If the maximalists and ultra-nationalist Israeli occupiers of Palestine are the enemy, then so too is Hamas. There will never be peace until religious fanaticism is purged from the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; and it has to be fought, unconditionally, now. Focusing all of our political energies on forcing the IDF into a unilateral retreat will damn Gaza into becoming the sovereign playground of thugs and theocrats. No one who wants peace, no one motivated by any platitude for social justice, can allow that to happen.
Politicians lie. David Cameron does it, regularly; should his claim that NHS waiting times have halved since 2010 be taken as a sacred pledge to Marx and to medical socialism? No? Would it even if it had been true? Political parties have spent decades courting the trust of their electorate only to collapse under their own vapidity.
So why, when its leader Khaled Mashal wistfully imagined that he’d one day ‘possibly give a long-term truce with Israel’, did Hamas suddenly become the ardent opponent of war in the Levant? As ever in his struggle to exchange myth for myth, Mehdi Hasan captures – indeed embodies – that dollhouse marriage of gullibility and intellectual dishonesty perfectly:
2) Israel wants a ceasefire but Hamas doesn’t
Al Jazeera: “Meshaal said Hamas wants the ‘aggression to stop tomorrow, today, or even this minute. But [Israel must] lift the blockade with guarantees and not as a promise for future negotiations’. He added ‘we will not shut the door in the face of any humanitarian ceasefire backed by a real aid programme’.” Jerusalem Post: “One day after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire accepted by Israel, but rejected by Hamas, fell through, the terrorist organization proposed a 10-year end to hostilities in return for its conditions being met by Israel, Channel 2 reported Wednesday.. Hamas’s conditions were the release of re-arrested Palestinian prisoners who were let go in the Schalit deal, the opening of Gaza-Israel border crossings in order to allow citizens and goods to pass through, and international supervision of the Gazan seaport in place of the current Israeli blockade.” BBC: “Israel’s security cabinet has rejected a week-long Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry ‘as it stands’.”
Genocide, in other words, is simply the awkward and slightly embarrassing mistress of a noble peacenik. Meshaal has forgotten why he wanted all the Jews dead, and so should we.
Well now. As one of diplomacy’s little rules, if an organisation rises to prominence citing the apocalyptic fantasies of a seventh-century epileptic charging that ‘Muslims fight Jews and kill them’ because ‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it’, which, instead of scuppering, it reinforces by firing hundreds rockets at Israeli civilians during peacetime while disseminating—
—ahem, somewhat questionable television for nurslings, then its cries for peace, bread and land should probably be interrogated a little more intelligently.
To this, of course, it is glibly argued that Hamas can be put to one side. They are a red herring in a war in which power lies almost exclusively in Bibi’s court. ‘As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression,’ began Avi Shlaim in 2009,
but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, “crying and shooting”.
To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak – terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.
Leaving aside the implicit – and rather obscene – requirement that Hamas kill a few more Israelis to prove themselves, here it is. Iron Dome can smash all their rockets in a breath. Whatever the ‘not entirely innocent’ organisation might mean, or want, or do, is entirely ancillary to the acquisition of Palestinian self-determination; if we only bite our lips and share in their essential hatred of the Israeli occupation, and in the meanwhile let them be, then freedom will come to the territories and Hamas wither and die.
I’ll admit this much: puritans and vainglory won’t save the world. Socialism in Palestine is a fantasy, and not all bargains with those who would make better enemies have to end in Faustian triumphs for the Devil. The fiscally incompetent Louis XVI did not bring despotism to the American Revolution; instead, irony doomed him to a nationalist revolution that first took his head and then beat back the rest of Europe under the banners of fraternity. And what of the Irish – did the German Empire’s support for the Easter Rising undo their fight withthe British? Who could seriously denounce the Finns had they managed to fend off the Soviet empire with Nazi arms? Terrible regimes may lift a people off the ground – but it is only the people who will choose their destination.
The difference here isn’t simply that Hamas rule Gaza. It is that they exist to deny its freedom. True, it was once elected, as though that in itself vindicates any crime; but then it seized power in a violent coup, claimed direct control of all state services (except, ironically, banking), barred anyone not appointed in the name of a mosque backing Hamas from many professions, amongst them teachers, smashed the labour movement and silenced the opposition. This is how it always happens: flicking through Oswald Mosley’s autobiography the other day, I came across a passage – just before he promises to improve upon the legacy of Caesarism and Bonapartism – in which he states ‘writers cannot both be fascists and reactionaries’ because ‘fascism… can be described as revolutionary but not reactionary’. No doubt he believed that imagined golden ages could be restored to their full health, that it is no paradox to look for liberation in the past against the shackles from modernity; all the same, he would never have recognised the delusion until after many thousands or millions had been bloodied and murdered in its name, and probably not even then.
I typically have a great deal of respect for Shlaim, who is wonderfully moral when denouncing an occupation that has condemned two parties to martial servitude since 1967. But he has thoroughly miscalculated one crucial fact. The first people on whom Hamas declared war was their electorate: it is Gaza, and not Israel, whose peace they will deny, and they will remain even if they are granted a state to call their own. And by the time their intentions are understood it would be too late.
This is why it so terribly unsettling – though I won’t say ‘tragic’ just yet – that Western clemency towards Hamas climaxes just as its domestic support hits a nadir. A month after polling is released revealing 88 percent denouncing Hamas for the Palestinian Authority, during which interim period Fatah and Egypt demand the Islamists leave, their alliances with Assad and Iran battered over (though admittedly surviving despite) Syria, John Kerry calls for a ceasefire in which the party who have spent their eight years of unilateral power pelting home-cooked rockets at Israeli citizens (of which almost one hundred fell on the day before Operation Protective Edge even began) is presented as Gaza’s only legitimate representative on the international state. It simultaneously proposed that Hamas receive a chunk of some $50 billion humanitarian aid to the Territories, aid which could be spent very fruitfully on the tunnels Israel has spent weeks trying to destroy. A deal needs to be made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, immediately, and all support given to whatever remains of the secular national movement in Gaza.
The fact that those remains are insufferably dilute does not make despair inevitable. For one, there is probably at least a patter of reality to the claim that Yasser Arafat’s corruption led some Gazans into Hamas’ embrace; granting the PLO decades of international and domestic consensus as the singular voice of the Palestinian Arabs, allowing an estimated $400 million to fall into its private pockets, will do that. The Camp David discussions in 2000, showing general antipathy towards Palestinian claims in Jerusalem, may have deserved to fail – but Ehud Barak’s broader proposal, which he then updated with significant concessions a few months later, showed insight into the sincerity of the Israeli left and could well have bought the Arabs a state of their own. If an alternative secular movement can be built in Fatah to carry Palestinian nationhood, then rivalry (and by implication, shows of unity) would actually mean something in the fight against corruption and for self-determination.
In the West Bank, Fatah have shown that they do at least offer a democratic space from which a Palestinian state could evolve. Fatah are not fine lefties, but so are they far from authoritarian conspirators; their years of American training and aid comes from a shared (and very legitimate) fear of Islamist radicals. If they were simply a front for the US, they would have made peace by now. Sure, they have a front trade union federation in the GPWU – but so is there at least one autonomous leftist trade union federation, the PGFTU, who’ve managed to organise plenty of strikes against the PA. You think we need ‘grubby allies’ – a trade-off, expediency for peace? Take Fatah. History has admitted far worse foundations in the wars for peace, and for bids into the equality of nations.
Give Gaza what they deserve, and what every moralist claims to want for them: the dignity and autonomy to account for their own aspirations for themselves and for Israel. That means casting away the frivolous caricature of every Palestinian as a Hamas operative or willing fellow-traveler, an idea thoroughly embedded in the racism according to which populist leftists think the organisation’s questionable exploits irrelevant at best, and justifiable at worst. The right-wing press have made the same claim since the last intifada and they, for all their bitter protestations, cannot wait for Hamas to grab a track of land next to the Meditarranean and pronounce it a Caliphate. Nothing would give them greater pleasure than for all their racism to be countersigned by the left getting what they want and Israel rolling back into the Strip.
All religious nutjobs share a common cause, differing only in Gods and degree: Jewish Home, Shas – they want Eretz Israel cleansed of Arabs, and Hamas want all the Jews dead. It is time, right this moment, to side with all working people who oppose them. Only then will there be peace.