“But Hamas!”

Matthew Gindin
6 min readJan 3, 2024


Learning From the War on Gaza and the Rohingya Genocide

On Friday, August 25, 2017, the stream of refugees began arriving in Bangladesh, fleeing over the country’s border with Myanmar. It began with tens of thousands, and eventually swelled to over a million. The refugees, minority Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, were escaping a surge of violence against their communities carried out primarily by Burmese soldiers, as well as armed civilians encouraged by the state.

The government of Myanmar said the “crackdown” was motivated by attacks which were launched on dozens of state security stations by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on August 25th, killing 12 people. Government sources claimed to have killed at least 370 insurgents in reprisal in the initial days of their assault on the Rohingya.

As the weeks went on we would hear from Rohingya refugees of mass killings, destruction of their homes, and gang rapes committed by the Myanmar forces, though Aung San Suu Kyi, then the elected head of government, would dismiss these well-documented claims as “fake,” exaggerations and lies put out by the Rohingya and their western sympathizers.

I reported on this genocidal assault for five years, predominantly for a western Buddhist audience horrified by the actions of a supposedly Buddhist government, but also for the Jewish press, which historically has a particular concern about people committing ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The examples of the attack of ARSA on Burmese security stations and the Hamas attack of Oct 7 are significantly different. Oct 7 targeted civilians alongside military personnel, and was much more brutal and larger in scale.

Yet it is also important to see the similarity. When ARSA attacked Myanmar soldiers, this was not the trigger for government assaults on the Rohingya. Myanmar had been engaged in what experts call a “slow-burn genocide” against the Rohingya for decades, not only periodically launching assaults against them but also depriving them of full citizenship and the basic resources of life- freedom of movement, educational and other resources. The government of Myanmar also alleges that the Rohingya are not indigenous to Myanmar and have no history or inherent rights there, despite independent scholarship showing their long residency in the country and legitimate claims to be considered a justified part of the tribal mosaic of Myanmar.

There is much that echoes in the situation of the Rohingya and that of the Palestinians.

Aside from the major and more important examples I just listed, also consider these two echoes: Rakhine state is coastal property adjacent to desired resources, just as Gaza is. Also this: when you tell the average patriotic Burmese of the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, they will argue that these are not true, that they are fabrications either by the Rohingya themselves, or by the anti-Burmese UN, or by busybody westerners biased against Myanmar who don’t understand the “complexity” of the situation.

Does that sound familiar?

One thing I keep on hearing is “if Hamas returned the hostages and put down their weapons this war would end.” Another old friend told me some months ago that calls for a ceasefire make no sense, as “there was a ceasefire on Oct 6 and look what Hamas did.” I submit to you, dear reader, that these claims are every bit as untrue and unfair to the situation as claiming that on the day before ARSA attacked the Myanmar army there was a “ceasefire,” or that if ARSA disarmed there would be no problem in Myanmar, no violence — peace!

On Oct 6 the state of Israel was engaged in a slow-burn campaign of land theft, disempowerment, abuse, and ultimately ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. I discuss this a bit here and also in several other pieces I’ve written on Medium, but if you disbelieve me, if you have only read books which are defenses of Israel, I urge you to do your due diligence and read some books from a Palestinian perspective. Maybe start with The Hundred Year’s War On Palestine by Rashid Khalidi. You may not agree with everything he says, but it will change you, and isn’t it time- just this once! to listen, really listen, to “the other side”?

Here is a quotation Khalidi brings in that humane and incredibly informative book, from a diary entry of Theodore Herzl’s in 1895 contemplating the exigencies of creating a Jewish state in Palestine: “We shall try to spirit the penniless population [of Palestine] across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”

So it is not a new idea when Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich says, as he did on Jan 1, that the ‘correct solution’ to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ‘to encourage the voluntary migration of Gaza’s residents to countries that will agree to take in the refugees.” As Israeli historian Benny Morris noted in 2002, “the notion of population transfer” or as we usually call it, ethnic cleansing, is “as old as modern Zionism.”

My other recommendation is Justice For Some by Noura Erakat, a Palestinian legal scholar. If you distrust those sources or prefer another choice, I urge you to take courage and touch something many consider nuclear- the books of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.

“These people are biased!” you may say. Maybe, but certainly no more than you or I are.

“So what if Erakat was considered worthy of publication by Stanford!” you may say. “Antisemites and wokism are everywhere!”

Maybe. But doesn’t it give you pause that I heard the same thing from defenders of Myanmar? I really did, you know, they told me that anti-Asian racism and bias was behind all the criticisms of what Myanmar did, just biased attacks from western hypocrites. When I spoke with a Rohingya refugee who had survived gang rape and seeing her father killed before they burned down her house, of course, I got a different story.

What is my point here? I loathe the violence of Hamas, and I think their embrace of violence is both immoral and self-destructive. Yet if they put down their weapons there would not be peace. There would be Occupation, and apartheid, and human rights abuses, just as there was on Oct 6, and there would still be the horrific and intolerable situation in Gaza and the West Bank, a situation which would inevitably give birth to Hamas 2.0 and 3.0 and 4.0…..

The only solution to this conflict lies in the hard and dangerous road of truth and reconciliation. Justice and peace can only be found through justice and peace. These are not academic issues, and I am not just being preachy- I am both Jewish and Canadian, and both of my communities are currently, by and large, supporting Israel’s embrace of an endless military non-solution to the tragedy of Israel/Palestine. It is time for us to stop.

There is a Yiddish saying: “When everyone says you are drunk, it’s time to go to sleep.” Supporters of Israeli war policy and Zionism as it exists now are hammered — or should I say shikkered — and more and more of the world is trying to point this out, but they will not go to bed, they just keep wandering around the house yelling at people. Why did they get so drunk? Because of fear, trauma, anger? Yes, I think so. Nevertheless, all a friend can wish is that they sober up.