If there is one thing Hamas is really good at, it’s digging tunnels.
Hamas, and like-minded militant factions like Islamic Jihad, have dug more than a thousand tunnels under the Gaza-Egyptian border. (Last March, Egypt said it had closed more than 1,300.)
It has dug dozens of tunnels under the Gaza-Israeli border; last Monday the Jerusalem Post reported that U.S. spy satellites had spotted at least 60.
It has constructed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of additional tunnels and underground bunkers throughout the Gaza Strip, which are used to cache weapons, move and fire rockets, mobilize and shelter troops, and provide sanctuary for the Hamas leadership.
Hamas’ tunnels are not amateur works. A lot of them are 100 feet below the surface, lined with concrete, and equipped with electricity and ventilation systems. Some are large enough to accommodate a car.
Before Egypt shut them down, the smuggling tunnels provided Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars in customs revenue. According to an article published on Ynetnews, the English language website of the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, hundreds of Gazans are employed as full-time tunnel diggers, and that a typical tunnel can be completed in about four months.
The system has become so extensive that it is sometimes referred to as “underground Gaza.”
How is it then that that there aren’t any civilian bomb shelters in Gaza?
Hamas clearly has both the resources and the engineering expertise to build civilian bomb shelters, but it hasn’t. Apart from the military bunkers used by Hamas fighters and notables, there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.
You would think that if Hamas was going to pick a fight with the Israelis by shooting rockets into Israel — more than 8,000 since 2006 and counting — that it would provide Gaza’s civilians (43 percent of whom are children aged 14 or younger) with the minimum measure of safety a bomb shelter affords from the inevitable retaliation. Especially in a community like Shejaiya (the community that was the scene of a bloody battle between the Israeli Army and Hamas fighters on Sunday). Hamas had turned it into a latter day fire-base by embedding its rocket-launching sites and military infrastructure warp and woof through its neighborhoods.
And especially if Hamas is going to demand that the civilian population hangs around to serve as human shields when the shooting starts — as it did when Israel warned the residents of Shejaiya and other Gaza communities to evacuate ahead of its ground attack.
It would be wrong to say Hamas didn’t build shelters for Gaza’s civilians because it is indifferent to life. It didn’t build them because it is pro-martyrdom, or more plainly, pro-death. Mere indifference had nothing to do with it.
In Israel, it’s different. Every residential, commercial and public building built since 1951 has a “miklat” (bomb shelter). The country also has extensive warning systems, including air raid sirens in all communities of any size. There is an extensive network of civil defense organizations that do everything from distributing gas masks, to doing welfare checks on shut-ins, to tending to wounded, to collecting body parts after attacks for proper burial.
Apart from reflecting the importance Israel attaches to protecting human life, Israel’s substantial investment in shelters and civil defense has a hard-headed military dimension to it as well: It is intended to keep civil society functioning while the country is under attack.
Apparently it has never occurred to Hamas that protecting Gaza’s citizens might have military and political value, never mind moral value.
Israel is a country with few natural resources and no strategic depth. In this respect, Gaza is Israel writ small. But in Israel, human capital is everything. It is Israel’s only real resource, and Israel protects it fiercely. In Gaza, human capital is nothing, Hamas exploits it remorselessly.
Hamas’ failure to build bomb shelters in Gaza bespeaks volumes about how Hamas views Gaza’s civilians and about the organization’s values generally.
Like other militant Islamist organizations, Hamas obviously does not attach much value to the lives of individual Muslims living under its control or to individual human life generally. It does not view the lives of ordinary Gazans as valuable human capital with which it can build a nation state or a caliphate for that matter. It views them as an expendable and endlessly replenishable resource, useful as a source of human shields and human bombs — and of macabre photo-ops for a voyeuristic press — but not worth protecting.
Hamas is a hell of a problem for Israel, but at the end of the day I suspect it will be a far larger and far more dangerous problem for Islam.
That is because Hamas — and Islamic Jihad, and ISIS, and al Qaida, and the rest — are turning Islam into a death cult, much as Japanese militants turned Shinto into a death cult prior to World War II. Japan was nearly incinerated as a result.
But the larger danger Hamas poses for Islam is more subtle.
Unlike Shinto, Islam is a proselytizing religion. It wants to spread the faith throughout the world.
Which is why the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims might want to ask themselves this question: Does the conduct of Hamas and other groups that have turned Islam into a death cult make the world’s 5.6 billion non-believers more likely or less likely to want to become Muslims?
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.