Grey-area terrorists? Hamas, Israel & how we must learn from history.

As previously cited in Inching Forwards, the right-wing media in particular enjoy referencing Jeremy Corbyn’s one time comment about his ‘friendly’ relationship with Palestinian Islamic organisation Hamas as a means to discredit him. Despite the outrage to this supposed sympathy, in 2014 the EU removed Hamas from its list of terror groups, and in fact had initially only listed its military wing the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades in this category, only adding Hamas itself in 2003. In fact, regardless of any Western perspective of its ideologies, it was democratically elected in 2006, and despite splitting off to form a rival government due to disputes with rival party Fatah in 2007, since 2014 Hamas has allegedly been part of a unity government with Fatah although even today the rivals are still trying to reconcile their differences. Hamas was initially popular with many Palestinians for confronting Israel, and surviving, and that popularity remains in part. Of course, any professed sympathy with Hamas in the West has one labelled anti-Semitic, and whilst, yes, they are violently opposed to Israel’s ‘occupation’, is their anger so dissimilar to the more moderate Brits who fearfully oppose the admission of refugees to the country for fear of being overwhelmed? Whilst both of these groups can be labelled simply as intolerant – and in terms of how their fear or anger manifests, that is what they are to a greater or lesser extent – it is more constructive to try and understand their point of view. In today’s world, Hamas’s intolerance of Israel makes them a threat. However, had certain steps been taken earlier in the conflict between them and Israel, there might have been time to curb the violent possessiveness that makes them dangerous.

If one looks briefly at the facts of specifically Hamas’s conflict with Israel, it is hard to be entirely unsympathetic. As early as 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, there were already 90,000 Jews in Palestine, and by 1948 the State of Israel was legitimised by the UN, displacing 800,000 Arabs who had previously occupied the land. Hamas emerged in 1987 from the largely unarmed intifada that tried to challenge Israeli occupation of territories such as Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, an occupation which had been in place since 1967 and was recognised by the UN as illegal. The revolution itself was unsuccessful against Israeli troops. In more recent years, Hamas has been involved in significant military conflicts with Israel in 2008, 2012 and 2014 when Israel launched offensives against Palestine for persistent cross-border rocket attacks that were credited to the organisation.

In terms of the specifically Jewish struggle, it should be noted that the influx of Jews to the area was due to widespread anti-Semitism and a desire to create a space where a ‘normal’ life could be led. Particularly after WWII, there was a great deal of international pressure for the UN to legitimise the state, and acknowledgement of Palestine’s bad luck and Hamas’s resulting malcontent does not undermine the fact that Israel was created to give refuge to the persecuted. This is what makes it such a difficult issue.

Evidentally, the people who condemn Hamas have valid reasons. For example, this graph from an IDF website demonstrates how anger at what is essentially an historical event has created a climate in which Israeli people live in constant fear of rocket attacks:

hamas rocket attacks idf

The IDF article linked to above further mentions how citizens have less than 60 seconds to find cover in the event of these frequent attacks, Hamas’s ability to hit major cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and a worryingly low approximate 20% effectiveness of defence systems against rockets established in 2014. Furthermore, if one examines the power structure of the organisation, in terms of the interlinked nature of Hamas and the military Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s culpability for this terrorism becomes apparent: “Without the Hamas leadership in Gaza, the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades would not function.”  This is due not only to the fact that the Hamas leadership funds the military wing and provides it with military supplies, but also due to the fact that it maintains its own TV station – effective propaganda which keeps it in favour with the Palestinian population and allows it to maintain the level of power that it does. This somewhat dispels the argument that Hamas itself is unfairly condemned for the actions of its military wing. It suggests that Hamas instead is entirely compliant in, and therefore responsible for, the actions of the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, which fit exactly into the Oxford dictionary’s definition of terrorism, making them by extension a terrorist group.

Nonetheless, the world is not black and white, and Hamas does exist in a grey area because of its activities outside those which could be considered terrorism. In fact, it has a strong focus on social welfare too, providing social services and necessities in areas that secular social services do not reach, for example, in Gaza. Hamas has an overall annual budget of £34 million – £48 million for welfare alone. Lara Pham explains: “Hamas has a long history of providing the Palestinian people with much needed services. Promoting community and even charity, the group has established and supported schools, orphanages, mosques, medical centers, and food banks.” Pham goes on to speculate that this is a significant reason that the organisation remains so popular and can continue to get away with its relentless offensive against Israel. She also notes its focus on the most vulnerable members of the community and correctly points out that if international powers wish to dismantle Hamas as an organisation, they need a viable alternative to put in the place of Hamas’s social services, or risk leaving some Palestinians highly vulnerable. In fact, a range of views from Palestinians, some in favour of Hamas and others not, seem to deem their military impotent, suggesting that the most important aspect of Hamas is the social responsibility they wield.

Of course, in 2016, no matter one’s view on the potential historical injustice done to Palestine, it is clear that Hamas’s solution to destroy Israel is barbaric and unjustifiable: Israel is home to more than 8 million innocent people. The question of the who the land rightfully ‘belongs’ to is also no longer relevant: history has led the two states together, and Israel is now too established for any form of ‘liberation’ of Palestine to be viable or fair. Hamas’s fault lies in their inability to recognise this. If this is not an acceptable argument to them, the numbers should urge peace – since Hamas’s birth, there has been far greater loss of life on the Palestinian side. In fact, what really needs to be learnt from this – and only time will reveal whether it has been learnt – is that the world must never again create a situation where a group of people feel so persecuted and displaced that they feel it necessary to form their own separate state in order to live normally. If 19th century Jews had felt able to assimilate into society without prejudice, if much later, the Holocaust had never happened, this would not be an issue now. Of course, history remains unchangeable, but the future is not. So, while the world hopes for peace, it is worth remembering why Hamas formed, instead of mindlessly branding them terrorists.

If we remember, there’s a chance we might learn from history.

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