Robin Yassin-Kassab

What Hamas Should Do

with 5 comments

pal pic 2I’ve written a great deal about Israel’s crimes. Here I’ll write about what Hamas should do. I won’t criticise its choice to resist, which I see as entirely legitimate so long as there is no real peace process, and I won’t discuss its evolving methods of resistance, because I don’t think that’s my business or area of expertise. I won’t criticise the so-called ‘coup’ in which it took sole power in Gaza, because it is now common knowledge that it did this to pre-empt an American-Israeli-Dahlan coup against its democratically-elected government, and to restore some kind of order in the territory. And I’m not writing this in an attempt to be ‘objective’ or ‘balanced’; when faced by obvious injustice I see no point in equating the occupier and ethnic cleanser with the occupied and the refugees. I offer the following criticisms as advice, in the hope that it will help the resistance meet its goals.

Firstly, Hamas’s treatment of protesting Fatah supporters and of PLO-allied and other trade unions has not been ideal. Even if Fatah is the party unwilling to respect the people’s democratic choice, tactics of beatings and intimidation do not elevate Hamas to a much higher moral plane. I have heard that the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions building, which was recently bombed by Israel, had previously been taken over by Hamas and turned into a welfare office. Moves like this are counterproductive and will alienate a great deal of natural support for the resistance.

Next, Hamas needs to confront its misconceptions about Jews. Article 32 of the Hamas charter states: “The zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they have digested the region they have conquered, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

Abdel-Wahhab el-Messiri, author of the eight-part encyclopedia ‘Jews, Judaism and Zionism’ and a scholar of undoubted anti-zionist credentials, has written that use of the Protocols “is unethical since it cannot be validated by any historical research, Arab or otherwise.” It is now accepted by the vast majority of scholars that the Protocols, supposedly a secret Jewish document calling for world domination, was in fact plagiarised by the Russian secret service from earlier French books which accused not the Jews of conspiracy but Napoleon III and Jesuit priests. It is interesting to note that many of the accusations made against Jews in the Protocols have been made against Arabs and Muslims, particularly Palestinians, elsewhere.

For example, the Protocols allege that the Jews will stage catastrophes against their own people in order to generate sympathy. I have heard similar slanders made by zionists against Palestinians (notably, that the ethnic cleansing of 1947 and 48 was staged by the Arabs themselves) and by Serbs against Bosnian Muslims (that Muslims murdered Muslims in Srebrenica in order to get the Serbs in trouble).

The Protocols blame economic recessions on the Jews, deflecting blame from where it belongs, with the capitalist system. The Protocols aim to discredit all revolutionary ideas, from Marxism to anarchism, as part of a Jewish plot. As such, it vilifies both Jews as an ethnic group and all those who are dissatisfied with the status quo. The book is therefore profoundly conservative. It is impossible to use it as part of a liberation project. It is possible and necessary to oppose the influence of the zionist lobby (which includes Christians and even some Muslims as well as Jews) without overgeneralising to blame all Jews for zionism, or to see zionism as more pervasive than it actually is. Zionism did, for instance, have a role to play in the invasion of Iraq, but not in the fall of the Soviet Union.

Believing that all Jews are collaborators in a vast conspiracy does not enable us to make alliances with those Jews who have done more than most Arabs to expose the crimes of zionism. I refer to Jewish anti-Zionists like the American Norman Finkelstein, who recently met the Hizbullah leadership, or the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, who has carefully documented the massacres and expulsions of 47 and 48. The anti-zionist Orthodox Jews of Neturei Karta believe that the state of Israel is a blasphemy against Judaism, and they campaign for Palestinian rights on this basis. And there were some early zionists, like Ahad Ha’am, who wanted Palestine to be a spiritual centre for the Jews rather than an ethno-state, and who condemned Jewish anti-Arab racism.

Next, Hamas leaders and many other Arabs have used the term ‘holocaust’ too easily to refer to Palestinian suffering, and have at times, like Ahmedinejad, come dangerously close to holocaust denial. It is true that Israeli Jewish leaders have themselves applied the word ‘holocaust’ to what they do to the Palestinians, and it is a sad fact that zionism has exploited the memory of the holocaust to justify the dispossession of the Palestinians. But still, holocaust denial is immoral and counterproductive, and the resistance should condemn it. Although some researchers do question the holocaust, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it did happen. The holocaust is one of the best documented crimes in history. In every instance that I am aware of, researchers who question the holocaust have an antisemitic agenda.

I have met ignorant Arabs (I’m not talking about Hamas now) who think that Hitler was a great leader because ‘he stood up to the Jews’ – as if Hitler was a leftist liberator of the Arab nation. Hitler was not a hero but a racist. He didn’t murder Jews because he was an anti-zionist but because he believed them to be members of a subhuman race. This repulsive ideology contradicts morality, specifically Islam’s anti-racist tenets, and potentially targets the Arabs, also Semites, as much the Jews. Fortunately Europe at the time of fascist rule did not have an Arab population. The political descendants of Hitler in Europe would certainly burn Arab babies if they had a chance, just as the Nazis burnt Jewish babies.

Again, we can see many similarities between anti-Jewish and anti-Palestinian racism. One factor in Hitler’s antisemitism was Jewish prominence in the Communist Party and in the internationalist movement. One key factor in Arab and Western suspicion of the Palestinians is their justified reputation for involvement in politically subversive movements. Both the Palestinians and the Jews have (or had) good reason to be subversive.

In contradiction to the reason given above, Hitler’s antisemitism also claimed, also with some justification, that Jews played a disproportionate role in the power structure, as bankers, businessmen and media figures. Again, Levantine Arabs could with similar reasoning be accused of the same thing. In West Africa, the Carribean and South America people of Syrian-Lebanese background often control local economies. Carlos Menem was a Syrian Arab who became the president of Argentina. Lebanese Christians are a key lobby in Paris. In the diaspora, Syrian-Lebanese are often very wealthy. This results from cultural characteristics which Levantine Arabs share with Jews: ambition, respect for education, a certain clannishness. There’s a London joke about a Jewish mother who introduces her children as “My son the doctor, my son the engineer” – which could as easily be a joke about a Syrian mother.

Of course, recognition by Arabs and Muslims of Jewish suffering in Europe is not as morally imperative as recognition by Israeli Jews of Palestinian dispossession, because the Arabs are not responsible for Jewish suffering. But this recognition would help the Arabs to understand why so many Jews support zionism, which was an extreme minority ideology amongst Jews before the rise of fascism. Most European Jews in the 1920s were socialists, not zionists. Most had no desire to leave the European lands of their fathers to settle in a dusty Ottoman province. Many European Jews did not even consider themselves Jews until the Nazis declared them so. Without fascism and the holocaust there would have been no Israel, no nakba. We should blame Hitler every bit as much as we blame Balfour or Herzl.

Supporting, or seeming to support, European antisemitism makes the Arabs easy targets for those who claim that Arab opposition to zionism is racist. More than that, if the resistance cleans its language of racist generalisations and illogicalities it will be better able to fight the grotesque euphemisms of its opponents – such as the ‘peace process’ that is really a long version of what used to be called a ‘pacification campaign’, or Condoleezza Rice’s ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’, which were in fact the agonies of mass murder in Lebanon.

As Nasrallah is wise enough to state, the Jews are not Israel, and Israel is not the Jews. Hamas should state this clearly too, again and again, and at the same time it should continue to build its capacity for resistance.

And finally, there is a gesture to be made which would reach towards a post-Zionist future: to offer Israeli Jews passports in the future Palestine, or to encourage Palestinians to apply for Israeli citizenship. But this gesture implies an acceptance that Palestine will never be an Islamic state, at least not as conventionally understood. It may be that Hamas will therefore be unable to take this step. We may need to wait for another movement, at a more positive stage of the struggle.

On the Protocols:


Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 20, 2008 at 6:51 am

5 Responses

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  1. I am a regular reader of your blog and most of the times agree completely. Like this time.
    One extra thing I think Hamas should do is to stop the regular attacks on Israel. I’m not sure whether Hamas is doing this themselves or some splinter group. They shouldn’t stop because Israel doesn’t deserve it but I see no positive effect in the rocket attacks.
    It just gives Israel more excuses (in the global media) to punish the palestinians. Hamas has the possibility to build a community in Gaza and they should concentrate on this no matter how hard it is.
    What do you think?


    March 20, 2008 at 10:33 am

  2. Great post again Qunfuz. What are your thoughts on the position of palestinian christians and arab christians in general? While I recognise the popular social welfare programmes of Hamas, and the “lack of fear of his own people” of Nasrallah(as you put it elsewhere), where do anti-zionist dispossessed Christains go in the Middle East?

    Personally, I get the feeling Bin Laden knew Al Qaeda’s acts by themselves would never achieve their goals, but hoped they would create reactions that would polarise the three religions, forcing us all to take sides and forcing muslims to overthrow their corrupt western controlled puppet leaders, a la Iran 1979. He is getting his way in my view.

    Unfortunately, some of the religious puritanism that accompanies such popular revolutions results in a bitter harvest for others, and a polarising of religions. It would be a shame and counterproductive to lose the support of ordinary middle eastern christians, and of course, those jews so critical of the racist zionist project.


    March 20, 2008 at 11:03 am

  3. Anonymous – What do I think about the rockets? The short answer is, I don’t know. I am sure that Hamas has the right to resist, and I am repulsed by the hypocrisy of those who condemn the rocket attacks without presenting an alternative liberation strategy, especially as most of the condemnations come from actors – Western and Arab – which actively support the Israeli occupation. I don’t know if Hamas really does have the opportunity to build a community, as it is under seige. I don’t know if Israel needs excuses to punish the Palestinians – it has been doing that since long before the missiles came into play. And although the missiles cause comparatively little damage, they present a steadily increasing threat. Life in Sderot is no longer normal, and now Ashkelon is in range. This is a long war of attrition. Hamas is trying to establish at the very least a deterrent force, and the future possibility of making continued occupation very expensive indeed for Israel. I support these aims. But is it worth it? Some Palestinians think so, some think not. I’m not there suffering the consequences, so I don’t think I have the right to advise them. And I do see your point.

    Corkoniense – the position of Christians varies from area to area in the Arab world. In Lebanon the Christian community is split down the middle by the present stand-off, and Michel Aoun’s supporters are allied with Hizbullah, which has always treated Christians in its areas very well. Palestinian Christians have traditionally supported leftist liberation movements like the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine (their founders, George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh, were Christians). It’s true that the recent slide into religious politics has made Palestinian Christians uncomfortable – much more worrying than Hamas are the shadowy wahhabi-nihilist groups now gaining a foothold. These are the people who have blown up liquor shops and attacked Christians. The Iraqi Christian community has been nearly destroyed by the war. More than half of Iraqi Christians are now in Syria, which remains the friendliest country in the Middle East to Christians.

    Yes, bin Laden is getting his way. But I wonder if he really wants to get rid of the client regimes. al-Qa’ida has in many ways served the status quo more than it has challenged it. See my post a few months ago called Osama bin Laden.


    March 23, 2008 at 9:31 am

  4. Qunfuz,
    While I might disagree with some minor aspects of your post, I salute you, and salute your clarity of purpose..

    The Syrian Brit

    April 5, 2008 at 7:42 pm

  5. […] main quibble with Hamas is its constitution’s reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic Russian […]

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