It Is Time To De-demonise Hamas

Published: Wed 10 Apr 2024 01:59 PM
Who would not condemn the Hamas attack of 7 October 2023 when hundreds of Israeli civilians, as well as hundreds of military and security personnel were killed? Why then is Hamas so popular amongst Palestinians and in the wider Muslim world?
March 2024 polling by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) shows that 70% of Gazans continue to believe the October 7 attacks were justified. Support for Hamas remaining in control of Gaza has increased by 14 points. In a two-way competition between Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh and Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, the Hamas leader would garner 70% of the vote.
Ramallah-based political analyst Esmat Mansour told US news agency The Media Line that a lack of political horizons fed Palestinian sentiment. “After three decades of no progress on the political front, like it or not, Hamas’ actions brought attention back to the Palestinian cause,” he said.
International lawyer John V Whitbeck has worked on Middle Eastern issues for decades, including previously advising Palestinian negotiating teams. He said in a recent newsletter:
“Demonizing Hamas has, ever since the resistance group's inception, been essential to delegitimizing Palestinian resistance to perpetual occupation and oppression and, now, is essential to legitimizing genocide in Western eyes.”
Prior to October 7th, Hamas had, since emerging in the 1980s, only killed a few hundred Israelis. I am not disrespecting those lives, I am simply indicating the scale. For those actions, Hamas people have been described as monsters, ISIS, not human, savages, Nazis … and a lurid parade of terms designed to dehumanise rather than contextualise. US and Israeli propaganda added fiction to the unquestioned facts when they promoted the false and now discredited narratives that Hamas beheaded dozens of babies and committed systematic rape during the October 7 attacks. Al Jazeera’s excellent October 7 documentary administers a valuable truth serum.
Few in the West know that prior to October 7th, 95% of the victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were Palestinian. Ponder that lop-sided statistic: 95% of the victims are the indigenous people.
Why didn’t Hamas try peaceful tactics - like Mahatma Gandhi did? Again, I’m stunned at how few of the people I ask know anything substantive about the Palestinian embrace of the Oslo Accords, the desperation that led to the first and second Intifadas (civil uprisings) or the March of Return in 2018 and 2019.
The 1987 intifada had been “sparked off by the dreadful and inhumane conditions endured by the Palestinians for many years and the humiliation and degradation to which they had been subjected,“ Azzam Tamimi says in Hamas: A History from Within.
Hamas won elections across Palestine in 2006 – in both the West Bank and Gaza. Nobody questions the legitimacy of those elections. Rather than accept the democratic mandate of the people, the USA, Israel and Fatah (PLO) cooperated to subvert democracy. Fatah seized control in the West Bank and with Israeli-US help drove Hamas underground. In Gaza, Hamas held on and remains the only legally-elected government.
In the 2018 Great March of Return, Gazans, in their tens of thousands, walked peacefully up to the barrier with Israel to demand a lifting of the brutal, suffocating siege imposed by Israel on Gaza and the right of return to the lands and homes that had been stolen from them by the Israelis.
“The Palestinians felt deserted and they needed to remind the world they were still there. They were still hoping to return to their homes,” says Tamimi.
Israeli forces lined up against the mums, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents who marched, sang, waved banners, had picnics, and approached the security fence. Hundreds of people were gunned down, dozens of children killed, and thousands maimed for life.
Responding to the massacres, UN General Assembly Resolution ES-10/20 states that the UN:
“Deplores the use of any excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particularly in the Gaza Strip, including the use of live ammunition against civilian protesters, including children, as well as medical personnel and journalists, and expresses its grave concern at the loss of innocent lives.”
The great American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein told Jehad Abusalim of the Jerusalem Fund in a recent interview;
“Non-violent resistance is based on the following premise: you’re never going to convince your enemy that what they are doing is wrong. They are too hardened in their beliefs, in their convictions, in their moral corruption or depravity. The whole point of non-violent resistance is to try to convince the passive by-standers to do something out of a sense of pity.” He’s referring to us and our governments.
Finkelstein says the 1960s civil rights movement in the southern states of the USA was designed to trigger national outrage at the mistreatment of blacks.
“If the Federal troops hadn’t been sent in, at some point, people would have concluded – like the people concluded in Gaza – that non-violence doesn’t work and they would have chosen more violent, militant tactics. What happened with the Great March of Return (in Gaza) is it failed to move the international community … which was totally unresponsive. They stayed non-violent in the face of the targeting of children, medics, journalists, the disabled – and the disabling of thousands of young people for life. It wasn’t their failure. It was our failure.”
What a thought! By our failure to respond to the persecution of the Palestinians we helped create the conditions for October 7. It begs the question: what is so wrong with our own culture that we can live in a world that tolerates genocide being committed by two of our closest allies and, rather than reflect on what it says about us, so many simply parrot the Israeli-Pentagon lines about Hamas.
Hamas leadership – and their military wing the al-Qassam Brigades – however, did take note. “What was the response of the international community?” asks Dr Bassem Naim, in the outstanding Al Jazeera documentary October 7. “Nothing. Keeping the ears and eyes always closed. Generally, there was a consensus in the political bureau: We have to move, we have to take action. If we don't do it, Palestine will be forgotten – totally deleted from the international map.”
Benjamin Netanyahu had imagined just this when he presented a map of “A New Middle East” to the United Nations last year - Gaza and the West Bank had indeed been erased - incorporated into a Zionist state that ran from the river to the sea.
I rewound and listened to Dr Naim’s comments several times. They give a context - and a challenge to us in our cosy condemnation. Why did the massacre of people at the Israeli Nova music festival on October 7th trigger an explosion of anger across the white world, but shooting Palestinian men, women and children like ducks in a barrel produces only yawns and amnesia?
I’m not suggesting we should agree with everything Hamas has done - but if we are to achieve moral and intellectual integrity we should at least make a genuine effort to understand people in their own words and terms. I only recently read the Hamas Charter. I was surprised when I found my local library had a copy of Dr. Tamimi’s book. It is a compelling history of an organisation born in slavery, under brutal daily oppression. It captures the atmosphere of a resistance movement surviving constant assassinations, deportations, imprisonment and torture of its members - and the necessity to move much of the senior leadership outside Palestine to ensure their survival and the continuation of organised resistance.
Viewed through this lens, the term terrorist is problematic. It opens the question: who is the real terrorist – the militia group known to its own community as “the Resistance'' or the powerful state that immiserates the lives of millions, that kills tens of thousands with impunity and steals more land every day? Under international law an occupied people has the right to violent resistance if other ways have failed.
Can we think our way past the mental slavery imposed on us by the Western elites’ massive global PR machine that has invested billions in getting you to connote “Hamas” with “evil” – and the inverse: that Israel is somehow a plucky battler fighting for democracy in a rough neighbourhood?
Sheikh Ahmad Yassin the first leader of Hamas said some time before his assassination in 2004: “The intifada will go on and the suffering of the Palestinian people will continue. But so will our absolute determination to pursue the struggle”.
It is time to de-demonise Hamas.

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