Palestine Update 518
What would Palestine be without Hamas?
In recent issues of Palestine Updates, we have taken the position that the Palestinians have the right to resist when unduly oppressed and brutalized.
Hamas stands out as a radical and belligerent movement of resistance. If one were to reckon how things might have been for Palestine as a whole without Palestine, it might be safe to deduce that Israel might have found it far easier to suppress the entire Palestinian populace. There is no counter power to Israel except for Hamas. Stone throwers are a potent expression of political defiance too as are sit-ins and other forms of demonstrations. Yet, it is a fact that Hamas is the only organization now that can silence Israel’s guns and firepower. Hamas wants to destroy Israel, right? But as Mehdi Hasan shows in a video on blowback, Israeli officials admit they helped start the group.
The western media rather generously and nonchalantly uses the term ‘terrorist’ to describe Hamas. By contrast, they apply the term “Army of Defense for Israel’ to describe the Israeli army. It is widely known that the Israel army ranks as one of the most brutal in the world. For that matter, any army at war with an enemy indulges in violence and cruelty. So, what differentiates Hamas from other armies? Why do they get to be called ‘terrorists’? That is the racist narrative of Israel and its partners in the western world to describe those who challenge Israel, whether militarily, or politically. Western propaganda has sown the seeds of suspicion that Hamas is worthy of being categorized as a political untouchable. The West will not allow the notion that Hamas is both a social movement that offers social services to its deprived people, referred to as ‘Dawah’. As well it is an authentic liberation movement. Still more, it established itself as a democratic partner by participating (and winning by a landslide) the elections in 2005. The West and Israel were too shocked to stomach the result and rejected the outcome. The political animosity that has followed between Fatah and Hamas has never since been resolved. This, obviously, suits the West and Israel.
Wikipedia states: “Hamas was founded in 1987, soon after the First Intifada broke out, as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which in its Gaza branch had previously been non-confrontational toward Israel and hostile to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Co founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin said in 1987, and the Hamas Charter affirmed in 1988, that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip Since 1994, the group has frequently stated that it would accept a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, paid reparations, allowed free elections in the territories and gave Palestinian refugees the right to return.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas)
One recalls the heady days when the Oslo agreements were signed, and signs of glimmering hope surfaced. Palestinians poured into the streets and even handed olive branches to the Israeli soldiers. Hamas saw through the farce and opposed the agreement. In retrospect, they were right not to trust that a lasting peace was just around the corner. Israel deceived the Palestinians, and the entire world, with tacit support of Western allies. Oslo was a colossal ‘mis-investment’ in peace by Arafat. He surrendered the integrity of Palestinians and till now there have been no dividends from that ludicrous ploy. On the other hand, hopes of peace and a just settlement are further shattered day after day and are more distant than ever before. Israel continues to raid and capture land with a reckless in their belief that no force on earth will impede them.
Hamas has been unable to rid Palestine of Oslo. The PA, for its part, has a score card with results you don’t want to be known by. Israel has used the blockade, and, more recently, the new wall with which it imprisons over 2 million people. It compels progressive thinkers to compare Zionist methods to the worst in history and hope that the end to Zionism will be as disastrous as that of the Nazi era and the holocaust in which millions of Jews were cruelly killed.
What lies ahead? Obviously, a continuing and militant resistance! For, the powerful have never parted with power voluntarily or under the realization that its cruelty was wrong and misplaced in the first place. And yet, war and violence have never been the ultimate way to peace and justice.
The poet-singer Bob Dylan cries out in pain through his music:
“And how many ears must one person have
before they can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til they know
That too many people have died?”
Naeem Ateek, the pioneering Liberation Theologian of our times in Palestine in his book Justice and Justice alone offers a theology for Palestinian Christians, caught up in the seemingly intractable conflicts in the most volatile area of Middle East. Exploring the biblical and theological issues as well as the historical ones facing the Christians community, and all the victims of war and oppression, Ateek seeks to promote justice as the precondition for reconciliation when he writes “What is at stake today in the political conflict over the West Bank and Gaza is nothing less than the way we understand God.”
A glimpse into Hamas’ formation and history
Hamas is a militant movement and one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties. It governs more than two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, but the group is best known for its armed resistance to Israel. Dozens of countries have designated Hamas a terrorist organization, though some apply this label only to its military wing. Iran provides it with material and financial support, and Turkey reportedly harbors some of its top leaders. Its rival party, Fatah, which dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and rules in the West Bank, has renounced violence. The split in Palestinian leadership and Hamas’s unwavering hostility toward Israel have diminished prospects for stability in Gaza.
What are the group’s origins?
Hamas, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (“Islamic Resistance Movement”), was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a Palestinian cleric who became an activist in local branches of the Muslim Brotherhood after dedicating his early life to Islamic scholarship in Cairo. Yassin preached and performed charitable work in the West Bank and Gaza, both of which Israel occupied following the 1967 Six-Day War. Yassin established Hamas as the Brotherhood’s political arm in Gaza in December 1987, following the outbreak of the first intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. In 1988, Hamas published its charter, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic society in historic Palestine. In what observers called an attempt to moderate its image, Hamas presented a new document [PDF] in 2017 that accepted an interim Palestinian state along the “Green Line” border established before the Six-Day War but that still refused to recognize Israel.
Hamas first employed suicide bombing in April 1993, five months before PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords. The historic pact established limited self-government for parts of the West Bank and Gaza under a newly created entity called the Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas condemned the accords, as well as the PLO’s and Israel’s recognition of each other, which Arafat and Rabin officially agreed to in letters sent days before Oslo. In 1997, the United States designated Hamas a foreign terrorist organization. The movement went on to spearhead violent resistance during the second intifada, in the early 2000s, though PIJ and Fatah’s Tanzim militia were also responsible for violence against Israelis.
What about Hamas?
This question ran rampant through social media exchanges last May as Israel pummeled Gaza with bombs that took down whole buildings while Hamas and other armed resistance groups fired unguided rockets into Israel, most of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. The question was rarely asked in earnest but rather to deflect attention from the daily violence of a settler-colonial occupier intent on erasing the indigenous Palestinian presence, especially in occupied East Jerusalem during the period in question.
The rhetorical intent behind “doesn’t Israel have the right to defend itself” against an Islamic political organization is usually meant to tap into anti-Muslim bigotry while simultaneously seeking to recast the Palestinian victim as the victimizer. It’s a concerted effort to paint the situation as a symmetrical conflict to obscure the asymmetry of power. For a long time now the response to this charade from Palestine solidarity activists in the US has featured its own kind of deflection. Most will correctly argue that oppressed people have the right to armed resistance. Indeed, this right is even codified in international law written in the aftermath of national liberation struggles in Africa and Asia, which ushered in the so-called postcolonial period. Israel originally encouraged the growth of Hamas in order to undermine the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The existence of Hamas by implication is that it’s Israel’s own fault. In both responses, however, the logic is that activists must avoid the trap of talking about the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas.
But what if the question – what about Hamas – was answered directly? What accounts for the fact that Hamas retains steadfast popular support among many Palestinians after all these years? What explains the jubilant celebrations in Gaza extolling the ceasefire and the “Unity Intifada” when Hamas demonstrated the ability to respond to Israel’s provocations at al-Aqsa mosque?
And why have elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council been consistently postponed ever since Hamas won those elections in an upset victory in 2005? Apparently the PA and its bankrollers realize that Hamas would still make a good showing?
Is Fatah really persecuted by Hamas in Gaza?
During the celebration of Fatah’s 57th anniversary in Gaza, senior official Ahmed Helis called for rival movement Hamas to be democratic and respect the rights of others in order to pave the way for an end to the internal Palestinian division. Fatah officials in Gaza and beyond have long been saying such things, with complaints that the secular group has faced “bitter persecution” by the Islamic Resistance Movement since 2007. That was when Hamas took full security control over the Gaza Strip following its election victory the previous year.
Neither Israel nor its allies in the West accepted the free and fair Hamas election win. They encouraged Fatah to oust Hamas from Palestinian Authority institutions. For more than a year, Fatah, backed by Israel, Egypt, and others in the international community, created political and security chaos across the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel alone detained at least 40 Hamas MPs in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and vital PA institutions and public services were paralyzed. Although Hamas could and did end the chaos in Gaza, it was unable to do so in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem due to Israeli support for Fatah. The latter ignored the election results and parliament, and removed all Hamas officials from municipal councils.
Palestinian reconciliation and the potential of transitional justice
This analysis paper focuses on the political division between Fatah and Hamas as the principle obstacle to intra-Palestinian reconciliation. The lack of trust between the two factions is rooted in the 2007 division, or fitna. This separation occurred when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip after winning the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and after a period of violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah security forces. In the decade since the 2007 division, Fatah and Hamas have signed several reconciliation agreements, but the will to carry out the agreements often withered before the ink was dry. Despite several meaningful attempts, calls for reconciliation on both sides have mostly been rhetorical. Deep mistrust has caused each attempt at reconciliation to falter, and tensions between the two key Palestinian political parties continue to this day.
The need for intra-Palestinian reconciliation is urgent for many reasons mostly owing to the deteriorarting humanitarian situation in Gaza. Reconciliation is crucial to minimize the risk of intra-factional violence and to increase the chances of reaching peace with Israel in light of the upcoming battle on who should succeed President Mahmoud Abbas. Further, the retarded actions of the Trump administration, particularly the “deal of the century” and the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, have an irreversible separation between Gaza and the West Bank.
Read full paper and analysis