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Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar says Israel has no right to exist: Why this is a spiritual battle we must fight on our knees

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar
Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar during a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani (portrait) in a US drone strike, in Gaza City, on January 4, 2021. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via AP)

Mahmoud al-Zahar is the co-founder of Hamas, the militant organization in Gaza that, along with other terror groups, launched over 4,300 rockets at Israel during fighting that recently ended. In a May 24 interview with Britain’s Sky News, he was asked, “Does the State of Israel have the right to exist?”

His response was blunt: “No. Why? Why? You are coming from America and you take my house. You came from Britain and you took my brother’s house. This is a settlement. You are not a citizen. We are the owners of this. This is an Arabic area. This is well-known as an Islamic area, well-known.”

Choosing “the well-being of Gaza”

As I explained in a Daily Article when the recent hostilities broke out, there are competing narratives regarding the ownership of what Hamas calls Palestine and the Jews call Israel.

Hamas was founded in the belief that the land belonged to the Palestinians before it was stolen by the Jews when they founded the State of Israel in 1948. Their charter therefore calls for the destruction of Israel and raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

As a result, attacking the Jews to destroy Israel and reclaim the land for Palestinians is the purpose for which Hamas exists, a fact its co-founder made clear.

This fact is especially relevant because of the Biden administration’s stated plan to help rebuild the Gaza Strip to “bring pressure, through promises of financial support, on Hamas not to resume fighting.” An American negotiator explained, “You need to put Hamas in a position where they have to choose between their rockets and the well-being of Gaza.”

Here’s the problem: for the leaders of Hamas, their rockets are the pathway to the “well-being of Gaza.” Until they remove the “thieves” who have stolen their land, they cannot rebuild their land. Or so they believe.

Did Israel steal the land?

The leaders of Hamas are convinced that Israel stole the land from their people. Of course, we know from Scripture that the land was first promised to the Jews by God forty centuries ago (Genesis 12:7) and inhabited at his direct command and provision (cf. Joshua 1:13).

From then to today, there have always been Jews in their Promised Land. Even when the Romans disbanded the country of Israel in the second century AD and renamed the area “Palestine,” Jewish residents remained.

To claim that Israel “stole” the land from the Palestinians is therefore a misreading of history. The land was Israel long before it was named Palestine and has been home to Jewish communities across more than three millennia.

This fact does not in my view veto the right of the Palestinians to a homeland as well. Generations of Arabs have made the Holy Land their home across the centuries. That’s why I am an advocate of a two-state solution by which Israel and Palestine both exist as autonomous countries.

However, Hamas rejects this solution. In their view, Israel’s very existence is a crime for which the Jews must be punished. As long as they are able, Hamas will continue seeking ways to eradicate the Jews from the land.

“Blind to alternative moral worlds”

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt writes: “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.”

As a result, he states, “We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment” (his emphasis).

Hamas is a tragic example of this fact.

The Bible warns that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning” and “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Scripture adds: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Satan has blinded the minds of those who reject God’s narrative concerning the Holy Land. And he has prompted many to murder those for whom God intended the land, from the Canaanites of ancient days to the Nazis under Hitler to those committing anti-Semitic atrocities today.

As a result, we can know that the conflict in the Middle East is ultimately a spiritual battle and that we are on the front lines. We are to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) in the knowledge that God will answer our prayers in spiritual as well as material ways. In our intercession, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

God’s people must fight this battle on our knees. Will you join the conflict today?