need.
The occupying authorities will simultaneously need to recruit, screen, and identify non-radicalized individuals to begin leading and staffing new institutions of governance, education, media, justice, and law enforcement/security. One difficult question will be whether to ban all former Hamas members from such positions, or alternatively, whether at least some of them could be individually vetted and selectively trusted to abandon their former professed ideological allegiance.
This question will be unavoidable amid the predictable shortage of both skilled and vetted (i.e. non-Hamas) individuals available to staff those several rebuilt institutions. Exactly those circumstances led the occupying authorities in post-WWII Germany not to ban all former Nazis from such positions. Conversely, the American occupation in post-Saddam Iraq has been much criticized for its wholesale disbanding of the Iraqi army, both because unemployed soldiers became easy recruits for insurgent groups, and their lesser-experienced replacements were unable to preserve order.
Hence it is likely that in rebuilding and re-staffing post-Hamas institutions in Gaza, at least some lower-level ex-Hamas members will be included. Their appointments to any position should be subject to at least three conditions: (1) that they be carefully vetted for a lack of ideological zeal; (2) that they execute a loyalty oath to Gaza’s new anti-terrorist government; and (3) that their conduct, including their personal associations, public declarations, and social media activity, be periodically reviewed for continued fidelity to that oath.
These inescapable challenges are among the reasons why an interim occupation of Gaza is so necessary, namely, to monitor, identify, and cull out pockets of postwar Hamas resurgence. Given that need, the next question becomes, occupation by whom?
The optics and perceived legitimacy of an interim occupation will be best advanced by a multilateral effort, ideally led by Israel together with its Abraham Accords partners. Those objectives would be further served by additional participation from Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and/or the Arab League as a whole.
Hamas being a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s autocratic President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has a particularly strong interest in Hamas’s permanent removal from Gaza: el-Sisi won power in 2012 by means of a coup against a Muslim Brotherhood government, and he has subsequently cracked down hard against the Brotherhood’s activities across Eqypt. But Hamas’s support as “fighters for Palestine” among the Egyptian population may constrain el-Sisi’s range of action. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the broader Arab League will all face similarly conflicting interests and constraints.
Fortunately, with America and hopefully the EU facing fewer such constraints on action, they both should be able to provide much-needed financing for the Gaza rebuild, and expertise in reconstruction work, de-radicalization programs, and civil society rebuilding.
Significantly, there is one institution that must not be made part of that interim occupation, namely, the United Nations and its agencies such as UNRWA. As compellingly documented above, the UNRWA-run Gaza school system is little more than an assembly line for the mass production of terrorists. Just days before Hamas launched this latest war against Israel, U.S. Senator Jim Risch summed up the sorry state of play: “It is well known that UNRWA has a history of employing people connected to terrorist movements like Hamas, promoting anti-Semitic material in its textbooks, and allowing Hamas to use its schools to store weapons. U.S. taxpayer dollars should never be used to help fund such a corrupt organization.”
Moreover, UNRWA’s long record of cultivating, inciting, and logistically supporting terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel is by no means an exception among the various UN agencies. It is well documented that antisemitism, far from being an aberrant bug, is a consistent feature of the contemporary United Nations. Hence other than in perhaps a titular role, the UN should be kept far away from any occupation and rebuilding effort in Gaza.
Governance by Whom? (Not the Palestinian Authority)
By far the most difficult question will be determining to whom Gaza governance should be transferred after the interim occupation. For many, the default response is to bring back the Palestinian Authority (PA), which ruled Gaza until Hamas forcibly seized control in 2007. As Sen. Lindsay Graham recently stated, “The PA is the only game in town.” Secretary of State Blinken has already declared that Gaza needs “Palestinian governance, Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority . . .”
In fact, bringing back the PA would be a catastrophic error. Sen. Graham’s statement implicitly recognized this: “[The PA] need[s] to be reformed. Giving a bunch of money to the same old people is probably a waste. It’s time for a new generation of Palestinian leadership.”
The central difficulty in any discussion of whether to re-empower the PA in Gaza is the common popular misunderstanding about the PA’s actual goals and conduct as compared with Hamas. Conventional wisdom in the media and the administration holds that the PA is a moderate alternative to Hamas.
It is true that in the Oslo negotiations 30 years ago, the PA paid lip service to the concept of two states for two peoples; and that the PA does somewhat engage with Israeli and American interlocutors, unlike Hamas. But in fact, the PA’s characterization as in any way “moderate” is and always has been nothing but magical thinking. Every bit as much as Hamas, the PA seeks the annihilation of Israel.
As documented above, both the PA and Hamas produce and disseminate among their people virtually the same vast propaganda of Israel-hatred and terror indoctrination. Suicide bombers, a.k.a. “martyrs,” are encouraged, celebrated, and lionized with equal fervor both by the PA in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza. And the schools of both regimes indoctrinate their children to hate Jews and seek the annihilation of the “Zionist entity.”
Middle East scholar Bassam Tawil well sums up the state of play: “There is absolutely no difference between the P.A. and Hamas when it comes to spreading hate against Israel and inciting the murder of Jews.”
Further, the PA not only incites and celebrates mass murders of Israelis. It also generously rewards each successful killer – or his family if he dies in the attack – with a lifetime financial pension. These “pay-to-slay” pensions exceed the salaries of most PA civil servants, and the pension increases for each additional Jew killed. Hence it pays much more for a Palestinian under the PA to become a mass Jew killer than a successful schoolteacher.
Much of the illusion of the PA’s relative moderation comes from its having entered the Oslo Accords in 1993, allegedly endorsing the goal of “two states for two peoples.” But the facts abundantly show that this was just a ruse, used by the PA to move its terrorist cadres closer to their Israeli civilian targets. None other than the then-leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat, admitted as much on the very day of the Oslo Accords signing ceremony. As historian Kenneth Levin documents:
[O]n the evening of September 13, 1993, just hours after his signing of the [Oslo Accords] and his handshake with [Yitzhak] Rabin on the White House lawn, Arafat, in a broadcast on Jordanian state television, assured his followers and the Arab world generally that the events of the day, rather than representing a shift in policy toward recognition with Israel, were simply steps in the first stage of his 1974 Plan of Phases for Israel’s destruction.
Levin also documents that Arafat repeatedly invoked this commitment to Israel’s destruction in the months and years following the Oslo Accords signing.
The reality of that oft-declared intention is confirmed by the PA’s murderous deeds in those same years. Comparing the rate of Palestinian terror-murders before versus after the signing of the Oslo Accords yields an increase by at least 350 percent. Specifically, over the four pre-Oslo decades of the 1950s through the 1980s, Palestinian terrorists murdered an average of 26 Israelis per year. Over the next fifteen years, 1990-2004, which cover the prelude, signing, and attempted implementation of the Oslo accords, Palestinian terrorists murdered an average of more than 91 Israelis per year.
Nothing said or done by the PA in the years since then gives the slightest indication that its fervor for Israel’s destruction has in any way diminished. This is clearly evidenced by the PA’s unbroken record of rejecting each and every offer of a pathway to an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel, namely: in 1993 (Oslo Accords, sabotaged by PA-instigated terror campaign); 2000 (Camp David statehood offer, rejected); 2001 (Taba statehood offer, rejected); 2008 (Olmert statehood offer, rejected); and 2019 (Trump statehood offer, rejected).
In sum, the inconvenient truth is this: to bring about a post-terrorist Gaza, the Israel-annihilationist cadres of both Hamas and the PA must be kept as far as possible from leadership and participation in the institutions of a rebuilt Gaza.
And while necessary, that alone is far from sufficient. Achieving a genuinely post-terrorist Gaza will also require the successful implementation of at least four further policy initiatives, both during and continuing after the interim occupation. These include: (1) thorough vetting of all leaders, administrators, educators, and police/justice/security personnel as discussed above; (2) top-to-bottom de-radicalization of all school curricula, teacher training, and teaching materials across Gaza; (3) removal of all terror-inciting propaganda from the mass media and government agencies; and (4) ongoing de-radicalization programs in order to detect and prevent any resurgence of Hamas-style entities.
Additionally, in seeking to obtain enough qualified and vetted candidates for the new Gaza government and its agencies, a useful initiative would be to expand such recruiting efforts to all Palestinian diaspora communities.
Both former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky and Middle East Forum Director Daniel Pipes have called for an interim Israeli occupation after the war, to help bring about a rebuilt, free, and non-terrorist Gaza. Sharansky draws a direct linkage between Gazan freedom and Israeli national security: “Israel’s security can be assured only by a free Palestinian society, in which people ‘enjoy a normal life, normal freedom, the opportunity to vote and have their own human rights.’”
But Is This Possible?
The approach recommended in this essay consists of the much-derided concept of “state building.” In the wake of America’s recent decades’ efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no shortage of skepticism about such proposals. This perspective is aptly expressed in the title of Johns Hopkins scholar Michael Mandelbaum’s 2016 book Mission Failure.
The state-building failures catalogued in Mandelbaum’s book certainly invite a strong dose of humility in any such effort. Nonetheless, there remain some significant counterarguments to his bleak assessment.
First, history demonstrates that successfully transforming a radically ideologized, genocidal, and supremacist society into a peaceful liberal democracy is at times possible. This is exactly what the Western allies occupying postwar Nazi Germany accomplished, and what the American occupation of postwar Japan also achieved.
Second, the oft-cited conclusion that the Iraq experience demonstrates the impossibility of such efforts overlooks some significant evidence to the contrary. Given the broad consensus for this ‘impossibility’ claim, the contrary evidence merits some consideration here. It is richly detailed in a narrative of the Iraq occupation authored by Emma Sky, the leading civilian advisor to the American commanders in Iraq. Sky’s book The Unraveling compellingly details the incipient emergence of pluralistic, multi-ethnic politics in the country by the year 2010.
That year, Iraq held a parliamentary election with two leading parties vying for the country’s leadership. One party, “Iraqiya,” was a non-sectarian alliance drawing support from Sunnis, secular Shiites, and other minorities, led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite. The other party, “State of Law,” was a sectarian Shia party led by the incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; it was backed by the extremist Iranian government and its operatives in Iraq. Allawi’s multiethnic Iraqiya party narrowly prevailed, winning a two-seat parliamentary majority. But Maliki refused to cede power and blocked Iraqiya from forming a government. As Sky explains, the competition between the two parties was in fact “a battle between Iran and the US. Everyone realized this, except for the Americans.”
After two months of stalemate, the Obama administration’s ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, told U.S. military commanders that the country was “not ready for democracy, that Iraq needs a Shia strongman. And Maliki is our man.” Commanding General Raymond Odierno and his team warned the administration that, if Maliki were allowed to steal the election from Allawi’s multi-ethnic party, Maliki had plans to crack down on Sunni leaders and launch another Sunni-Shia civil war. Obama, Biden, and Hill all disregarded the warnings and let the Iranian-backed Maliki steal the election.
The rest is history: Maliki cracked down violently on the Sunnis, and Iraq fell into an even more murderous civil war than the prior Sunni insurgency, with persecuted Sunnis now banding together in the genocidal ISIS terror-army. And just at that worst possible time, Obama elected to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, essentially leaving Maliki and ISIS to fight to the death.
In sum, against conventional wisdom, events in Iraq did not prove the futility of pluralistic democracy’s taking root in such barren political soil. Such democracy had been starting to take root, with significant popular support. But America pulled the plug on the project, throwing its weight behind an illegitimate sectarian powerholder, and rushing for the exits precisely when American support for the democratic process was most needed.
Whether Iraq under the multiethnic Iraqiya party would have continued its evolution toward pluralistic democracy will never be known. But what is clearly known is that the democracy project in Iraq did not fail because of impossibility. Rather it failed because of a deliberate American decision – made in defiance of warnings from our best eyes on the ground – to support the theft of the 2010 Iraqi elections by a sectarian, Iranian-backed tyrant.
Significantly, the demographics of Gaza present far lower risks of sectarian strife than Iraq. Unlike Iraq’s combustible rivalry of Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish communities, Gaza is virtually 100% Palestinian Arab, religiously 98 percent Islam, and predominantly Sunni.
And even if democratic nation-building is in fact a fool’s errand, a further consideration regarding the prospects of success in Gaza is this: The security of both Israel and the broader Middle East does not depend on there being a pluralistic Gazan liberal democracy on Israel’s border. Israel just needs a peaceful Gazan entity next door, regardless of its internal governance structure. This more modest goal lowers the risks of failure, particularly in the context of the transitional occupation approach recommended here.
Moreover, the timing for such an initiative is particularly auspicious given the recent years’ breakthrough of the Abraham Accords, the first genuinely warm peace between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors. Significantly, and like Israel, those countries are no friends of Hamas.
As far back as 2021 the United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister called out certain Western countries for failing to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization. This was not just a matter of moral sympathies, but also of geopolitical realities. Hamas’s role as an Iranian proxy means that any gains in Hamas’s power and prestige raise the threat level for the Sunni Arab states opposed to Iran. Hence a deradicalized, peaceful Gaza also serves the broader security interests of Israel’s Abraham Accords neighbors.
Lastly, there is one other constituency with a direct and compelling stake in the elimination of Hamas and its replacement by leaders focused on Gaza’s well-being: the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Gaza, suffering all too long under the boot of the Hamas dictatorship. The Free Press recently reported that, per Palestinian survey data, “most Gazans distrust Hamas, want an alternative government, and prefer economic development over war.”
In fact, interviews of Gazan civilians conducted after the October 7 attacks on Israel emphasize the brutality of the Hamas regime. They confirm that Hamas has for years been hoarding foreign aid supplies exclusively for Hamas members, and that critics of the hardships imposed by the regime are routinely murdered.
And Hamas’s treatment of Gaza’s civilians as mere cannon fodder has been again displayed in recent days, with live reports of Hamas troops blocking Gazan civilians fleeing the northern war zone, going so far as to shoot those civilians seeking to cross the blockade.
The inconvenient truth of the matter is this: A governance structure in Gaza that prioritizes the well-being of the territory’s civilians would bring dramatic improvements in the life prospects of long-suffering Gazans. Hence for those who claim to care about civilians in Gaza, there is no better place to start than supporting Israel’s elimination of Hamas followed by a transformative, multilateral interim occupation of the territory.
Of course, this conclusion runs directly contrary to much of the propaganda purporting to explain the so-called “context” of the Hamas slaughters. But when examining the evidence rather than the propaganda, one conclusion becomes manifestly inescapable: It is not Israel from which Gaza must be freed. It is Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and UNRWA. And for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, it is long past time to let that freedom ring.