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Instead of always blaming Israel, maybe it is time to start condemning Hamas

A demonstrator displays a placard with 'From the river to the sea' during a rally in solidarity with Palestinians at Oranienplatz Square in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, Germany, on November 11, 2023. (Tobias Schwarz/ AFP)

During the Gulf crisis, Roland Dumas, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in  September, 1990 that the taking hostage by Iraq of innocent civilians “may be a casus belli“. On October 7, 2023 at least 240 Israeli and Foreign civilians were taken hostage by Hamas. While the war has lasted for 7 months, there are still approximately 120 hostages (alive and dead) in Gaza.

If the war initiated by Hamas in October is based on an aggression against which Israel legitimately defended itself, 120 hostages are still in Gaza which gives Israel a questionable but also legitimate reason to continue hostilities. According to Humanitarian International Law, hostage-taking and the killing of hostages is considered a war crime.

While the international community unites to accuse Israel and to demand an “immediate cease-fire”, perhaps we should start condemning Hamas, who deliberately does not wish to return its hostages to Israel in order to win international support which is de facto contributing to the legitimization of its existence.

In this article I would like to propose a different reading of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by highlighting the division that took place with the appearance of Hamas in 1987 and the renewal of a radicalization once experienced by the Israelis at the beginning of the existence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under the governance of Yasser Ararat.

This radicalization is, however, different: where the PLO was a secular liberation movement in line with movements born from decolonization, Hamas is an Islamic movement, driven by an Islamist ideology also present elsewhere in the Middle East, as in Iran since 1979, in Lebanon since 1986 or in Syria from 2014.

The attack of October 7 revealed to the whole world the brutality and savagery of which the members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are capable. However, instead of fighting Islamism at its source, a part of the West, feeling guilty about its own colonial past and tinged with recent “woke” movements defending the rights of minorities, has chosen once again to demonize Israel, going so far as to accuse it of genocide.

PLO : From terrorism to peace partners to enemy of rival Palestinian forces

In its national charter, the PLO affirmed the inalienable ties that bind the Palestinian people to their homeland within the boundaries of the British Mandate, and endorsed a revolutionary type of “armed struggle” as the only path to their liberation. From 1964 to 1993, Israel has been hit by several waves of deadly terrorist attacks notably from 1970, when the PLO took refuge in Lebanon in September, after being expelled from Jordan by the troops of King Hussein of Jordan. It was not until 1988 that the PLO recognized Israel’s right to live “in peace and security” and declared it “totally renounced” terrorism.

For most of its existence, the Palestinian national movement, primarily embodied by the PLO, has been ostensibly secular, with strong ideological inclinations toward the radical left. Moreover, the armed struggle of the PLO was part of a global movement of struggle for decolonization and the right of peoples to self-determination. In this context marked also by the ideological hegemony of pan-Arabism, the PLO was born at the initiative of Egypt, wishing both to control the fedayeen (Palestinian fighters), but also to detach Palestine from Jordanian supervision.

Indeed, before the “Israeli occupation”, the West Bank was integrated into Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Let us take the opportunity here to emphasize that before the “Israeli occupation” the Palestinians had 30 years since November 29, 1947, when the UN General Assembly in New York voted to partition Palestine (Resolution 181), in order to bring about their State. However, the non-creation of a Palestinian state during this period is not completely detached from a simple explanation summarized by the slogan chanted for months during the recent demonstrations “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, whose origins go back to the PLO.

However, in 1993, with the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat finally accepted the existence of Israel, breaking with the policy of destruction of Israel of his political organization. After the death of Yasser Arafat in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas new president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) was elected on a platform focused on ending violence and establishing a truce with Israel. The election was largely respected by Palestinian militant groups, except for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which oppose Mahmoud Abbas within the PA.

Following Hamas’s victories in the 2005 municipal elections and then the 2006 legislative elections, violent clashes happened leading to a civil war that killed more than 600 Palestinians in fighting in Gaza from January 2006 to May 2007. Finally, the Islamist movement took over Gaza through an offensive carried out between June 12 and 14, 2007. For its part, Abbas was sworn in on June 17, 2007 in Ramallah and extended his authority over the West Bank, which was once again not recognized by Hamas.

Conceptually, even the terrorism resorted to by the PLO taken in the context of “national liberation” of Palestine is by definition opposed to the very idea of “resistance”. But this should be the subject of another article. From the point of view of political ends, this Palestinian “resistance” only increases the asymmetry between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people just as it seriously hampers, from the point of view of international relations, the peace process between the two Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Many commentators have pointed out that the emergence of Hamas was only a form of radicalization of the “resistance movement” in response to the “Israeli occupation”. However, we are led to wonder if, according to the same logic, the current Israeli far-right government led by Benyamin Netanyahu is not also the product of radicalization linked to the belligerent presence of a terrorist organization at the southern border of the Jewish state for 18 years.

Hamas are not only terrorists, they are an Islamic organization. Yes, it makes a difference

The year 2005 can be seen as a shift regarding the evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until today. After deadly clashes with Fatah supporters, Hamas seizes control of the Gaza Strip through a coup, which testifies to the radicalization of the Palestinians. In a particularly brutal act, Hamas militants kidnapped on June 10 2007 Mohammed Sweirki, a 25-year-old member of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Presidential Guard,  took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building, and threw him off.

This radicalization that manifested itself first towards rival Palestinian forces already in 2007, is the expression of the ideology of the political and activist branch of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas, which stands for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (“Islamic Resistance Movement”), was established by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who founded Al-Mujamma’ al-Islami, an Islamic charitable organization created in 1973 in Gaza, after spending his early life studying Islamic scholarship in Cairo.

The main objective of the Muslim Brotherhood is the establishment of Islamic republics in place of regimes in majority Muslim countries such as Egypt, Libya or Syria. Since its creation in 1987, Hamas’ charter explicitly includes the destruction of the State of Israel as a central objective. Geopolitical scientist and philosopher, Pierre Hassner, in La terreur et l’empire, La violence et la paix II (2003) has carried out a ternary classification of cases in which religion still plays a role despite the “great movement of secularization” and “disenchantment of the world”. The last case of his classification concerns Islam and “the Islamic revolution (which) replaced that of communism”.

Today, even if the term “holy wars” seems anachronistic, religiously motivated warfare continues in another form. The war of religion is no longer a war of conquest waged in the name of the State of divine law but an ideological war which pits democratic States against isolated individuals (like terrorists) or members of a political entity still considering that power emanates from God. This is for example the case since 1979 in Iran, who is the main support of Hamas providing the Islamic movement with significant logistical, military and financial support through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

Some commentators have linked the attack on October 7 to the longstanding Arab-Israeli conflict, which has persisted between Israel and neighboring Arab states since Israel’s establishment in May 1948. However, the war between Israel and Hamas of 2023-2024 is not part of the continuity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because for that, Hamas would have to represent the Palestinian people. Since the Oslo Accords, only the Palestinian authority is recognized as representative of the Palestinian people. So who does Hamas really represent?

The Palestinian cause is problematic to the extent that it includes Hamas, but is it really a problem?

We are faced here with a dilemma. Either, on the one hand, Hamas does indeed represent the Palestinian people, which makes it responsible for exercising the national sovereignty that belongs to the people, but also for their security. Or, on the other hand, Hamas is not the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people (from Israel’s point of view, only the PLO is), and we find ourselves faced with a terrorist organization whose supporters are, in theory, complicit in its actions.

As mentioned in a previous article, the attack of October 7, 2023 is a continuation of Hamas’s desire to push Israel towards retaliation. This strategy initiated in 2007 is based on military asymmetry or “asymmetric war” which is a conflict where the military, sociological and political imbalance between the camps is total like in the case of a strong regular army (Israel) against an a priori weak terrorist movement (Hamas). The use of civilian places such as schools, hospitals and mosques in order to build and protect military installations is part of this military strategy. In this case, Hamas fails in its responsibility to guarantee the security of the Palestinian people as their representative.

What if Hamas is a terrorist organization then? Terrorism is also not a war in the traditional sense. Terrorists target non-combatants, that is, not soldiers or state officials but ordinary people. The individuals targeted by terrorists represent nothing else in their eyes than an entire category (in that case the “Zionists” or the Jews). As Pierre Hassner pointed out in the reference above, the goal of terrorists is to sow terror from an “organized project, a strategic choice, a conspiracy aimed at massacring and intimidating” as we saw it during the October 7 attack.

The existence of a terrorist organization is not justifiable even in the context of “national liberation”. Today, the Israeli-Arab conflict is characterized by a strong asymmetry from the point of view of forces as well as from that of political ends. In this context of structural asymmetric warfare, the representation of the Palestinian people poses a problem to the extent that it is made up of Hamas, whose goal is the destruction of the Hebrew State. But is it really a problem? According to the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) survey carried out between late October and early November in the Palestinian Territories, three-quarters of the population approved of Hamas’ bloody incursion on October 7 into southern Israel.

And what about the West? Modern democratic States have replaced old-style “mobilization” or “militarism” with a fourth type of force based on “democracy of opinion”. Yasser Arafat made himself the symbol of the struggle against Palestinian oppression and the inequalities of the supremacy of Israeli military power. The Palestinian leader, as we know, knew how to play on his media image. Despite the divisions, Hamas is part of this same tradition of using the image reflected by the media.

Thus, the ultimate goal of the asymmetric attack of October 7 can only be interpreted as the desire to gain international support in order to legitimize the existence of the terrorist organization under the guise of defending the Palestinian cause. And as we see in Europe and the United States, Hamas seems to have indeed achieved its objective.

About the Author
Nathalie Boehler, former journalist in Israel for i24NEWS and doctoral student in public law specialized in International Law, Criminal, Environmental and Humanitarian Law.
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