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Hamas and Palestine’s right to exist

By Tony Iltis

January 28, 2009 -- If Western politicians and media are to be believed, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) is an anti-Semitic, religious fundamentalist, terrorist outfit that forms part of an al Qaeda- (or, alternatively, Iranian-) led movement which seeks to violently impose Islamic law on the world, and is dedicated to the annihilation of Jews. 

However, what is Hamas’s actual practice and the source of its strong popularity among Palestinians?

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, which international observers described as the most democratic in the Arab world. In government, it has attempted to eradicate corruption and gangsterism.

The demonisation of a democratically elected political leadership has become the justification for war crimes. The entire infrastructure of Gaza — hospitals, mosques, government offices, schools, water and energy, food stores, emergency services, orphanages — can be defined as “Hamas infrastructure” because Hamas remains the civil authority.

“Hamas infrastructure” is equated with “terrorist infrastructure”, providing Israel and its Western backers with justification for deliberately targeting such civilian institutions, in flagrant violation of international law.

This equation of “Hamas” with “terrorist” is also used to legitimise the kidnapping and assassination of Palestinian parliamentarians and officials. Such assassinations — often carried out in crowded places using missiles fired from war-planes or predator drones that maximises the killing of bystanders — have continued throughout every truce observed by Hamas.

As the Israeli army’s Major Avital Leibovich explained on Janaury 2, “Hamas leaders [are] marked men. We have defined legitimate targets as any Hamas-affiliated target.”

The demonisation of Hamas stems not from its religious views or practice, but Western hostility to Palestinian self-determination.

In a February 2006 interview, newly elected Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the Washington Post,

“We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody … We are oppressed people with rights.”

The key to Hamas’s popular support is not to do with Islam, but its role in resisting Israeli aggression. It advocates equality between religions.

A March 2008 assessment of Hamas’s current practice by the International Crisis Group reported that Hamas “denies any intent of coercively imposing an Islamist entity”.

The ICG reported “no flagrant signs of Islamisation of the courts and schools. The authorities did not alter the PA school curriculum, the PA’s law code or its constitution.”

Women have been appointed to high-profile positions, such as to the judiciary and appeals court. According to the report, “A Hamas official maintained: ‘The people in Ramallah are trying to stigmatise Hamas as extremist. But an Islamic emirate will not come about in Gaza’”.

Rather, in the face of Israeli aggression, Hamas has advocated a united front of resistance involving all Palestinian factions.

The firing of homemade rockets into Israel has been cited as evidence of Hamas’s aggression, yet any objective account of the conflict would present such actions for what they are — a response by representatives of an oppressed group to far greater aggression by one of the best-armed military powers in the world.

The latest six month-long ceasefire that preceded Israel’s recent bout of slaughter ended only after Israel, which failed from the start to implement the terms of the agreement and ease the crippling siege on Gaza, murdered six Palestinians on November 4.

Rather, the Western claim that Hamas is not an “acceptable partner for peace” reflects the real purpose of the endless “peace processes” that have followed the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993: to preserve the existence of an exclusively Jewish state in a country where only half the population are Jewish.

While the Palestinians had historically striven for a “democratic, secular state” covering the whole Palestine in which all people within it could live in equality, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, the Oslo Accords signed with Israel accepted the premise of a two-state solution, whereby an independent Palestine based on the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) would exist alongside Israel.

However, while Palestinian acceptance of the “right” of Israel to exist as an exclusively Jewish state was a precondition for talks, discussion of the geographic definition of the Palestinian state was deferred and Israel has refused to negotiate on crucial issues, such as the right of Palestinian refugees driven from territory claimed by Israel to return to their homelands.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the building of Jewish-only settlements and bypass roads were increased. It became clear that the Palestinian “state” would have authority only in geographically seperated, walled ghettos.

With Palestinians denied a viable economy, the Palestinian Authority became dependant on financial support from Israel’s Western allies who demanded it crack down on threats to Israel’s security.

While there were limits to Arafat’s willingness to surrender to Israeli diktats, under his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah-led PA accepted the role of policing the ghettos created in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the 2006 elections, Palestinians rejected the collaborationist politics of Abbas, and the corruption and criminality that came with the Western financial backing.

Hamas’s election victory was in coalition with secular and Christian parties and was on the basis of a nationalist agenda.

While remaining committed to the ideal of a united, democratic Palestine, the Hamas-led PA was willing to offer a long term truce on the basis of Israel returning to its 1967 borders.

However, Israel surrending 22% of the territory it controls was never the intention of the “peace processes”. The US and the European Union immediately placed economic sanctions on the PA to punish Palestinians for voting for a leadership that refused to collaborate in the annihilation of the Palestinian people.

In June 2007, despite Hamas attempts at forming a government of national unity, Abbas carried out a coup against the elected PLC in the West Bank.

In Gaza, however, well-armed US-trained forces led by Mohamed Dahlan failed in an attempt to dislodge the Hamas-led PA. Since then Gaza has been under a starvation siege as well as subject to constant military assaults of varying intensity.

Hamas has continually shown willingness to enter truces based on very partial demands, such as ceasing military attacks and lifting the Gaza siege most recently.

However, unlike Abbas’s Fatah, Hamas refuses to make endless unreciprocated concessions. Its popular legitimacy derives from this.

As Khalid Mish’al, head of the Hamas political bureau explained in the January 6 Guardian: “No rockets have ever been fired from the West Bank. But 50 died and hundreds more were injured there last year at Israel’s hands, while its expansionism proceeded relentlessly.

“We are meant to be content with shrinking scraps of territory, a handful of cantons at Israel’s mercy, enclosed by it from all sides. The truth is Israel seeks a one-sided ceasefire, observed by my people alone, in return for siege, starvation, bombardment, assassinations, incursions and colonial settlement …”

“The logic of those who demand that we stop our resistance is absurd. They absolve the aggressor and occupier — armed with the deadliest weapons of death and destruction — of responsibility, while blaming the victim, prisoner and occupied.

“Our modest, home-made rockets are our cry of protest to the world. Israel and its American and European sponsors want us to be killed in silence.

“But die in silence we will not.”

[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly issue #780, January 28, 2009.]

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