Palestine Update 214
Two think-pieces from a progressive Israeli standpoint
In this issue of Palestine Updates, we bring you two think-pieces from the Forum For Regional Thinking. This forum, founded in 2014 by academics and researchers from various areas of knowledge and activity, seeks to create public discourse and influence prevailing perceptions in Israel about the Middle East. It includes, in the main, Israeli scholars specializing in Islam and Middle East studies. It believes that the dissemination of professional original and, in-depth information and analysis will advance more understanding of the complex Middle East and Israel’s place within the region, and help foster hope and trust in peace relations. In this, it seeks to diverge from the usual security-driven approach of Israel . It still remains hasty to pretend that Israel has a role as one of many actors in the region and assume it shares similarities with its neighbors.
In the first think piece, we bring you an article on ‘Hamas- A Movement in a flux’. It offers interesting perceptions because it affirms Hamas as a fact of Palestinian political life: “(Viewing) Hamas only as a terrorist organization overlooks the meaningful social background from which the movement emerged and the massive strategic change it has been undergoing for over a decade”. It underlines Hamas’ transition from a movement born of Mujama al-Islamiya, the Gaza arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. It divulges how Hamas was part of a movement that ran mosques and charities throughout the Occupied Territories. It also underlines the social-religious activism that that identity entailed. Hamas, since, grew to being the resistance through its military wing after the first intifada broke out.
The second think-piece looks at the indigeneity of the Palestinians in Jerusalem. It argues that for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, their status as permanent residents of Israel ‘hangs by a thread’ because it makes them vulnerable depending upon their professional or academic activity. It shows how some awkward interpretation of legal doctrine easily allows Palestinians from East Jerusalem to be deemed as ordinary permanent residents of Israel. It acknowledges that they have been living in East Jerusalem since before Israel annexed it. It points to three High Court rulings that, in 2017, “laid out a new approach to the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem… calling the Minister of Interior to factor the unique situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem as “indigenous residents” who, “unlike those who acquire permanent residency following migration to Israel, are strongly tied to their place of residence, as they – and sometimes their parents and grandparents – were born there, and it has been the site of their family and community life for years”. The entire article merits critical reading and understanding. It offers an alternative perspective which probably impacts the Israeli mind even more than that of the Palestinian.
Hamas: A Movement in Flux
Hamas is a bitter enemy of Israel. Yet, in the last decade it has gradually become more political and institutionalized, and is even seeking international recognition In Israel, Hamas is seen only as a Jihadi terrorist organization. This view informs every discussion of the movement’s actions and positions, yet is misaligned with reality and with the way Hamas sees itself. Clinging to this misconception compromises our ability to understand Hamas and to deal with the question of Gaza, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian issue in general.
One thing is clear – Hamas is a bitter enemy of Israel. Its military wing, the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has carried out murderous terror attacks against Israeli citizens. Yet seeing Hamas only as a terrorist organization overlooks the meaningful social background from which the movement emerged and the massive strategic change it has been undergoing for over a decade.
Unlike other Jihadi and resistance groups in Palestine, Hamas is deeply rooted in Palestinian society. Obviously, its violent actions are usually at the center of attention. Yet as Paula Caridi demonstrated in her book Hamas: From Resistance to Government? The movement is profoundly committed to social action. Hamas was born of Mujama al-Islamiya, the Gaza arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which ran mosques and charities throughout the Occupied Territories. The transition from the Brotherhood to Hamas, i.e. the shift from social-religious activism to resistance and establishment of a military wing, was completed only in 1988, after the first intifada broke out.
Resistance, apologetics, integration
In the early 1990s, Islamic/Islamist Hamas was the only opposition to the PLO-Fatah. Fatah was inclined to compromise with Israel and abandon the armed struggle; Hamas rejected the peace process, worked to undermine it and objected to the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, Hamas ideologue Ibrahim al-Makadmeh called for attacks on Israel to force it to withdraw from the peace process and dismantle the PA. Yet while Hamas boycotted the first PA elections in 1996, by 2006 – after the second intifada – it not only participated but even won. The victory was a watershed moment in the movement’s transition into politics.
In the 2006 elections, Hamas’ Reform and Change List published a comprehensive political platform, along with a cessation of militant activity – proof that the movement’s political leadership can rein in the military wing at will. In a long, gradual process since then, Hamas has grown increasingly political, institutionalized, and eager for international recognition. This peaked with the Document of General Principles and Policies published in May 2017, which demonstrated growing readiness for compromise with Israel. More proof of this conceptual shift is the recent move from violent resistance and terrorism to a popular unarmed struggle. Despite ups and downs to the process, the general direction is clear.
From charter to document of principles
The differences between the 1988 Hamas charter and the 2017 document of principles encapsulate thirty years of development. The charter is an Islamist, anti-national, anti-Semitic document in which religion is an independent variable, Palestinian nationalism is the dependent variable, and the particular Palestinian identity is first mentioned only in article 6. In the new document, Hamas is defined in the first article as “a Palestinian Islamic national liberation and resistance movement. Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project.” The document establishes Hamas as a national movement that draws its authority and modes of action from political Islam, yet only inasmuch as this serves Palestinian nationalism.
Another important difference is the movement’s declared goals. The original charter talks of Jihad, resistance to the West and founding an Islamic state. The new document portrays a movement angling for space within the existing system, in order to lead efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Inkling of this sea-change in Hamas’ goals and strategy were already visible in the movement’s outright rejection of enthusiastic calls by Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups to declare an Islamic state in Gaza after the 2007 takeover.
In 2010, Khaled Mashal gave a detailed interview to the Muslim Brotherhood daily in Jordan, A-Sabeel, about Hamas’ political philosophy, its views on Israel and the peace process, and its policies on the Palestinian, Arab and international fronts. Already then, Mashal spoke pragmatically and in favor of accepting international diplomatic norms, steering clear of militant rhetoric.
In 2014, the Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut published a book titled Islamic Resistance Movement-Hamas: Studies of Thought and Experience – a collection of essays by Palestinian researchers and Hamas members about themselves, in Arabic. The recurring theme in the essays is the “normalization” of Hamas: its transformation into a legitimate political movement. Professor Yousef Rizka, literature researcher at Gaza University, former minister in the PA government and political advisor to Isma’il Haniyeh, analyzed “The Political Ideology of Hamas”, addressing issues such as mosque and state, law and constitution, nationality, secularism, democracy and human rights; Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor of Islam at Al-Quds University and imam at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, examined “Hamas’ Views of Jews, Judaism, Zionism, Zionists and the State of Israel”; and Sami Khater, a member of Hamas’ Political Bureau, wrote of “Hamas’ Vision for Managing the Conflict with the Zionist Enemy”. All three clearly drew away from the movement’s traditional anti-Semitism and their texts reveal a consistent trend of apologetics, distance from the 1988 charter, and a call for ideological change couched in new Islamic, academic and political rhetoric.
Even terrorism is presented in the book as a necessary evil for saving lives. The argument is that this creates a balance of fear with Israel as a counter-measure to the killing of Palestinian civilians, based on the Islamic principle of reciprocity (a-rad bil-mithl). While such talk may be uncomfortable for Israeli ears, it marks a significant change in terminology, reframing political violence as undesirable.
Hamas is probably the most popular Palestinian faction in the Occupied Territories at present. Unlike the Islamic Jihad, Hamas grew out of civil society and is seeking to broaden its impact in that area. The gaps between the original Hamas charter and the new document of principles attest to the changes the movement has undergone in thirty years of its existence, including during its effective rule over Gaza. In fact, Hamas’ willingness to accept the idea of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, without formally acknowledging the State of Israel or abandoning the right of return, are the movement’s response to the Arab Peace Initiative and to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas’ politicization, its openness to institutionalization and compromise, and its search for international approval are a window of opportunity for Israel.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem as “indigenous residents”
In 2017, the Israeli High Court of Justice reframed the legal status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Will it go further and give full legal effect to this special status?
It seems that 2017 was a good year for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in terms of the status accorded them by the Israeli High Court of Justice. Over the course of the year, the Court issued three separate rulings that indicate a shift in approach – acknowledging the unique situation of this population and, perhaps, the need to regulate their status accordingly.
For Palestinians in East Jerusalem, their status as permanent residents of Israel hangs by a thread: It expires if they leave the country for a lengthy period of time. If they temporarily relocate abroad for studies, work or any other reason, they run the risk of losing residency rights and being unable to return home. That is because, according to the legal doctrine set forth in the Awad case, Palestinians from East Jerusalem are considered ordinary permanent residents of Israel. They are subject to the same rules as migrants in Israel, although they are far from being migrants and in fact have been living in East Jerusalem since before Israel annexed it. This formal definition is compounded by the enforcement policy led by the Ministry of the Interior, which makes it especially difficult to retain residency status even for Palestinians who do live in Jerusalem and maintain it as the center of their lives.
In 2017, the Court issued three rulings that, in conjunction, laid out a new approach to the residency status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In the Al Hak case, discussed previously, the Court ruled that in making decisions on requests for reinstatement of residency, the Minister of Interior must take into consideration the unique situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem as “indigenous residents” who, “unlike those who acquire permanent residency following migration to Israel, are strongly tied to their place of residence, as they – and sometimes their parents and grandparents – were born there, and it has been the site of their family and community life for years”. The weight of this statement as a matter of principle was inconclusive, as the decision was based in part on the special circumstances of the particular case. The Court’s meaning was, however, made unequivocal in later rulings.
The Halil case raised almost identical concerns. Nadia Halil was born in East Jerusalem, moved to the US in 1980 at the age of 20 and was naturalized there. In 1994 she returned to Jerusalem, after several visits over the years. When she asked to allow her daughters, one of whom had been born in Israel, to acquire residency, she was informed that her own residency had expired. Since then, for over 20 years, she has been attempting to regulate her status. In a December 2017 decision, the Court relied on the Al Hak case to determine that the special status of East Jerusalem Palestinians as “indigenous residents” must be taken into consideration. The Court ordered that the Minister of the Interior immediately reinstate Halil’s residency. In this case, too, the Court noted that it was relying on the particulars of the case.
Between these two rulings, the Court decided the Abu Arefah case, again concerning East Jerusalem residency, although in a different context. The Court was asked to determine whether the Minister of the Interior is permitted to revoke the residency of Palestinians from East Jerusalem on the grounds of “violating the obligation of allegiance”. The majority opinion held that only explicit authorization by law could lend the Minister this power. As the law is phrased in general terms, the majority of the justices held that the Minister had acted without authorization. The important point regarding the issue at hand is that the majority (led by Justice Vogelman) and one of the minority judges (Justice Hendel) repeatedly referred to Palestinians in East Jerusalem as an indigenous group.
Taken together, these rulings mark a clear trend: recognizing Palestinians in East Jerusalem as a unique group, with the legal consequences this creates. Moreover, in Abu Arefah and Halil, a number of justices explicitly stated that the time has come to reconsider the Awad doctrine that views Palestinians in East Jerusalem as ordinary permanent residents. The Court stressed that applying the Law on Entry into Israel uniformly to all permanent residents does not give appropriate weight to the unique situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are not migrants. Rather, the Court stated, they are “indigenous residents”, an “indigenous population” and “native to the territory”.
The term indigeneity does not exist in Israeli law, and its meaning in international law is not entirely clear. Moreover, under international law, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are considered “protected residents” living in occupied territory, and their status is regulated under the laws of occupation. Despite the Court’s ambiguous reference to indigeneity, a key aspect of its approach appears to be recognizing these residents as a distinct group. Accordingly, it is time to acknowledge the problems inherent to this group’s legal status as a matter of principle, rather than make do with resolving individual cases.
It is somewhat ironic that on the year marking the ‘unification’ of Jerusalem, the Court’s decisions underscore that the territory has been unified, but not the people. It remains to be seen whether the Court will pick up the gauntlet it has thrown down and examine not only the petitions and appeals brought before it, but also the fundamental issue of the legal status of East Jerusalem Palestinians.
Don’t befriend me for a day, and leave me a month. Don’t get close to me if you’re going to leave. Don’t say what you don’t do. Be close or get away.
لا تصاحبني يوماً .. لتهجرني شهراً ولا تقربني .. لتبعدني .. لا تقل ما لا تفعل كُن قريباً .. أو ابتعد.