Labour and Gaza: Hamas is not Palestine

November 20, 2012 10:56 am

In recent days, bombs have been dropping on Gaza while rockets have continued to rain on southern Israel, as they have been for months. As usual, there is a premium on accurate information and a discount on propaganda. As usual, people stick to instinctive positions.

So, instead of trying to argue the rights and wrongs of a centuries-old conflict, we might note one thing. The events which have dominated the last week’s news do not relate to a dispute between Israel and Palestine, because a large part Palestine is not involved – at least, not yet. Currently this is a conflict, specifically, between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza, a regime with which Labour has some prior history, to which we will later turn.

Hamas is not the Palestinian people, just as the Likud party is not Israel; in fact, it does not even govern most of the Palestinian people, at least in a de facto sense, only the small area of Gaza. And the self-determination of Palestine is a manifestly just cause which few on the left or right can reasonably disagree with. Unemployment is high in Gaza and living conditions can be grim, even when its citizens are not being subjected to bombing. Ordinary Gazans deserve to live in freedom, in prosperity and free from attack. They do not.

But we might, at this point, look at their elected representatives in Hamas, and the means by which those representatives choose to govern and to further their cause. Hamas is not part of the PLO and is therefore separate from Fatah, the PLO faction which runs the West Bank, although the two are getting over their differences. For those who have not followed the subject closely to date, here is a brief Hamas 101.

Hamas has a founding charter which is overtly anti-Semitic (try article 20 for starters) and its members are not averse to Holocaust denial. That is, its ethos is not merely anti-Israel, but specifically anti-Jewish. Hamas executes its own citizens unlawfully, according to the UN. It also oppresses women and homosexuals. It was democratically elected, but has not had an election since 2006 (one is vaguely planned for 2013, but no-one is holding their breath).

And one hopes that the population of Gaza remembers, when it finally comes, how the people they elected placed its rocket launchers in residential areas, as noted by “a source close to Hamas” in this NYT piece, so they could act as human shields, so little respect did they have for the lives of their own electorate.

Finally, there is an important elephant in the room: perhaps unbeknownst to many who might watch BBC News coverage of the conflict – because they usually omit to mention it –  Hamas is classified as a terrorist organisation in the US, EU and Japan. The Foreign Office will not engage with it because it “remains committed to terrorism”. It is known for its suicide bombings (till 2008) and rocket attacks, which specifically target civilians; something which even the IRA, in its heyday, at least purported to avoid.

Incidentally, much was made of the Goldstone report of the last Gaza war of 2008-9, which made a similar accusation against Israel, that it was actively targeting Palestinian civilians. In 2011, Richard Goldstone published this article in the Washington Post, effectively retracting this key finding and admitting that it had been naïve to compare Israel and Gaza on an equal footing. So his report misled the world, despite the fact that for Israel to have targeted civilians would not only have been morally abhorrent but, given the processes of accountability in place in a democracy, legally dangerous and politically disastrous.

About the investigations carried out by both sides into possible war crimes, Goldstone notes that the Israelis investigated as they were instructed, whereas Hamas were not interested:

“Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the [possible war crimes] referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.”

On the other hand, Netanyahu seems to be the most disastrously unsuccessful leader for securing peace that Israel has had in recent years, and his unpleasant coalition partner and foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is known for his inflammatory, anti-Arab outbursts. Their encouragement of the building of settlements in occupied areas is bafflingly counter-productive. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, with abler statesmen in office, it might not have come to a virtual state of war.

But even this duo, full of bluster and rhetoric, can hardly be claimed to have been trigger-happy by last week: any Israeli leader, of any party, would eventually have done the same. And it seems doubtful that, if rockets had been raining down on Greater London (a comparable area, by the way, to that under attack in southern Israel), the British government would have counted to one thousand before retaliating. Or practically any government in a similar situation, for that matter. As Emeritus Professor in Politics at Manchester University, Norman Geras, blogged:

the Israeli government not only has the right, it has an obligation, to defend its citizens from being under constant threat of rocket fire.”

Despite all the available information about Hamas, there are parts of the British left who have happily “engaged” with them for years. Who invited one of its fundraisers to the House of Commons to speak. The labour movement sponsors organisations which visit it in Gaza. Although there is no official “engagement” policy within Labour, we think nothing of having our Labour Members photographed with its leaders, wearing Hamas scarves and badges (I will spare you the photos, but they certainly exist).

As Labourites, internationalists and lovers of freedom, we don’t have to stop supporting the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and neither should we. But we might just reflect on this: is the support, or “engagement”, or however we choose to euphemise it, of some of us towards a terrorist group which deliberately targets civilians, really helping things?

Or are we, perhaps, merely useful idiots legitimising a rather nasty regime?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001116515833 Michael Carey

    Or do you use the undesirability of Hamas to justify murder on an industrial scale, or to pretend that the crimes of the Israeli state are equivalent to those of Hamas? Any claim of internationalism is void by making excuses for the Israeli regime, constantly looking to displace the Palestinian people for economic purposes. Hamas may be nasty but where do you expect support to go when the Israeli government acts as it does? Not every Palestinian is content to turn the other cheek.

  • Siraj Ahmad

    First of all you have to respect other religion and if anybody claims to be muslim then he or she is under obligation to follow the religion and homosexuality is not allowed in Islam. The problem is we talk about openness and freedom but we dont respect other religion if it is not in line with what we think is correct. If you talk about freedom then there is a limit to it as well no matter you follow which religion. Off course you treat you mother the way you treat your wife or girl friend. You talk about democracy but if Hamas wins election you dont accept it what kind of hypocracy is this , you cant claim that you are a democratic person. Try to think about it and last but not least if I slap on your face then do you have right to kill me with a bomb?

  • http://www.facebook.com/colin.adkins.52 Colin Adkins

    Rob,
    A typically thoughfully provocative posting with many points to which I agree. My typical response would counterpose arguments. I have found this unproductive in discussions with you. However, I will persist in one respect, if the Hamas charter is anti-semitic (which it is) how would you describe a constitutional right for the Jewish disapora (exercised mainly by Americans and Russians) to return when there is no similar right for Palestinian refugees? Likewise the Hamas charter calls for the desctruction of the Israeli state whilst the Israeli state prevents Palestinian national self-determination.
    My main concern is your starting point. I think you are unwittingly seeking to impose a conditionality on Palestinian statehood. I believe that Palestinian statehood fulfills a national right to self-determination.
    The cynic in me suggests that the prevalent majority political opinion in Israel supports the tactic of prolonging negotiations whilst creating ‘facts on the ground’ to make Palestinian statehood unviable. This is mirrored amongst Zionists who are not homogenous in their views and span people who genuinely believe in a two state solution (or even a bi-national state), to those who support a two state solution but the Palestinian state is currently called Jordan, to those who support a greater Israel with shades of these views throughout.
    Do you honestly believe that if Israel was committed to a two state solution one would not have been created by now?
    I make no apologies for supporting the Palestinian struggle despite having concerns about sections of this. In same way I supported Zimbabwean independence when we should have guessed Mugabe was a tyrant in the making. Or I supported the Viet Cong when quite clearly they were sta,inist in orientation. I do this because i believe Palestinian statehood would be a step forward for humankind.
    There is also view that Hamas would not have the support that it currently does have if Israel had not undermined Fatah, supported colonisation of the West Bank and claimed that Jerusalem was the indivisible capital of Israel. Israel has reaped what it sowed.
    I start from the position of who are the oppressed in this conflict. You know my view and you probably differ or will say it is not as simple as that but I believe that it is.
    Colin

    • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

      Colin, you’re getting into quite complicated territory of who’s right and wrong between Israel’s and Palestine’s land dispute, which is tough to do in a blog piece. Right to return is just one of a bunch of negotiating points which will need to be agreed before any peace deal comes about. Maybe Palestinians are not as bothered about it as Israelis, I don’t know (rate of pop. increase quite high in Palestine, as I remember). But I’m not sure it’s necessary for everything to be symmetrical to reach a deal.

      Israeli state currently prevents Palestinian self-determination, true. But I suspect that the vast majority of Israelis wouldn’t mind at all accepting this, as long as Hamas stopped lobbing rockets and a sensible deal could be struck.

      I believe there are certainly some extremists in the Israeli camp (unlike UK Israel supporters, who tend to be quite sane), but not in the majority. As a population, they are broadly convinceable about 2 states, Hamas are emphatically not, which is a problem. Look at their symbol (all Palestine) and their charter (all Palestine) if you need convincing – they don’t just want Gaza and the West Bank.

      I think we agree that Palestinian statehood is a noble and rightful goal. The questions are when and how. It would also be a tragedy if that state were to be run by Hamas, given that they would likely oppress their own people (a la Mugabe, Viet Cong etc.) But anyway, think that’s academic: I don’t see that Hamas are remotely interested in negotiation, so we’re a long way off.

      It may or may not be true that Israel has brought Hamas’ success upon itself, but yes, it is more complicated than that. Bibi and Lieberman haven’t helped, but neither really has Obama. And Hamas certainly haven’t. No-one has seen possibilities for progress, so attitudes have hardened.

      Who’s oppressed? I’d say, at a moment when both populations are running for shelter, it’s a pretty moot point.

  • Brumanuensis

    But let us evaluate this with reference to the most important factor motivating Bibi: how many extra votes is he going to get for this come the 22 January 2013?

    • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

      So, your contention is therefore that he wouldn’t be protecting his citizens if there wasn’t an election? What a daft idea. Any Israeli president, indeed, any president would be doing the same. People elect you to protect them, or they vote you out.

      • Brumanuensis

        I’m just observing that previous exchanges of fire since Cast Lead – itself waged less than two months prior to an election, a certain pattern is emerging as you can tell – did not escalate in a similar manner. Even after Cast Lead, attacks from both side continued, but none of them provoked this sort of increase in the volume of exchanges.

        Add to this Netanyahu’s undoubted frustration at being warned off striking Iran, by both his own country’s intelligence agencies and the Americans, and it would be a naive individual who didn’t recognise that a certain element of calculation as to timing is present here. And the most obvious proximate cause is the Israeli legislative elections.

        Ironically, most of Hamas’ internal disputes have centred on whether the ruling Politburo are too conciliatory towards Israel and are failing to protect Palestinians in Gaza from these sort of recurrent bombardments. Electoral pressures don’t weigh only on Netanyahu; Hamas’ current leader Khaled Meshaal announced in September that he was stepping down. As Foreign Policy magazine noted recently, “the two contenders for the top spot are Hamas’s de facto leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and the present Politburo number two, the Cairo-based Musa Abu Marzook. A Haniyeh victory would cement the transfer of power within Hamas to Gaza, while Abu Marzook represents continued hopes that Hamas’s fortunes hinge on benefiting from the region-wide “Islamic Awakening” — the group’s interpretation of what others call the Arab Spring”.

        So both sides are playing a form of crude electoral politics. Hamas want to prove that they can still hit back at Israel and Netanyahu wants to prove that just because he hasn’t been able to hit Iran, he hasn’t gone soft.

        • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

          I don’t really see how that is a sure-fire conclusion, on either side. Correlation is not causation, for a start. And even that correlation has a very, very small sample space of about two points. Weak arguments.

          • Brumanuensis

            I’m pretty sure if I’d made inferences only about Hamas, you’d have jumped all over it, although it would have meant having to draw back from your view that Hamas are incapable of rational behaviour.

          • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

            Oh, and can you tell me exactly where I expressed that view? Because it may seem to a casual observer that you simply made it up, off the top of your head.

          • Brumanuensis

            I think it’s fairly obvious from the way you’ve written about Hamas that you regard them as fundamentally irrational.

      • Brumanuensis

        A propos of your point about Goldstone, you neglect to point out that he was effectively emotionally blackmailed for a sustained period after the report’s publication – including, as Ha’aretz noted in an interview, being initially barred by his local synagogue from taking part in his grandson’s bar mitzvah. You didn’t mention that Goldstone was not the sole author of the report and the three co-authors, Christine Chinkin, Hina Jilali and Desmond Travers, openly disagreed with Goldstone’s retraction – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/14/goldstone-report-statement-un-gaza

        Whether or not the UN responded as well as it should have done – I’m inclined to agree with Goldstone that they didn’t – does not alter this and trying to claim that a retraction by one of the four authors invalidates the entire report, is a very tendentious assertion.

      • Brumanuensis

        A propos of your point about Goldstone, you neglect to point out that he was effectively emotionally blackmailed for a sustained period after the report’s publication – including, as Ha’aretz noted in an interview, being initially barred by his local synagogue from taking part in his grandson’s bar mitzvah. You didn’t mention that Goldstone was not the sole author of the report and the three co-authors, Christine Chinkin, Hina Jilali and Desmond Travers, openly disagreed with Goldstone’s retraction – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/14/goldstone-report-statement-un-gaza

        Whether or not the UN responded as well as it should have done – I’m inclined to agree with Goldstone that they didn’t – does not alter this and trying to claim that a retraction by one of the four authors invalidates the entire report, is a very tendentious assertion.

        • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

          A retraction by one of the four authors casts doubt over the report, and it is certainly debatable whether it invalidates it all. I invite readers to click on the link and draw their own conclusions.

          But answer me this: if Hamas refuse to carry out any investigation, how can this possibly be a balanced report? All it can possibly do is say “there are accusations against Hamas which…no-one has investigated”. And of course that makes the Israelis, by cooperating, turkeys voting for Christmas. Useless, one-sided report.

          • Brumanuensis

            Well, that’s pleasingly sweeping of you. One might almost think you were looking for excuses to ignore the conclusions of the report (no! surely not! the noble IDF can never do wrong). The Israeli’s weren’t exactly falling over themselves to co-operate after all and as the letter I linked to noted, their own investigatory structure leaves something to be desired.

          • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

            Well, you seem to be wanting to paint my comments as some kind of idiotic Israeli cheerleading. But it’s quite clear from the article that they’re not. Just silly. On the one hand a government which has at least some effort to investigate. And on the other a government which has not lifted a finger. Oh, and is also known across the world as a terrorist organisation. Why are you defending Hamas?

          • Brumanuensis

            Yes, we’ve all heard ad nauseam about how even-handed you allegedly are and yet, as Mehdi Hasan pointed out, when push comes to shove you can always be relied to uncritically line up behind the likes of Netanyahu.

  • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

    Michael, one, this is not an attempt to take sides in who’s right and wrong in a centuries-old dispute over land. It’s very complicated, and I deliberately didn’t try and address it in a blog piece. There is a big negotiation to be had at some point, and anything which just says the other side is “wrong” is futile.

    Two, your argument “Hamas may be nasty, but” is a bit logically incoherent. How nasty do you need, before you start to take notice, What is the level of nastiness you’d be prepared to accept, then, unlimited, as long as it is against evil Israel? You need to answer the points about its nastiness, not just say err, what about Israel? I have nowhere said Israel is blameless in this mess. But terrorism is terrorism.

    Three. This whole thing cannot stop unless the rockets stop. Is that not obvious? Israel is neither right nor wrong overall, it is merely protecting its citizens in the short term, as it should.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Morgan/100002189927021 Andrew Morgan

    What can we as Britons do to encourage and nurture a more mature and far-sighted generation of leaders on both sides of this conflict?

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  • http://twitter.com/FernwoodHill H E M

    I remember reading about a leftist secular political party in Gaza that apparently got about 10% of the vote in the last elections. They had problems with Hamas harassing them. It would be interesting to hear what they have to say, but Hamas would appear to be treated as the only voice of Gaza.

  • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

    Hmm. Rockets are a “slap on the face”, eh? I don’t think so. And homosexuality is not allowed under Islam, therefore it’s ok to persecute and kill gay people? Please.

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