Beinart: Israel Never Misses an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity (Part 1)

Who Are the True Jewish Allies of Hamas? By Peter Beinart (, 8/6/2014)

The destruction of the two-state solution and the suppression of nonviolent protest convince Palestinians that Israel only understands the language of force.

Every day on social media, someone calls me an ally of Hamas. I find the accusation odd since I’ve not only repeatedly denounced the organization, but chided other progressives for not doing so more forcefully.

Sadly, I have seen evidence of this myself.  Not that Beinart is Hamas’ ally, but that he is accused of being a Hamas supporter.  This is clearly far from the truth. Hamas wants to destroy Israel, kill Jews, and from there probably move on to the United States and other freedom-loving countries.

Very much unlike Hamas, Peter’s love and interest in Israel are patently self-evident.

But this does not mean his positions on the Jewish state, if implemented, are not harmful in the extreme.  In fact they are, and should be defeated.

But upon reflection, maybe the critics have a point. Sad as it is to admit, Hamas does have unwitting allies among our people. There are Jews who through words and deeds strengthen a group that oppresses Palestinians and tries to kill Israelis.

Worse, such people work at the highest echelons of the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment. Who are they? They’re the Israeli and American Jewish leaders who convince Palestinians that nonviolence and mutual recognition are futile. They bolster Hamas’ greatest asset, which is not rockets and tunnels. Hamas’ greatest asset is the Palestinian belief that Israel only understands the language of force.

So you’re accusing others of calling you a Hamas ally, which you reject because you’ve denounced the organization.  Yet you would accuse others, who have also denounced Hamas – hell, even denounced them to the point of trying to kill them – as being their ally?  Not cricket, Peter.

The first way these Jews help Hamas is by supporting – either actively or passively – the imprisonment of people like Abdallah Abu Rahma. Rahma is a leader of the Bilin Popular Committee, which, since 2005, has led unarmed protests against the separation barrier that cuts the West Bank village off from 50 percent of its land.

“In Bilin,” Rahma wrote in a 2010 letter, “we have chosen another way. We have chosen to protest nonviolently together with Israeli and international supporters. We have chosen to carry a message of hope and real partnership between Palestinians and Israelis in the face of oppression and injustice.”

Rahma’s wife smuggled the letter out of the jail where he was serving a year-long sentence for “incitement” and organizing “illegal demonstrations.” Under Military Order 101, which Israel issued when it took over the West Bank in 1967, an “illegal demonstration” is any gathering of 10 or more Palestinians that involves “a political matter or one liable to be interpreted as political.”

“Incitement” is defined as “attempting, whether verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.” In cases like Rahma’s, according to Human Rights Watch, “The Israeli authorities are effectively banning peaceful expression of political speech.”

So Israel gives Palestinians the impression that Israel only understands the language of force, and presumably this means that Palestinians can only resort to violence if they are to get their much deserved and long delayed independent state.

Let us put aside for now Israel’s peace agreements and treaties of all sorts with a wide variety of nations.  Let us also put aside Israel’s distinct and dramatic shift on the issue of a Palestinian state. (Labor Party Golda: there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.  Likud Party Bibi: we are ready to make painful concessions.)

But on to Rahma.  Beinart is a well-read individual.  Yet he fails to note that, despite Rahma’s protests to the contrary, the IDF accused Rahma of incitement, stone-throwing, and possession of arms. Surely this cannot be considered legal, or even safe.  Why Beinart chooses to accept the words of HRW wholesale and not credit the IDF with even a passing rejection is a mystery.

Beinart does us the favor of spelling out the definition of both “illegal demonstration” and “incitement.”  According to the IDF Rahma’s regularly scheduled activities fulfilled the definition Beinart’s offered definition of incitement.  I will note again that Rahma claims he is Gandhi incarnate.

Rahma’s case is not unusual. In 2011, Bassem Tamimi was convicted under Military Order 101 for leading illegal protests in the village of Nabi Saleh, which has seen much of its land handed over to the neighboring settlement of Halamish. (He was also convicted of urging children to throw stones on the basis of what Human Rights Watch called “a child’s coercively obtained statement [that] raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial.”) It was Bassem’s 11th arrest. He had previously been held for three years without trial. Yet at his trial, Bassem called the Israelis who protested with him his “brothers and sisters,” and pledged that “we will still raise our children to love; love the land and the people without discrimination of race, religion or ethnicity.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard American-Jewish leaders cite the Hamas charter. But I’ve never heard a single one express concern about the prosecutions of Rahma or Tamimi. Indeed, I’ve never heard major American-Jewish leaders criticize Israeli restrictions on peaceful protest in the West Bank at all.

It would indeed appear that there were serious misdeeds attached to the jailing of al Tamimi.  And in fact Israel has freed al Tamimi based on those irregularities.  As with all miscarriages of justice, this one too is deeply regretted.

But I must take issue with Beinart’s characterization of al Tamimi as an enlightened man who wishes only to raise his children with love of land and people.  Al Tamimi has been leading protests for years, protests which regularly feature violent clashes, with Palestinian youths throwing stones (residents of the town and al Tamimi’s family have been implicated in a variety of terror activities; one accompanied the Sbarro suicide bomber to his final destination).  The peace-loving al Tamimi does not see stone throwing as violent but as a symbol of Palestinian resistance.

It is difficult to square leading violent protests for years and a long history of frequent arrests with a policy of nonviolence.  Surely this is not the way to raise children with love of people without discrimination of religion.

In 2010, when an interviewer asked the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman about the Rahma case, he replied, “I’m not an expert on the [Israeli] judicial system and I don’t intend to be.”

Um, presumably that is not his job…

If undermining peaceful Palestinian protest helps Hamas, so does undermining Palestinian support for the two-state solution. In November 2012, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in the Israeli city of Safed, told Israeli TV, “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not live there.” Given the depth of the Palestinian commitment to refugee return, Abbas’ statement was politically perilous. Hamas quickly denounced it.

The only way for Abbas to have survived such a risky overture would have been to receive something important in return. Had Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a high-profile gesture of his own – for instance, signaling his openness to a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem – some Palestinians might have been more forgiving of Abbas’ concession.

Instead, Netanyahu dismissed Abbas’ statement as insignificant because it bore “no connection” to his “actual actions.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized his successor’s response, but establishment American-Jewish leaders did not. And with that, any hope that Abbas’ gambit would not seriously undermine him among Palestinians was lost. The episode proved a boon for Hamas.

First, Abbas was contradicting himself when he has said on the record that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for 60+ years (that is, Abbas rejects the entity of the Jewish State, not just the existence of the post 1967 settlements).  Netanyahu is indeed correct for rejecting Abbas’ miniscule overtures as merely lip service.

And in any case, surely Beinart would agree that we should judge Abbas on his actions instead of on his rhetoric.

Second, Abbas’ Fatah party represent a minority of the Palestinian electorate.  In truth it is Hamas (and parties more violent and reactionary) that represents the heart and mind of the Palestinian people, having won 45 percent of the electorate in the most recent Palestinian elections, more than any other single party.  Writing that Abbas will be undermined and that “the episode proved a boon for Hamas” strikes me as wishful thinking.  The assertion that Abbas is representative of Palestinian will is flimsy at best, and dangerous at worst.

Abbas himself won the Palestinian presidential election almost ten years ago, the most recent election held in the PA.  Why is Abbas so afraid of holding elections again?

So I guess we can understand why Netanyahu and the American-Jewish leadership agree.

On another note. Olmert, Peter? Really? Is he really the guy you want on your side these days?

The second half of Peter’s article, with my comments, will appear in a few days.

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