Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied

July 29, 2014

Israel's propaganda offensive puts the blame for death and destruction in Gaza on Hamas. Eric Ruder examines the various claims--and sets the record straight.

AS THE world reels in horror at mounting Palestinian deaths in Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine and its willing accomplices in the U.S. mainstream media have issued their customary reply: Blame Hamas.

Speaking with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed all responsibility for Palestinian deaths on Hamas:

We're sad for every civilian casualty. They're not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians. They embed their rocketeers, their rocket caches, their other weaponry which they use to fire on us in civilian areas.

What choice do we have? We have to protect ourselves. So we try to target the rocketeers. We do. And all civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can...They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.

Netanyahu presents Israel as innocently defending itself--and Hamas as inviting Palestinian deaths for propaganda purposes. He then goes on to call Hamas "genocidal terrorists," stating that they "call for the destruction of Israel, and they call for the killing of every Jew wherever they can find them."

Gazans march in a funeral procession for a victim of Israel's war
Gazans march in a funeral procession for a victim of Israel's war

Thane Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at NYU School of Law, went even further in his July 21 Wall Street Journal op-ed article. Rosenbaum explained that it's impossible to kill "innocent civilians" in Gaza...because all of Gaza is guilty:

[In 2006], the people of Gaza overwhelmingly elected Hamas, a terrorist outfit dedicated to the destruction of Israel, as their designated representatives...Surely they must have understood on election night that their lives would now be suspended in a state of utter chaos. Life expectancy would be miserably low; children would be without a future. Staying alive would be a challenge, if staying alive even mattered anymore...

On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point, you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.

This reasoning isn't confined to avowedly conservative publications like the Journal. Bob Dreyfuss, writing for The Nation, made the liberal version of the argument in an article titled "The Palestinians Must Put an End to Suicidal Hamas." He directs his outrage not at Israel for its genocidal actions, but at Hamas' "idiotic decision to fight Israel by firing useless missiles against unseen Israeli targets."

THOSE WHO stand for self-determination for the Palestinian people shouldn't help Israel make its case for shedding Palestinian blood. We should be challenging Israel's various alibis for its killing fields in Gaza--and that means setting the record straight about Hamas.

Israel claims that if only Hamas were to stop firing rockets, accept a cease-fire and recognize Israel, it would stop bombing Gaza.

But Hamas did precisely that in the year and a half following the November 2012 cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Cloud, as Israel dubbed its last rampage through Gaza. In 2013, "Israel had one of the quietest years, if not the quietest year, it had had since rockets started coming from Gaza, which, by the way, began before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the fall of 2005," Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Democracy Now!

Between November 2012 and today, it was Israel, not Hamas, that more frequently--and far more lethally--violated the terms of the cease-fire, as an infographic at shows. During this time, Israel continued to carry out air strikes against whatever targets it deemed legitimate, and Israeli snipers fired on--and killed--farmers if they strayed too close to the Israeli-designated "buffer zone" along the Gaza-Israel border. The terms of the cease-fire also stipulated that Israel would lift its blockade of Gaza--which instead intensified, especially after the Egyptian military took over power after toppling Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi a year ago.

So why don't the Palestinians employ nonviolent resistance, as so many liberal commentators implore?

The answer is that they do--but Israel, the media and the rest of the world routinely ignore these popular struggles. As Patrick O'Connor explained at

The fact that thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis are together employing nonviolent tactics similar to those of the U.S. civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement would come as surprising and welcome news to most Americans. Americans are largely unaware of the struggling but vibrant grassroots nonviolent movement in Palestine, because the U.S. corporate media prefers a simple, flawed story of Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliation.

Similarly to U.S. civil rights activists, Palestinians must face tear gas, stun grenades and even live ammunition to take part in such resistance, but still they courageously do.

The nonviolent movement is based in the West Bank because that's where it's possible to employ such tactics in confrontations with Israeli security forces. In Gaza, which is hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world by Israel's total control over all air and sea access--and by Egypt's collaboration with Israel to keep Gaza's borders closed--there is no way to engage Israel by nonviolent means. Gaza is an open-air prison, and getting too close to the bars means death by an unseen sniper, a navy boat or a drone.

WHILE THE mainstream media regularly describes Hamas as anti-Semitic or even genocidal, it rarely if ever describes Israel's treatment of Gaza as racist or genocidal. But no other description of Israel's blockade of Gaza is appropriate.

Israel's starvation policy for Gaza is nothing less than ghoulish for its scientific precision. Writing in the London Review of Books, Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, points out:

In 2006 [Israeli strategist Dov] Weissglass was...frank about Israel's policy toward Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." He was not speaking metaphorically: it later emerged that the Israeli defense ministry had conducted detailed research on how to translate his vision into reality, and arrived at a figure of 2,279 calories per person per day--some 8 percent less than a previous calculation because the research team had originally neglected to account for "culture and experience" in determining nutritional "red lines."

Other Israeli officials have made the point even more bluntly:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman: Hamas "has no intention of coming to terms with the Jewish presence in the land of Israel and therefore what is needed is to seriously consider conquering the Strip and carry out a thorough cleansing."

Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari: "There are no innocents in Gaza, don't let any diplomats who want to look good in the world endanger your lives--mow them down!"

Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza, flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima--the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing."

Not only are such calls for war crimes obscene coming from high-level Israeli officials, but the premise--that Hamas would never accept a "Jewish presence" in Palestine--is false. When Hamas agreed to a unity government with the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Fatah, back in April, the terms were clear. As Nathan Thrall wrote in his article "How the West Chose War in Gaza" in the New York Times:

[The unity government deal] offered Hamas' political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel. Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. (emphasis added)

Even after the chaos that Israel has wreaked in Gaza during July, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal reiterated the same commitments in a statement on July 27:

We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers...I'm ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.

In other words, Hamas does accept the presence of Jews in Palestine--but it does not accept the presence of Israel as a Jewish state, with apartheid laws that deny equal rights to Palestinians. This is the opposite of the explicitly racist and openly genocidal attitudes expressed by some of the leading political figures of Israel.

SO WHY is Hamas firing rockets at Israel?

For many people in Gaza, though certainly not all, the rockets send a message: If Israel's policy toward Palestinians is occupation and genocide, than it cannot be business-as-usual for Israelis either.

For this, Israel brands Hamas "terrorists." It should be noted that this was also the U.S. government's official designation for Nelson Mandela's African National Congress because of its bombing of public institutions in apartheid South Africa. It was also how the British government described American insurgents who overthrew the rule of the king in 1776.

Israel also accuses Hamas of placing its rockets in neighborhoods and using civilians as human shields. Indeed, Israel would like Hamas to build a clearly designated military installation in the desert--so that Israel could cleanly eliminate any capacity for resistance. But resistance movements always operate similarly against enemies with an overwhelming military advantage--as the American revolutionaries and the Vietnamese also did.

Moreover, the Israeli complaints are for public relations purposes--the Israel Defense Forces haven't made anything like a legitimate effort to avoid civilian casualties.

Witnesses to Israel's killing of four young boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach in July said it looked "as if the shells were chasing them"--that is, the Israeli naval vessel kept firing until it hit its pre-teenaged targets. Israel has bombed half of Gaza's hospitals, as well as a UN school serving as a shelter for people who had been told by Israel to flee their homes.

Whatever one might think of Hamas, its politics and its strategy and tactics, we should be clear about one thing: the current slaughter against Palestinians is the product of Israel's actions, not Hamas'.

Furthermore, it is not the place of people in the U.S., sitting in the heart of the world's superpower and the main international supporter of Israel empire, to lecture dying Palestinians about what they should and should not do in the face of Israeli atrocities. Who Palestinians choose to represent them politically is a matter for Palestinians to decide, and no one else. Our role is to pressure the U.S. government to stop facilitating Israel's massacre with its political, diplomatic, economic and military support for Israel.

The event that prompted Israel to impose its suffocating siege of Gaza, with enthusiastic U.S. support, was Hamas' victory in elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. Hamas won not because all the people of Palestine agree with its Islamist principles--and not at all because Palestinians are anti-Semitic fanatics--but because people living under inhuman conditions imposed by an occupying power will turn to organizations that give voice to their aspirations for liberation.

Mass disillusionment with the Fatah-led PA and its "sacred" collaboration with Israel's occupation forces paved the way for Hamas' election victory. For well-paid Wall Street Journal commentators to lament the "idiocy" of voting for Hamas when the alternative was the quisling PA means demanding that Palestinian surrender on the terms of Israel's choosing. It means choosing the side of the occupier over the occupied.

In reality, there is no such thing as an unprovoked rocket attack from Gaza. Under the circumstances of the siege, the passing of each day is a slow death for the people, the culture and the society in Gaza. This slow-motion destruction is the product of countless and ongoing acts of violence by Israel's colonial settler regime--to which armed resistance is justified, both morally and under international law.

Compared to the PA, Hamas has been forthright in challenging the slow death of the Palestinian people. Likewise, the people of Gaza have made it clear in countless ways that they prefer the fighting to continue rather than to return to the conditions of siege that they have endured for nearly a decade now.

To stand for Palestinian self-determination means to stand with the people of Gaza in this struggle for liberation.

TO PUT to rest Israel's claims about the "terrorist regime" in Gaza, it's worth recalling the context in which Hamas was founded and rose to prominence. Once we step away from the "blame Hamas" framework, we see a more complex picture at work, which contradicts Netanyahu's "genocidal terrorists" versus "innocent Israel" propaganda.

Hamas was founded in 1987 in the context of the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada. It comes ideologically out of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and organizationally from the Jerusalem chapter of the Brotherhood founded in 1945.

The Brotherhood was formed as a social welfare organization, involved in cultural and social activities. It consciously stayed away from politics. Even after the formation of the state of Israel and the 1948 war, the Brotherhood maintained this approach. It operated on the premise that its primary goal was to Islamize society--only secondarily would it "prepare the generations for battle" with Israel down the road.

The conditions of colonial occupation meant the Brotherhood couldn't indefinitely postpone political engagement. Yet it chose to broaden its influence primarily through religion. Between 1967 and 1975, the MB launched a campaign to build mosques throughout the Occupied Territories.

In this, it had the support of Israel, which had started to view the Brotherhood as an ally against the secular nationalist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which dominated Palestinian politics. This dovetailed with a larger regional strategy adopted by the U.S. government--directly or indirectly, it supported and funded Islamist groups as a bulwark against secular nationalist parties.

In 1973, the Islamic Center (al-Mujamma al-islami) was founded in the Gaza Strip. The Mujamma, whose goal was to Islamize Gazan society, set up schools, medical clinics, day care centers, youth and sports clubs, and other social and communal forums tied to the mosque.

In Gaza, the number of mosques increased from 77 in 1967 to 200 by 1989. The combination of mosques and social welfare organs would prove to be a crucial means for propagating the movement's message and recruiting cadres, at a time when the secular movements largely ignored these spheres.

Nevertheless, the Islamists remained marginal players on the political scene. Up until the late 1980s, the Fatah movement and the PLO dominated Palestinian politics, with other more left-wing nationalist organizations vying for influence.

Once again seeking to counter the secular nationalists, the Israeli government recognized and formally licensed the Mujamma in 1978. For Israel, now led by the conservative Likud Party, the Islamists' hostility to the left made them useful allies. At times, Israel even funded these forces.

The Mujamma, in turn, routinely clashed with secular nationalists and far left forces. In 1980, it set fire to the Palestinian Red Crescent office, which was a stronghold of the left. After 1983, it engaged in violent clashes with PLO members for control over the Islamic University of Gaza. The most bitter and violent confrontations were with more far-left groups, like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

IN 1987, a popular Palestinian uprising, known as the Intifada, erupted, first in Gaza and then in the West Bank. The Muslim Brotherhood, in the form of the Mujamma movement, was faced with a new reality that challenged its gradualist approach to Islamizing Palestinian society.

To maintain any credibility, it had to be involved in the uprising. Hamas was set up by the leadership of the Brotherhood to respond to and participate in the Intifada.

Around this time, the PLO, which had previously relied on the strategy of armed struggle to liberate all of historic Palestine, began to gravitate toward a more compromised stance. It relinquished the long-term goal of liberating all of Palestine and recognized the right of Israel to exist, and it opted for negotiations over struggle, with the goal of forming a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Many Palestinians held out hope that the Oslo peace process might address the horrific conditions under which they were forced to live. Yet by 2000, the sham of Oslo was exposed, leading to the second Intifada.

Hamas was able to grow and gain influence because it rejected Oslo and held onto a vision of liberating all of historic Palestine. In short, the weakness and wrong turns of secular nationalism and the left created the opening for Hamas to grow.

In an article for Jacobin, Tariq Dana takes this analysis further in criticizing sections of the Palestinian movement that have taken up the anti-Hamas propaganda common in Israel and the U.S. What is at stake, Dana writes, is "the concept of resistance itself, as a practice, an idea, a consciousness. The alternative on offer is not resistance through different tactics. It is its antithesis, an alliance with colonialism."

It is the spirit of resistance represented by Hamas, though far from consistently, that Israel seeks to destroy--this is why it has attacked Gaza three times since 2006.

These onslaughts aren't about the rockets Hamas fires at Israel that barely cause any harm--much less the "genocide" that Netanyahu vents about. They are about destroying an organization that upholds the right of Palestinians to resist occupation. "Operation Protective Edge" is not about protection. It is about beating an already besieged population into submission.

Those who stand for democracy and against colonialism must reject the "blame Hamas" rhetoric and put the blame where it belongs--on the colonial settler state of Israel and its loyal supporter, the U.S.

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