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.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 03/01/2009 - 11:15


Date:28/01/2009 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2009/01/28/stories/2009012852231100.htm

A struggle to realise Palestinian hopes

Atul Aneja
Interview withDr. Musa Abu Marzuk, Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau who is second-in-command in the group’s leadership-in-exile.
— Photo: AFP
Image removed.
Hamas is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital, says Dr. Musa Abu Marzuk.

Musa Abu Marzuk, a key Hamas figure, has been ceaselessly at work since the Israeli attacks on Gaza began on December 27. The 58-year-old second-in-command in the Palestinian group has emerged as its public face over Arab satellite television channels such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. In this interview he says Hamas is ready to accept an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital, without formally recognising the state of Israel. He clarifies that once this state emerges “we [would] then arrive at a stage when a status of calm between this state and Israel is established.” Asked how Hamas would visualise the return of Palestinian refugees after a Palestinian state was established on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, the Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau says: “Any kind of solution after that will be between the people. Now if the people return to Israel and they have full rights, human rights and political rights, then it’s their choice of the kind of future they want. Our struggle is that Palestinian hopes are realised and full justice is accomplished.” Dr. Marzuk, who has a doctorate from the United States, spoke to The Hindu at an undisclosed location in the Syrian capital Damascus. Excerpts:

The first phase of resistance in Gaza appears to have been accomplished after the recent war. How does your resistance advance from the level that has already been achieved?

During this stage, the Israeli aggression hit Gaza from everywhere: the sea, air and land. Gaza Strip, as you know, is a very small area. It’s 365 sq km, and it’s one of the most crowded areas in the world. It has 1.5 million people living there. Most of the people in Gaza are refugees. They have come from their cities, towns, villages and farms in [historical] Palestine. Nearly 75 per cent, or one million, people are refugees who live in this area.

Now after Hamas won the elections in 2006, we tried to change the ideology, policy and goal of the movement. From the beginning our goal has been to return our people to Palestine. We have emphasised that Palestinians have a right to live in their country and not in refugee camps. Our goal has been to establish our state and to struggle against occupation.

Are you saying your final objective is a single Palestinian state? Are you inclined to accept a two-state solution?

Look, after we won the elections we accepted the [formation of the Palestinian] state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of the balance of power in region. And we suggested that after that a status of calm would be established between this new state and Israel, without recognising Israel. This was our aim after we won the elections. In the past, we didn’t see this as a Palestinian objective.

So your objective is to establish an independent Palestinian state including West Bank and Gaza on territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 war? However, that is not your ultimate goal?

We have priorities. Our priority now is to get the [Israeli] siege lifted and let the Palestinian people carry out reconstruction of their buildings and homes which were destroyed by the Israeli aggression in Gaza. This is the first priority now. Our second priority is to re-establish our national unity.

Under which plan? There is a Yemeni proposal and the Egyptians have been involved as mediators to achieve Palestinian unity.

It doesn’t matter whether there is a Yemeni plan or an Egyptian plan. We have to achieve our objectives — the tools are not very important. The important thing is to rebuild our unity. Our third priority is to work together to establish a Palestinian state with Gaza Strip and West Bank and with Jerusalem as the capital.

When you say Jerusalem as the capital, are you referring to East Jerusalem alone?

You see they [Israelis] should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip up to the borders of 1967. That means East Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state. After this is done, we then arrive at a stage when a status of calm between this state and Israel is established. We refuse as a movement, whether we are inside the government or outside, to recognise Israel as an independent state, because all our rights would not have been restored.

These rights relate to the rights of refugees to return to their homeland?

We have refugees in Lebanon and Syria who must return to their homes, to their relatives, who are still waiting for them. Those people will not just accept a state in West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Where should they return? To West Bank or Gaza or their ancestral villages and towns which are in present-day Israel?

If they return to West Bank or Gaza Strip, that is not a return to their country, to their villages or their homes. They would become refugees again, inside their country but in a different area. There are already more than 1.5 million refugees in West Bank and Gaza Strip. I am talking about historical Palestine, not West Bank and Gaza Strip.

So, you wish to establish an independent state along the 1967 borders without recognising Israel. But full normalisation will come only after the last phase has been accomplished — when the refugees return to their ancestral homeland?

Any kind of solution after that will be between the people. Now if the people return to Israel and they have full rights, human rights and political rights, then it is their choice of the kind of future they want. Our struggle is [to ensure] that Palestinian hopes are realised and full justice is accomplished.

There have been accusations that Hamas is a terrorist organisation which wants to throw all Jewish people into the sea?

This is not true. You know, in history, Jews have suffered many massacres. This happened in Germany, Poland in the Second World War, and in Spain. These are the three main massacres that the Jewish people have suffered. After these massacres the Jews immigrated to Islamic countries, especially Turkey, Palestine, Morocco, in fact in many places in the Islamic world.

Now, we do not have any problem with any other religion. If you look at the Islamic countries, we are part of a mixed region. I can’t be a Muslim unless I believe in Jesus. I can’t be a Muslim unless I believe in Moses. I have to believe in their prophets also. My religion rejects any kind discrimination. So to say that we will throw the Jewish people in the sea, this is just propaganda.

On the contrary, it is also necessary to recognise the massacre of the Palestinian people. In the last massacre [in Gaza] 1,500 people have been killed, including 400 children and more than 200 women.

What are the principles that unify the Palestinian resistance? You have a Leftist group like the Popular Front for the People of Palestine (PFLP) as your ally and you have support from a country like Venezuela. Do you find any contradiction between Leftist or Marxist principles and Islamic principles, or do you see them coming together in some way?

Our responsibility as Muslims is to be with people suffering injustice. These are human values that we share with others on ideological terms. We have to stand with suffering people, people suffering from hunger or people under occupation.

There have been attempts to link Hamas with terrorism and Al Qaeda. Do you reject Al Qaeda?

We are completely different. We are under occupation. Of course, we reject Al Qaeda.

Is your resistance in Gaza during the recent conflict part of a wider struggle in the region which includes Hizbollah in Lebanon, with support from countries such as Syria and Iran?

Our success is a victory for all Palestinians and not one for the people of Gaza alone. Of course, with Israel’s defeat we have defeated many others in the region who want Israel to reoccupy Gaza Strip for different reasons. It is therefore going to help all countries and people who stand with Hamas and support Hamas in different ways. At this stage our support goes beyond Hizbollah, Syria and Iran. If you return to the war, most of the people in the Muslim world and the rest of the world stood by Hamas. They have been raising Hamas flags and burning Israeli flags. That means we have the support of millions of people throughout the world.

What is the significance of the Doha conference where Hamas and its allies were invited?

At Doha, Qatar’s Emir invited [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas to this conference. But he could not take this step because of pressure from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. After that Hamas was chosen to attend this conference because, being a conference about Palestinians it would have lost significance had Palestinians not participated. It was a good conference because it supported the Palestinian struggle. It is very clear that certain countries are now behind the Palestinian struggle and the Palestinian cause. That was the main message that emerged from the Doha conference.

Does Turkey have a specific role in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Day by day our international support is expanding. When we won the elections we were backed by Russia, Turkey and many others. Now, European representatives who come to meet the Syrian President or the Foreign Minister seek us out.

Did U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon meet you?

No, but I met his political representative in the West Bank and Gaza Strip one day before the Secretary-General’s visit.

How do you perceive Egypt’s role in the conflict?

We have differences with Egyptian policy. We want the Egyptians to open the Rafah gate, because we have no access to the rest of the world.

There have been proposals about a larger American military presence in Egypt to curb smuggling of weapons through tunnels into Gaza.

It’s Egypt’s responsibility to do whatever it wants to do on its territory. Nothing has been smuggled from Gaza to Egypt or Israel. There may be some people involved in smuggling items from Israel to Gaza or from Egypt to Gaza. But that is the responsibility of those countries, not ours.

Will you accept international monitors inside Gaza?

No, we do not accept international monitors either within Gaza or between the stretch from the Egyptian border to the Gaza border.

Will you accept the presence of European monitors and representatives of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Rafah border crossing?

We have no objection to the presence of European monitors or from representatives of Mr. Abbas at the gates.

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