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What does Hamas realistically think it can achieve by continuing to use violence against Israel? It seems to me that if the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long ago and that by continuing their terrorist activity they have undermined the cause.

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    Not to defend Hamas, but I can’t help but notice of the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long back. needs some sources.
    – SJuan76
    May 21 '21 at 18:31
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    Quite a few comments deleted. Please reserve comments for requests for clarification or constructive criticism. If you'd like to provide an answer, please write a real answer that conforms to our quality standards.
    – CDJB
    May 21 '21 at 19:35
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The question does not ask about what Hamas's goals are, but rather why they reject arbitration (or other non-violent strategies) as a means of achieving them. That is what this answer will primarily address.

Original rejection of arbitration

To understand their reasoning, we should go back to Hamas's original Covenant (quotes from the translation, original here) to understand why they rejected peaceful deliberations and other non-violent or less-violent methods (or at least their public reasoning). Hamas talks extensively about their reasoning. First, they frame the conflict as a religious struggle. As such, they argue that peaceful methods are contary to their principles. Although Hamas uses religious reasoning extensively throughout its Covenant, it bears mentioning that this is based on Hamas's interpretation of Islam, which is decidedly conservative and militaristic, but that this interpretation is not characteristic of Islam as a whole.

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight. "Allah will be prominent, but most people do not know."

Hamas Covenant, Article 13

Further, Hamas argued that the parties that would arbitrate deliberations would not be sufficiently competent or interested in doing justice. They also seemingly imply that it, given that they consider Israel and Palestine to be rightfully Muslim territory,1 non-Muslims should not judge matters in the land:

Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?

Hamas Covenant, Article 13

They argued that direct fighting represented the only means of success. Other methods, to their minds, were doomed to failure.

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.

Hamas Covenant, Article 13

In short, Hamas would simply disagree with the notion that they are undermining their cause through their use of violence. In fact, if they still adhere to the beliefs in their charter, they believe that the use of arbitration would undermine their cause.

Potential practical difficulties

Although Hamas does not necessarily mention this explicitly in the Covenant, I think we can reason a bit further. Some of their goals would be difficult to achieve through non-violent means, and they are undoubtedly aware of that.

The Covenant more or less implies that Hamas views the entirety of Israel as occupied territory in need of liberation, not just East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank (i.e. Palestine). This goal, clearly, would be quite difficult to settle amicably as long as a significant non-Palestinian population lives in the region. However, subsequent statements have been more open to a peace process, and the group has said at various times that it would potentially accept an agreement in which Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders.

Further, Hamas wants an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but they want more than that. They want a religious Muslim government.

Under the wing of Islam, it is possible for the followers of the three religions - Islam, Christianity and Judaism - to coexist in peace and quiet with each other. Peace and quiet would not be possible except under the wing of Islam. Past and present history are the best witness to that. It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region.

Hamas Covenant, Article 31

In fact, their primary disagreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization was that the latter was too secular:

Because of the situations surrounding the formation of the Organization, of the ideological confusion prevailing in the Arab world as a result of the ideological invasion under whose influence the Arab world has fallen since the defeat of the Crusaders and which was, and still is, intensified through orientalists, missionaries and imperialists, the Organization adopted the idea of the secular state. And that it how we view it.

Secularism completely contradicts religious ideology. Attitudes, conduct and decisions stem from ideologies.

That is why, with all our appreciation for The Palestinian Liberation Organization - and what it can develop into - and without belittling its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we are unable to exchange the present or future Islamic Palestine with the secular idea. The Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion and whoever takes his religion lightly is a loser.

Hamas Covenant, Article 27

Given that in the region as a whole (Israel plus Palestine), there are more Jews than Muslims, as well as a significant and likely growing number of non-religious Palestinians and a handful of Christians, Hamas is likely aware that this sort of government would be difficult to achieve through non-violent means.

That said, it is worth noting that they generally state that Islamic law should be established through democratic means:

Hamas officials say they have no plans to impose Islamic law. “What you are seeing are incidents, not policy,” said Younis al-Astal, a Hamas legislator. “We want Islamic law to be the standard, but we believe in persuasion.”

However, while this may work for Palestine, I suspect that Hamas must be aware of the challenges it would present in Israel.

A further factor, which likely does not apply to all members of Hamas, is anti-Semitism. Although the original charter contains many statements that could be seen as anti-Semitic, in recent years Hamas has stated, at least publicly, that they do not have any dispute with Jews for the sake of being Jews. However, several high-ranking members have made statements suggesting that they would like to see violence visited upon Jews (or sometimes, just Israelis) for its own sake, not simply as a means to ending the occupation. For instance:

For example, in a column in the weekly Al Risalah, Sheik Yunus al-Astal, a Hamas legislator and imam, discussed a Koranic verse suggesting that “suffering by fire is the Jews’ destiny in this world and the next.”

“The reason for the punishment of burning is that it is fitting retribution for what they have done,” Mr. Astal wrote on March 13. “But the urgent question is, is it possible that they will have the punishment of burning in this world, before the great punishment” of hell? Many religious leaders believe so, he said, adding, “Therefore we are sure that the holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.”

While such statements undoubtedly do not represent the public policy of Hamas and may not even represent the majority opinion, it seems likely that there are a significant number of members who do dislike Jews or Israelis and would like to harm them for non-utilitarian reasons. Even when not framed in those terms, it is likely that many more members would like retribution against the Israeli government.

1: By right of conquest. Article 11: "This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement."

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    It is not true that Hamas rejects non-violent methods. One should remember that Hamas is a movement constituted of many parts. Some are social, some are political, and some are militant. Hamas like similar resistance movements, such as the African National Council or the Irish Republican Army, believes that violence is central to the struggle, but by no means does it believe that it is the only tool available. Furthermore, the 1987 Hamas Covenant has de facto been superseded by new policy documents. You are citing it extensively which I think is somewhat misleading. May 22 '21 at 15:07
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    So, certainly, one could look at a statement like "Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws. At the heart of these lies armed resistance, which is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people" and conclude that they have softened their official stance. Maybe so. However, even if they have officially done so, I suspect that the principles of a document written a mere 32 years ago still have a powerful influence on their members.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 22 '21 at 15:58
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    At some point, I will update the answer to include the perspective of the 2017 charter, as well as my suspicion that the principles of the 1988 charter are very much still in play.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 22 '21 at 16:00
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    Re "...this interpretation is not characteristic of Islam as a whole", I strongly doubt that this claim can be supported by empirical evidence. This otherwise good answer would be improved by removing that sentence.
    – jamesqf
    May 23 '21 at 18:34
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    And re "Given that in the region as a whole (Israel plus Palestine), there are more Jews than Muslims...", it's perhaps useful to note that many (41% per Wikipedia) Israeli Jews are actually secular, and presumably would strenuously object to being subjected to ANY religous government. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – jamesqf
    May 24 '21 at 16:52
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From Hamas’ perspective, Israelis drove Palestinians out of the Palestinians’ ancestral land through war and terrorism, and continue to oppress, abuse, expropriate, and kill Palestinians to this day. They reject the Jewish religious argument that God gave that land to the Jews, and see no justification for the state of Israel; they only see the imposition of an oppressive Jewish state backed by Western (ex-colonial) powers.

The main goal of Hamas (as with most terrorist groups) is to:

  1. Bring their complaint into the public realm in a way that is difficult to ignore or silence, and…
  2. Force Israel to be increasingly violent and oppressive, making Hamas look increasingly righteous

It’s tremendously sad that Hamas rejects the passive ‘civil disobedience’ model outlined by Thoreau and used so effectively by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I can’t fault their complaint, but their methods leave a lot to be desired.

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    I am downvoting, because the "Jewish religious argument" is not the only argument out there, not even amoung right-wing parties in Israel. The fact that Israel was the historic homeland of the Jews is an at least equally common argument adduced these days, which plays particularly well with ethnonationalists like Netanyahu's base. While that's a pretty bad reason for ethnic cleansing an oppression, mentioning that Israel/Palestine is Palestianians ancestral land but neglecting to point out the the same is true of Israeli's feels...irresponsible.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 21 '21 at 19:22
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    Besides, your answer implicitly seems to endorse all aspects of Hamas's complaint outlined in your answer, e.g. "no justification for the state of Israel." There are no justifications for Israel's past and present atrocities, but that is a rather different matter than believing Israel should not exist, which is what Hamas believes. A bit like how many Americans (possibly even including you?) believe that there is no justification for the USA's indubitably genocidal foundation, or its history of racism and oppression, but don't say that that disqualifies the US from existing.
    – Obie 2.0
    May 21 '21 at 19:28
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    @Obie2.0: I don’t endorse anything; the question asks for Hamas’ perspective, and I tried to give it. With respect to ancestral homelands… If ancient Jewish history were not enshrined in Christian religious dogma, Jews would have the same status as the ancient Assyrians or Macedonians: I.e., as a group that once dominated a swath of territory, long ago, and lost it. If Jews can walk in after 2000 years and say “hey, this land is ours”, why can’t native Americans kick everyone out of (say) Buffalo NY? May 21 '21 at 20:17
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    Hamas is a mass political movement, whose parliamentary candidate list is in the majority and forms the government of the Palestinian authority (constitutionally, albeit not the one recognized by Israel and the US). Calling them a "terrorist group" is effectively trolling. Regardless - it is not true that Hamas has, as a goal, the forcing of Israel to be increasingly violent and oppressive. That claim seeks to absolve Israel of responsibility for its own acts ("But Hamas made us do it").
    – einpoklum
    May 23 '21 at 13:58
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    @einpoklum: The Irgun was a Jewish paramilitary force internationally recognized as a terrorist group; several of its members (e.g. Menachem Begin) became prominent political figures in Israeli politics, and the group itself morphed into the Likud party, which largely dominates in Israel. Being a political leader and being a bloody-minded bastard are not by any means mutually exclusive. And your last statements are merely naïve or misinformed. Modern politics in far too many cases reduces to a game of ethical 'chicken', with everyone playing victim. May 23 '21 at 16:22
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what does Hamas realistically think it can achieve?

"Realistically" is a tricky qualifier. Also, questions about people's thoughts, private and collective, are problematic. That being said - here's my perspective on what Hamas may think it can achieve:

  1. Continuing and increasing casualties and costs for Israel for its direct occupation of Palestinian land (and I'm being vague here regarding whether it's 1967-occupied land or 1948-occupied land) and its siege of the Gaza strip.
  2. Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian land, in favor of an independent Palestinian state/proto-state.
  3. Easing of the Israeli siege on Gaza.
  4. Maintenance and strengthening of the commitment of Palestinians (again, vagueness regarding which part of them) to the struggle for Palestinian national liberation.
  5. Increased awareness to the Palestinian plight, in the Arab world, the Islamic world and the world in general.
  6. Adoption by Palestinians of Hamas' intra-societal views, e.g. the role of Islam in society and various related cultural preferences.
  7. Better social welfare than whatever Fatah would institute.

Naturally you could argue about how much of this is realistic, and how much of this is desirable (and about what constitutes an independent state). But assuming you agreed on desirability, Hamas can make a decent argument about the achievability, and in fact about past gains, on most of the above.

I can’t help but notice that if the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long back.

With respect - I would claim that statement is either naive and misinformed, or facetious. I strongly suggest you read up on the history of the Zionist movement in Palestine.

If Hamas were ever to pose a real threat, they would lose this cover and Israel will purge the Gaza Strip.

Hamas' military wing is not an army which could face the Israeli one and prevail. It's true that Hamas, and other factions and phenomena among the Palestinians do pose various threats to US, Saudi and Israel interests (not necessarily in that order); however, since Hamas is not a "terrorist group" but a large and deeply-rooted political movement - the kind of "purge" you are suggesting is a out-and-out genocide of the people of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (where many support Hamas as well). Israeli politicians and military leaders occasionally bring up such a purge in their rhetoric, hinting that by hitting some choice targets and driving around on tanks through Gaza they might make Hamas go away.

At any rate, there are restraining forces - internal and external - which have curtailed Israeli destruction and killing so far to a level at which the genocidal effects are insufficient to root out Hamas.

By continuing their terrorist activity they have undermined the cause.

You seem to be assuming that "the cause" is "An entity called a state which Israel agrees to".

For me, it is quite difficult to decide whether Hamas' tactics have been more of a help or more of a hindrance. They have certainly had both benefits and detriments.

And unfortunately a lot of pro-Palestinians have failed in condemning them, further hurting the cause.

See above. Also, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    May 23 '21 at 20:22
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Hamas is a national liberation movement whose stated goal is to free Palestine from Israeli occupation. The occupation of Palestine was imposed by violence and Hamas believes that violence is necessary to end the occupation. Though it should be emphasized that Hamas has not chosen violence over peaceful means - it has chosen to complement peaceful means with violence.

Hamas is not the only national or popular group fighting perceived injustice that has chosen violence. Other groups include

  • the Russian Bolsheviks who fought the Russian Tsar,
  • the Yugoslav partisans who fought the Nazi occupation,
  • various Zionist groups who fought the British in Mandatory Palestine,
  • the African National Council who fought the apartheid regime in South Africa,
  • and the Irish Republican Army who fought the British in Northern Ireland.

These groups choose violence for the same reason: because it works. If you like science fiction, you might enjoy this clip: Star Trek - TNG: Data on the Effectiveness of Terrorism Who is right: Data or Picard?

Hamas didn't start out as a violent organization. In 1973, the wheel-char bound preacher Sheikh Ahmed Yassin found Hamas predecessor, the charity the Islamic Center (al-Mujama al-Islamiya), in Gaza, as an ofshot to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The MB is, by and large, a non-violent organization, although it has been involved in some coup attempts in Arab countries. Yassin's religious charity was not concerned with worldly affairs. As such, it was in opposition to the secular left-wing Fatah movement led by Yassir Arafat. Infamously, Israel even supported the Center as it saw the Center as a useful counterweight to Fatah.1,2

In 1987, the First intifada broke out. The Center decided that they needed to involve themselves. According to rumors, against Yassin's wishes, the Center's leadership decided on militancy and Hamas - an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah) - was founded. During the first few years of the intifada, Hamas's mostly limited its use of violence to Palestinians. For example, it punished and sometimes executed Palestinians spying for Israel. Hamas also tried to prohibit prostitution, curb the flourishing drug trade in Gaza, and the selling of alcohol and pornography.3 It also captured Israeli soldiers and demanded the release of Yassin and other Hamas members held by Israel in exchange. Israel refused these exchanges and the soldiers were either killed by Hamas or died during botched Israeli rescue attempts.4,5

Eventually, it became riskier for Palestinians to collaborate with the Israeli government and the drug epidemic abated. Thus, from Hamas perspective, its violence was successful.

Hamas's violence intensified following a massacre committed by a Jewish settler in Hebron in 1994. He killed 29 Palestinians praying in the Ibrahimi mosque.6 Hamas began carrying out suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, reasoning that if the Israeli side targeted civilians so could it. According to some authors, Hamas's violence derailed the ongoing peace process between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, which they opposed.7 According to others, the peace process was a sham and doomed from very beginning.8 Assuming the first view is correct, Hamas again achieved its goal using violence.

Fast-forward to 2006. Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza raid Israel and capture the soldier Gilad Shalit. Some years later Israel is forced to exchange Shalit for over 1 000 Palestinian prisoners. Yet another example of achieving a goal using violence.

Hamas may also have looked at its rival Fatah which practically has ceased using political violence. Fatah has not been able to extract any notable concessions at all from Israel. To the contrary, the Israeli government is now contemplating formally annexing parts of the West Bank. Given Fatah's strategy's failure, Hamas may have concluded that the liberation of Palestine requires violence.

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    Actual experts on Muslim Brotherhood (that being, the government of Egypt, not western apologists) would strongly disagree with your opinion of how peaceful they are.
    – user4012
    Jun 17 '21 at 0:01
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  • if the Palestinians engaged in peaceful deliberations they would have achieved their own state long ago

this is a common misperception or, I would say, propaganda in the West. Interestingly, they stick this propaganda only to non-western countries/people, not for themselves.

If all disputes could be solved in peaceful means then there would have been no WW1 and WW2. Right? And, what about the Irish struggle for independence from the UK? What about the American Civil war? What about Falklands War?

Can Germany or Poland take back the land they lost to the USSR from the Russian Federation in a peaceful means?

Can Ukraine take Crimea back from Russia through dialog?

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  • There is one basic difference between all the other examples given and the Palestinian issue; It's true that the Palestinians can't achieve all their aspirations via diplomatic dialogue. But on the other hand, international recognition for the parts of the land that they do fully control (i.e. Gaza and Area A & B) is being withheld due to their terrorist activities. So it makes sense to say that they seemingly lose more than they gain from this 100 year old campaign of terrorism.
    – Jacob3
    Jun 3 '21 at 20:15
  • @Jacob3, Would Ukraine be satisfied if Russia offers to return 3/4 of Crimea? Is Ireland satisfied with not having Northern Ireland back? The essence of the problem is, Israel is seeing "9" and Hams is seeing "6".
    – user366312
    Jun 4 '21 at 4:23
  • The Palestinians will never get everything they want, no matter the tactics. The question is; If they wouldn't have declined the UN partition plan, wouldn't we have had now a Palestinian State since 1948? If Jordan, Egypt & Syria would have not engaged the whole Arab world in an attempt to annihilate the little Jewish State in 1967, would have Israel gotten control of Judea & Samaria? If right now, the PA and Hamas will put a final end to the 100 year old campaign of terrorism, will the international community not recognize their sovereignty over the land that they do control?
    – Jacob3
    Jun 4 '21 at 9:06
  • @Jacob3, The Palestinians will never get everything they want, no matter the tactics --- Ireland is not getting Northern Ireland back, no matter the tactics. Ukraine is not getting Crimea back, no matter the tactics. Spain not getting Gibraltar back, no matter the tactics. Argentina is not getting Falklands back, no matter the tactics.
    – user366312
    Jun 4 '21 at 14:38
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    #1 There is no point in dividing Crimea, Ireland or Gibraltar, as their population is almost homogeneous and they should decide on their own who should rule their place - Unlike Israel/Palestine which wasn't a sovereign state - since the Roman conquest, was largely depopulated and always maintained a significant Jewish population (the Turkish census of Jerusalem in 1864 shows a majority of Jews). #2 The intentional killing of babies is considered Terrorism according to all interpretations. #3 The US hasn't been such a devoted friend of Israel in the early years.
    – Jacob3
    Jun 13 '21 at 6:49
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Hamas cannot make any choice, they can just react to the circumstances. The power to choose peaceful means or violence is just in the hands of Israel which has military and political over most of the country, all of the borders and all cross borders and internal movements.

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    This is nonsense. Israel has no interest in attacking Hamas &c purely for the sport of it. Hamas persists in attacking Israel, which merely tries to defend itself.
    – jamesqf
    May 24 '21 at 16:40
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    Israel agreed to leave Gaza in 2005, as per the desire of the international community, to try and see how an independent Palestinian State would be like. Then a terrorist organization by the name of Hamas took over the place (and killed all the Fatah officials), thus forcing Israel "and Egypt" to shut the border. Who doesn't know what followed?... Have the Gazans agreed to build a normal state, they would have now been like Bahrain.
    – Jacob3
    May 24 '21 at 20:32
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    @FluidCode, Israel would wish to have a similar relationship with Gaza as it has with the UAE. To smuggle AK-47s thru tunnels under the closed Egyptian border is quite simple, but to build an anti-aircraft missile system against Israel's F-35s is something that even Russia hasn't really mastered.
    – Jacob3
    May 26 '21 at 13:53
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    @user366312: How are those lands "Palestinian"? Land is owned by people (and business &c), not by ethnic groups. As to "robbery", if you're talking about 1948 &c, the people involved chose to abandon those properties. I'd also refer you to the concept of eminent domain, which is common among governments that derive from the British legal tradition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminent_domain
    – jamesqf
    Jun 3 '21 at 16:47
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    @user366312: Don't see how security council votes are relevant, but did you ever stop to think that perhaps the US supports Israel because Israel is in the right? And that Hamas &c are persistent violators of basic human rights, not just in their tactics against Israel, but in their behaviour towards their own people?
    – jamesqf
    Jun 6 '21 at 21:58

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