Much misfortune the woebegone couldn’t have seen coming: a raging fire in the house next door that spreads to yours. The invention of some kooky technology called “the internet” that puts your travel agency out of business. Yet other calamities are foreseeable. If you suddenly stop filing tax returns without a good excuse — like, dying — it’s a virtual certainty that the all-seeing computer will come after you. So when compounding fees and interest leave you skint, our sympathies are apt to be scant. What did you think was going to happen? Or to up the moral ante: if you slaughter eighteen innocents in a frenzy for no apparent reason, you have to expect that your own life will soon be effectively over, too — which is why last week’s shooter in Maine, despite Robert Card’s mental disarray, was still sane enough to eliminate himself voluntarily. What did he think was going to happen?
Hamas knew precisely the wrath they would provoke — and provoked it anyway
Cause and effect being alive and well, then, when Hamas decided to pour into Israel and murder, rape, mutilate and kidnap every Jew they could get their hands on, what did they think was going to happen? Perhaps a cowed, contrite appearance by the country’s prime minister on national television. “My dear terrorists,” Benjamin Netanyahu would surely begin. “We had no idea you felt so strongly about our presence on what is really your land. Given that little unpleasantness on October 7, we’ve learned our lesson. We don’t belong here. So we are declaring a ceasefire, but only to give us time to evacuate every last Jew from the land formerly known as Israel. This second exodus of the abruptly un-chosen people will take a good fortnight, but if you’re patient, at least by Halloween we’ll leave you with a semitically immaculate Palestine from, to coin a phrase, the river to the sea.”
Um, no. Hamas knew precisely the wrath they would provoke — and provoked it anyway. When an action is guaranteed to trigger a given reaction, we hold the instigator responsible for the reaction, too. Being perfectly foreseeable, Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground incursions into Gaza are therefore Hamas’s fault. This bloodthirsty faction invited the bombs upon the heads of the Gazan people, and any regional expansion of the war will be Hamas’s fault as well. No beheadings, no dead babies, no gory rampage? No rubbled buildings, no internet cut-off, no fuel embargo. Why, refraining from decapitating a laborer with a garden hoe while shouting “Allahu akbar!” with every blow might even have left Hamas’s a hundred miles of tunnels into Israel intact. But Hamas is again getting what Hamas wanted. The goons can glory in victimhood while framing Israel as cruel. Cruel, after 7/10? That’s rich.
Alas, it would be naive to expect Gazans to blame the real source of their suffering for Israel’s geopolitically imperative retaliation. But westerners should continuously bear in mind that Hamas asked for this onslaught, which the terrorists would have anticipated both in kind and in scale before cutting a single barbed wire of Israel’s border fence. Just as we don’t much sympathize with tax evaders or indiscriminate American shooters when they meet foreseeably disagreeable fates, we shouldn’t feel too torn up that Hamas assassins are reaping what they sowed.
But do Gazan civilians deserve to be bombed as well? Any number of individual Palestinians who have lost homes, relatives or their own lives were surely blameless. But Hamas did come to power after winning 44 percent of the vote in 2006 at a time when they aspired — as they do now — to wipe Israel and Israelis off the face of the Earth. In one recent poll, a stunning 57 percent of Gazans still had a positive view of Hamas. To glass-half-full, at least a merciful 43 percent do not.
While I don’t believe in collective punishment, war is collective punishment. War is one giant infliction of collateral damage. People die who don’t deserve to. Houses collapse whose owners fiercely opposed whatever sparked the conflict. War is the bluntest of instruments, which is what makes it so awful and why, Hamas, you don’t start one when you don’t need to.
While we’re at it, we could stand to turn that refrain “What did they think was going to happen?” on ourselves. When we smothered whole economies for months on end to suppress a virus we were all going to catch anyway, bankrupting businesses and lulling us into idleness, what did we think was going to happen? A luxurious utopia in which we discover that all along that arduous nonsense of working for a living turns out to be superfluous, or the high-tax, high-dysfunction, high-dependency mess we’re in now?
When we take power stations offline without building new ones to at least counter for renewables’ intermittency, what do we think is going to happen? A mighty boost to GDP due to the revival of the candle-making industry, or the grid shortfalls for which energy companies are already preparing? Now that we’re phasing out gas-fueled cars with only a fraction of the available rare earths required to convert to EVs at scale, what do we think is going to happen? Whole fleets constructed solely from sugar and spice and everything nice, or a society in which only the very rich can own cars, if not one in which the whole transportation system comes to a standstill? And when we create vast amounts of money from thin air, we shouldn’t be surprised when currencies are increasingly worthless, or if “unsustainable” sovereign debts finally aren’t sustained, and the international financial system collapses.
The world is an unpredictable place. But some catastrophes are entirely predictable, and I fear that we’re all in for a load of collective punishment.