The “what about Hamas?” question

It’s the question often asked when issues of Israel’s human rights abuses are raised. ‘Hamas is the
problem’ is the statement with the implication that, were Hamas to be removed matters could be
sorted out amicably. Let’s agree that Hamas is a problem. With that as the starting point we should
to ask, why? Why is Hamas the problem? The usual answer is, ‘because they want to drive Israel
into the sea’; Israel, ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’.
That answer encapsulates the real problem here. The assertion of Israel’s democratic uniqueness
closes down discussion where properly we ought to be asking another ‘why’ question: if Hamas
wants to drive Israel into the sea, why? Answer, usually, ‘they are antisemitic’ and so we could go
on, round in circles, unless we exercise our wits, shortcut the questions and go back to
fundamentals. A better question would be, ‘what led to the creation of Hamas in 1988?’ A fuller
question, that might serve as a shorthand answer, would include the clause, ‘ … forty years after the
expulsion of three-quarters of a million indigenous Palestinians and twenty-one after the invasion of
the West Bank and Gaza?’
The background to any understanding of Palestine today is that Israel came into being based on the
religious-political colonising agenda of Zionism supported by acts of terrorism against the
indigenous population. That, within the broader context of British, French and US imperialism.
Violence against civilians is the (short) definition of terrorism. That is what Irgun and Lehi (Stern
Gang) were doing pre- World War 2. Some of their activity was against Great Britain, from their
perspective the occupying power. They were also engaged in attacks against Arabs. These are
established facts.
From Autumn 1947 to 1949 – when an Armistice was agreed – Haganah, the Israeli Defense Force,
with their elite corps, Palmach, carried out mass expulsions and executions in order to ‘cleanse’ the
land of the majority Palestinian population. This was deemed necessary by Zionism’s leaders in
order to ensure a Jewish majority. Despite massive, often illegal, Jewish immigration from 1921 in
1947 over two-thirds of the population of Palestine was Arab. Also established facts.
And the claim of ‘invasion’ by the ‘surrounding Arab nations’ needs proper evaluation within the
historical context. For instance; the Deir Yassin massacre took place on 9th April 1948, more than a
month before the British left and the declaration by David Ben-Gurion on 15th May of the state of
Israel. The people of Deir Yassin had entered a non-aggression arrangement with the local Jewish
communities, which was ignored by the Zionist leadership. Palestinian women were raped before
being killed and among the dead were over thirty babies. Having lost 78% of their land in 1947-9
and with control of the remainder passing into Zionist hands in 1967, rather than asking, ‘what
about Hamas?’, a better question might be, ‘who here is the terrorist?’
Forty years after losing most of their land, twenty after losing the rest, with families divided and the
largest refugee population in modern times, some Palestinians staged a non-violent civil
disobedience programme to achieve some rights. In December 1987, following an incident in the
West Bank, the 1st Intifada began as a campaign of civil disobedience. Not exactly ‘no taxation
without representation’, but equally valid, ‘no taxation without benefit’. That demand is as relevant
today in Palestine as it was in America in 1775. Today 75% of taxes in OPT are collected by Israel,
and often withheld as a ‘punishment’. In Israel itself Arab Palestinians are taxed at the same levels
as are Jewish citizens. But Palestinian localities receive much lower levels of government spending
than do Jewish.
In the face of discrimination and experiencing worsening economic conditions young people
decided to rip up their ID cards, refuse to pay taxes and to picket government offices. This civil
disobedience was met by Israel’s IDF with murder. Figures from Israeli NGO B’Tselem show that
in the first days of the intifada from 9th to 31st December 1987 Israeli security forces killed 22
Palestinians including 5 under the age of 17. During the same period the total number of Israelis
killed by Palestinians, was zero: none. In 1988, Israelis – security and civilian – killed 304
Palestinians, 50 of them under age 17. In the same year Palestinians killed 10 Israelis, 6 of them
civilians, three of whom were under 17. The disparity in the numbers tells the story; this was not, is
not a conflict of equals.
That was the creation of Hamas. Beginning in Gaza as a more active offshoot of the Muslim
Brotherhood, Hamas was determined that the violence meted out by the IDF would be met with
violence, (compare Churchill in 1941). It was not immediately effective as can be seen from figures
of deaths during the intifada which lasted till 1991 (or 1993).
Hamas, it is claimed, was able to survive and develop because of money and arms from Iran. Does
that make sense? Israel is the world’s security specialist so how could Iranian money and arms get
in through tightly controlled borders? Equally, Given Iran’s ability to survive an invasion by Iraq
supported by US and Israeli arms, isn’t it odd that all they could provide Hamas with was some
largely ineffective rocket making equipment?
Something else happened at that time, something that Israel regards equally as a problem. Christian
leaders, facing similar demands for action from their people, chose a different route, rejecting
violence but aimed at strengthening congregations to live out their faith in the face of violent
oppression. Sabeel Jerusalem faces criticism from Zionists because it challenges their narrative.
Clearly Palestinians cannot win whether they choose violence or non-violence.
Zionism, Israel’s founding ideology understands only violence. Israel’s founding fathers –
Jabotinsky, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion – understood that expulsion of the existing Arab population was
the only way to create their Jewish state. Any Arabs that remained must do so under harsh
constraint. For the Zionist leadership reconciliation was never an option until Jews were a
significant majority. Negotiations with Arabs could not be considered because Arabs were
untrustworthy. Were such opinions to be voiced of Jews they would rightly be regarded as
It isn’t necessary to like Hamas (or any other extremist group) to point to the facts of how they
came to be. And it isn’t merely of historical interest. Let us suppose that the Hamas leadership
decided to reject violence to declare a ceasefire and enter the democratic process. What would
happen, could that be a step to a solution?
We know, because in 2004 Hamas did exactly that. They agreed to participate in elections for the
Palestinian Authority and against expectations they won what international observers reported was a
free and fair election. Both Fatah (PLO) and the international community refused to recognise the
result. Hamas took over in Gaza, violently expelling Fatah functionaries, and USA, UK and others
followed Israel’s demands and blockaded Gaza, an action that many international lawyers believe to
be illegal.
In 2008 Hamas unilaterally declared a ceasefire which Israel ignored, continuing incursions into
Gaza which they were supposed to have left. During November those incursions caused the deaths
of a number of Palestinians including children. Hamas could not stand by and see Gaza citizens
killed with impunity and so began the, largely ineffective, rocket attacks which were the
‘justification for ‘Operation Cast Lead’.
The root of the problem, as this minimal analysis shows, is not Hamas but Israel’s occupation of
Palestinian land and their continued suppression and oppression of Palestinian people. Deal with
that and Hamas, together with many other extremist groups, loses its reason to exist.

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