In 1921, during the Rif War, Moroccan rebels inflicted a devastating defeat on Spanish forces at the Battle of Annual. Interrupted while playing a round of golf and informed of this disaster, Spanish King Alfonso XIII reportedly shrugged his shoulders, muttered, "The meat of chicken is cheap," and resumed his game.
The king's response typifies dictators throughout history, who see troops as expendable. The lives of human drones matter little; more can always be conscripted. Russia's use of Wagner Group prison recruits in the Battle of Bakhmut typified this casual use of cheap manpower. It hardly mattered to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin how many of his cannon fodder perished so long as the front line moved forward. Battlefield gains justify any loss of life.
Then there is Hamas, the jihadi organization that has ruled Gaza since 2007 and which became the focus of global attention after massacring about 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7. For 15 years, it has implemented an opposite and historically unique purpose in tormenting its subject population. Rather than sacrifice soldiers for battlefield gains, it sacrifices civilians for public relations purposes.
The more misery endured by the Palestinians in Gaza, the more convincingly Hamas can accuse Israel of aggression and the wider and more vehement the support it wins from antisemites of all persuasions — Islamists, Palestinian nationalists, far-leftists and far-rightists.
Hamas actively wants Gaza residents to be bombed, hungry, suffering, homeless, injured and killed. It bases troops and missiles in mosques, churches, schools, hospitals and homes. An Emirati political figure, Dirar Belhoul al-Falasi, explains that "Hamas fired a rocket from the hospital's roof, so that Israel would bomb this hospital." It calls on Gaza residents to serve as shields. It parks vehicles on the roads to block civilians from moving southward, out of harm's way. It even shoots these fleeing civilians.
The U.S. government has long noted this pattern of behavior. In 2014, the diplomat Dennis Ross commented that the people of Gaza paid a "staggering" price for Hamas' aggression, but its leaders "have never been concerned about that. For them, Palestinians' pain and suffering are tools to exploit, not conditions to end."
Douglas Feith, a former high-ranking Pentagon official, correctly finds it "unprecedented for a party to adopt a war strategy to maximize civilian deaths on its own side." He dubs this "not a human shield strategy [but] a human sacrifice strategy."
Of course, Hamas digs into its Islamist ideology to justify this practice. One official blithely explains that Palestinians "sacrifice ourselves. We consider our dead to be martyrs. The thing any Palestinian desires the most is to be martyred for the sake of Allah, defending his land."
Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of a founding Hamas leader, puts it another way: "I was born at the heart of Hamas leadership ... and I know them very well. They don't care for the Palestinian people. They do not regard the human life. I saw their brutality firsthand."
Hamas' brutal logic brings multiple benefits.
First, it provides Hamas tactically because it renders Israel, which tries to avoid harming civilians, not attacking mosques and schools. Second, if Israel does hit such vulnerable targets, Hamas crows about the victims. Third, should Hamas misfire, as in the Ahli Hospital incident, and kill Palestinians, it can blame Israel, convincing many. Fourth, campuses and streets worldwide erupt with anti-Israel demonstrations.
Fifth, Hamas chieftains enjoy the good life, whether in Turkey, Qatar or Gaza itself, where only its members have access to vast reserves of fuel, food, water and medicine. They even steal fuel from hospitals. The Majalla, a Saudi weekly magazine, found that control over Gaza's smuggling routes made 1,700 Hamas officials millionaires. Moshe Elad of Western Galilee Academic College estimates that Musa Abu Marzook, Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh are all multibillionaires.
This inversion of logic and morality raises two questions: Why does it work? Can Israel find an antidote?
It works because victimization has become the currency of dictators and totalitarians. From Mr. Putin to Iran's Ali Khamenei, they divide the world between oppressors and the oppressed, then claim the mantle of the world's wretched. Hamas may be a jihadi organization, forwarding a medieval Islamic code, but it capably learned the modern language of discrimination.
As for an antidote, that requires Israel to extirpate Hamas and its foul works, then set up a decent administration in Gaza that will not continue deploying such degrading tactics. This will not be easy, but it can be done.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.