Before Gaza self-rule, Israel must implement de-Hamasization

Lessons from the denazification of Germany after its defeat in World War II.

By Ariel Kahana | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hamas officials, attend a rally of the Hamas Movement, in Gaza City, on October 1, 2022. Photo by Attia Muhammed/Flash90
Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hamas officials, attend a rally of the Hamas Movement, in Gaza City, on October 1, 2022. Photo by Attia Muhammed/Flash90

The IDF is cleaning up the filth of terror that has accumulated in the Gaza Strip for three decades. Assuming that victory is achieved, we will essentially return to square one. How does one control two million Arabs who have been taught from birth to kill “subhuman Jews,” especially in a small, crowded, destroyed area lacking natural resources, whose population has no tradition of self-rule and aspiration for progress, but rather a culture of jihad and murder?

The term “denazification” was coined in the Pentagon two years before Adolf Hitler’s defeat. The founding idea was to destroy Nazism, not only militarily but in all spheres of life.

Even before its implementation, the Allies had a condition. They demanded Hitler’s unconditional and complete surrender. Here there is already a difference between the German case and ours. Israel has not spoken about Hamas surrendering. On the contrary, in the midst of the war, we are making deals with it and its Qatari benefactors.

In 1945, every German citizen felt the defeat in the most personal and difficult way. Death, hunger, destruction, prostitution, looting, rape, the black market and foreign soldiers were everywhere. Nazi Germany was wiped off the face of the earth. Until this happened, no rehabilitation efforts began.

The Americans imposed full military rule over their occupation zone in Germany for four years. At first, the Americans took a very hard line. Every German citizen over the age of 18 was required to fill out a questionnaire detailing his ties to the Nazi Party. It turned out that 10% of the population were party members.

And yet, at the end of the war, only 400,000 Germans were arrested, and 90,000 of them were held in detention until 1947. Some 3.5 million people who held significant roles in the Nazi party were allowed to work only as manual laborers.

Meanwhile, the Nuremberg trials began. They were deliberately held on German soil and were extensively covered in the German media. The surviving senior officials of the Nazi regime were brought to justice. Some were executed, and others were sentenced to life imprisonment or shorter terms. The trials were meant to convey the message of wiping Nazi ideology from the face of the earth.

The rationale, as defined by General Dwight Eisenhower, was that “only a long-term and inflexible occupying authority will be able to lead the Germans to a fundamental change in their latest political philosophy.”

Germany was of course forbidden to establish an army or any other armed force.

Denazification first and foremost succeeded because every German citizen learned personally and painfully where Nazism led them. More important, there was no one left after the defeat to rekindle nationalist sentiments, unlike the situation after World War I.

Another reason for German acceptance of the West was the alternative from the East: Communism. That is, West German citizens understood that they had to obey America, otherwise they would be crushed by Joseph Stalin.


It’s not just about Gaza

This view is held, among others, by Michael Dobbs, author of the international bestseller Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman—from World War to Cold War, which describes the collapse of Germany. He believes that Israel’s challenge in Gaza is even more complex than that confronted by the Allies in Germany.

“I think the comparison is intriguing but ultimately very unlikely, unfortunately,” he said in a conversation with Israel Hayom. “The comparison is inviting because it ostensibly concerns how two defeated enemies [referring to Germany and Japan] can become prosperous and democratic allies.

“And yet, why doesn’t the analogy stand up? First, even if Gaza is defeated and occupied at the end of the war, it is only a small part of the Arab world. Jihad, jihadists, political Islam and Islamists will continue to exist and thrive elsewhere, both in the Arab world and the wider Middle East. What’s more, their cause may be strengthened and reinvigorated in light of memories of events in Gaza. So, this can never be and cannot be a total defeat like that of Nazism or Japanese militarism.”

“Second,” Dobbs adds, “especially in Germany, the Allied occupation by the US and the West was seen as far preferable to the alternative: occupation by the Soviet Union. So, while I’m sure there are many Gazans who are sick of Hamas, I don’t think there is the same basis of support (even passively) for a prolonged Israeli occupation of Gaza among them.”

In the end, concludes the author and journalist, “I wish Israel success and hope for an outcome that eases suffering on both sides. But the problems of occupation and building democratic governing structures in a defeated land are daunting and challenging even more than the situation the Western allies faced after World War II.”

In addition to all the differences between Gaza in 2024 and Germany in 1945, the world has become much smaller thanks to technology. Today, weapons can be manufactured in every home, and every mobile phone user can learn how to make bombs. Also, the US was free to do as it pleased in Germany. The whole world watches Israel’s every move.


Absolute defeat

Having said all this, and with all the differences noted, Israel has something to learn from the German story. First, Hamas must be brought to absolute defeat, not just a “decisive blow.” The German experience teaches that Gazans need to understand that the Hamas idea brought terrible suffering upon them and that it has been ridden from this world.

And there is another lesson: As long as Hamas does not surrender, there is nothing to talk about regarding the rehabilitation of the Strip. This is contrary to Israel’s intention, as expressed this week by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, to return Gazans to their homes in the northern Strip.

If rehabilitation begins before Hamas disappears, the Gazans’ state of mind will have not been seared with their responsibility for the horrors. From a military point of view, there is also the question of why rebuild a neighborhood if two minutes later Hamas will take control of it again.

After surrender and clearing the area from terrorists, there must be a thorough de-Hamasization process. Whether we rule over the Strip or some kind of international entity does, it is vital to implement reforms that uproot Hamas ideology and other antisemitic and anti-Israel content. These must be basic preconditions.

From the German example, it can be learned that there are ways to eradicate malignant ideology. Even if success is not complete, the effort will have not been in vain. The threat emanating from Gaza has lasted for 75 years. After what happened, we are permitted, and obligated, to do everything possible so that it is permanently removed.

Therefore, for example, trials against Hamas people should be held in Gaza, not Jerusalem. Every home, and every classroom, in the Strip must see them, even if it means closing down the internet and controlling the media. If Gazans want to enjoy the pleasures of democracy, they have to prove they are worthy of it. They can’t have it both ways.

Any future government in the Strip must be extremely anti-Hamas. In addition, it must not engage in the Palestinian armed conflict. That itself would be fuel to reignite the fire. Whoever rules Gaza, their role will be to manage civilian life and clean up any kind of incitement against Israel or Jews. No compromises, no blinking, no “ifs” or “buts.”


No UNRWA, no Palestinian Authority

UNRWA cannot continue operating in Gaza, period. Here, by the way, the comparison to Germany works very well. After World War II, the UN founded a refugee agency, which has resettled tens of millions of refugees on the continent and around the world since then. UNRWA, on the other hand, has not solved the problem of a single Palestinian refugee and instead educates future generations to kill Jews, and in some cases even physically assists them in doing so.

Israel of course cannot allow the Palestinian Authority to be the body controlling Gaza. The reforms required in the West Bank are no less than those required in Gaza. The Holocaust-denier PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not yet condemned Hamas’s Nazi-like crimes.

Gazans should be educated about tolerance, inclusiveness and acceptance of the Jew as a normative neighbor. This sounds fanciful, and there is no doubt that the murderous demons will not disappear overnight or even in a decade. But if we want life, there is no other way.

In an ideal world, it would be better if a foreign rule of any kind, Arab or Western, would clean up the Gazan cesspool. The chances of this happening are slim. Anyone entering the Strip, especially if Hamas is not annihilated, will encounter violent resistance and flee for their lives.

There are therefore all the reasons to think that the full burden, civilian and not just security, will ultimately fall on our shoulders. It’s worth internalizing this. Statements by Israel that “the day after, the Palestinians will rule themselves” are premature.

Before Israel commits to Palestinian self-rule, it must first make clear in intricate detail how the de-Hamasization process will be carried out. This is a vital condition for survival.