Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What Hamas Should Do

I’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 implied 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 this book as part of a liberation project. It is possible and necessary to oppose the influence of the zionst 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:

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More Double Standards

Here’s my third post in a row on Israel-Palestine, and there may be another to come. I don’t intend to narrow the focus of the blog to one area, however important; but bear with me a little as I comment on the hypocrisy (briefly – several volumes could be filled on the subject) of Western responses to recent events.

Following the killing of 130 Palestinians in a week, more than half of them non-combatants, a Palestinian has shot dead eight young Israelis in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in West Jerusalem, the part of the city which was occupied in 1948. Not only has most of the Western media given this attack more coverage than the deaths of the 130 Gazans (there are many days on which the death toll in Gaza reaches seven or eight and the Western media doesn’t even notice), it has also described the attack as an ‘escalation.’ I won’t discuss whether or not the attack was justified or wise, but I will say that it was an entirely predictable and understandable response to the suffering of Gaza, and that to call it an ‘escalation’ – when the occupying Zionist army perpetrates such crimes against the occupied on an average day – is simply grotesque.

The yeshiva was founded in 1924 by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the founders of religious Zionism. Traditional Orthodox Jews understood the term ‘religious Zionism’ to be an oxymoron; they believed that the ‘return’ to Israel would be effected when the Messiah arrived, that in any case ‘Israel’ signified a spiritual condition and not an armed state, and that until the coming of the Messiah Jews were commanded to live peacefully among the nations, to oppress no-one. The principled religious Jews of Neturei Karta, sadly reviled by Zionists, still hold to this position. You can see them on demonstrations for Palestine, hatted and ringletted, holding signs which say “Zionism is a Blasphemy against Judaism” and “Demolish the State of Israel.”

European Fascism destroyed the majority voice of traditional religious Jews and made the minority blood-and-soil movement of Zionism mainstream. People like Rabbi Kook were able to twist Judaism into a call for racial supremacy and the violent settlement of all of ‘Eretz Israel.’ Biblical texts referring to ancient tribal warfare were understood as literal contemporary commands. For example, Numbers 33:50-55: “When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan;/Then shall ye drive out all the inhabitants of the land…/And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land.” This is the ideology that drives the ugliest of armed West Bank settlers.

It is easy to see analogies with the worst forms of Islamism, which insist on literal approaches to sacred texts, which justify hatred of other religious communities by decontextualised readings of ancient battles, which have transformed Islam under the force of trauma and disconcertingly rapid social change from a spiritual and mystical tradition to a political programme obsessed with state power. But I digress. My point here is that while the British media refer to Mercaz Harav as a ‘seminary’, and the Americans call it a ‘school’, the term ‘militant madrasa’ would be as appropriate. The problem with this description is that when, for example, General Musharraf bombs a ‘militant madrasa’ in the Pakistani Tribal Areas, this is offered as a sign of his responsibility, political backbone and moral courage.

It is interesting too to notice the media’s ready use of the word ‘massacre’ to describe the attack on the militant colonist madrasa. Contrast this and the Jenin refugee camp, where a minimum of 52 Palestinians were killed in April 2002. A minimum of 22 were unarmed. We must assume that the rest were fighting back with small arms against the US-armed IDF to defend their homes and families. After blasting residential areas with heavy artillery, Israeli forces bulldozed houses which in many cases still had people inside, leading to claims that tens more corspes were buried for ever under the rubble. A disabled man was buried alive before his neighbours could help him out of his house. The Palestinians immediately referred to what had happened as a massacre, but the term was fiercely contested by Israel and its many supporters in the Western media – to the extent that many considered the word ‘massacre’ as applied to Jenin to be ‘anti-semitism’ or ‘blood libel.’

According to this logic, ‘massacre’ is what the Arabs, or the Muslims, or the brown-skinned, or the poor, do. Not ‘us’. When ‘they’ kill people, it’s called terrorism. When ‘we’ kill people, it’s necessary, unintentional, and legitimate, all at once.

People who don’t benefit from the power structure are never going to accept the definition of terrorism written by powerful states, that it is the political violence perpetrated by non-state actors. They are never going to agree that their oppressor’s monopoly of violence is morally correct. A better definition of terrorism is ‘violence aimed at terrorising civilians for political purposes’, in which case the US and Israeli armies do it better than anyone else. They blow up civilian targets, including buses and other civilian vehicles, and mosques and markets and private homes. They use missiles, tank shells, warplanes, cluster bombs, white phosphorus and depleted uranium. Despite their propaganda, they do it all quite deliberately. Of course they do: modern war involves murdering and terrorising civilians, full stop. You can’t destroy an economy and a nation’s political viability, or bend a population to your will, without murdering civilians. It’s immoral and unIslamic, but it’s modern war.

Calling your opponent a terrorist is, firstly, an attempt to make him submit to your violence and, secondly, a psychological attempt to deny your own criminality and barbarism.

Meanwhile, members of the ‘international community’ line up to dribble their bit into the spitoon. Brown and Milliband (who has family in Israel – I don’t think that should disqualify him from a position in the British government, but I’m sure a Briton with family in a refugee camp in South Lebanon or Gaza would be effectively disqualified) describe the militant madrasa attack as an “arrow at the heart of the peace process.” And what peace process do they mean? The one which takes as its definition of normality and calm the forty-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza? The one which doesn’t mention the occupied Golan Heights? The one which has presided over years of continued land confiscation and slow ethnic cleansing? The one to which the war criminal Zionist Tony Blair has been appointed ‘special envoy’? The one in which the democratically-elected representatives of the Palestinians must not be negotiated with but imprisoned or beseiged? The one which was alive and kicking while Israel was murdering the poor and malnourished of Gaza? That one?

In reality, of course, there is no peace process.

And in Lebanon, because all of this has a wider dimension: on Thursday three Israeli planes flew over the south. On Friday two IAF planes flew over Beirut. Had Iran or Syria flown over Israel, we would be deep into regional war, with the American warships presently menacing the Lebanese coast supporting Israel’s glorious self-defence against Islamist terror.

Everyone should read this:
It is now mainstream news that the so-called Hamas 'coup' that took control of Gaza was in fact a pre-emptive strike against a US-Dahlan planned coup against the democratically-elected Palestinian government.

More on the fascist nature of Mercaz Harav here:

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Cartoons and Delusions

At least 76 Palestinians have been killed by the Zionist occupation in the last three days, 17 of them children. Three Israelis have been killed. Before I go any further I’d like to explain something which shouldn’t need explaining. A scorecard like 76 to three will not make the Palestinians surrender. On the contrary, it will make them fight with more commitment and devotion. For decades Israeli Jews have been working on the assumption that the more disproportionate the casualties, the more massacres they perpetrate, the more terror they strike into the hearts of the defeated, the closer their ultimate victory comes. The murder-them-into-submission theory has of course been proved wrong again and again. Their invasion of South Lebanon in 1978 and their blitzkrieg of 1982 created Hizbullah, the most effective and intelligent fighting force in the Arab world’s modern history. As for the Palestinians, through the long decades of their dispossession they have grown in resilience, toughening until by the outbreak of the Second Intifada they had lost their fear. Occupied Palestine is certainly exhausted. Unsurprisingly, given the murderous international campaign directed against it, the political leadership is splintered. But this fact remains: Palestinian fearlessness and will to resist is now an unchangeable reality.

Because of the traumatic history of Jews in Europe, Jewish Israeli insanity is in some way understandable. But not so the racist sickness of Zionism’s Western supporters. During the relentless siege of Gaza, Hollywood stars including Sylvester Stallone have held fund-raising concerts for the Israelis of Sderot. Western governments have condemned the killing of the one Israeli in Sderot and remained silent (like the Arab clients) over the death and starvation in Gaza. Tony Blair, the liar and war criminal so unwisely and provocatively appointed ‘envoy to the peace process’, regrets the loss of Palestinian life, but blames it on the Palestinians. (more on Blair here: ) For this ugly collection of imperialists, evangelical Christians and ethnic supremacists, and for the ignorant millions lulled by their ‘free media,’ one set of people are clearly worth more than another set of people. Nothing new here. This has always been the key assumption underlying the Zionist project.

To reiterate: the Israelis, though criminally misguided, have some kind of psychological excuse. The Europeans and Americans who provide political, economic and military support, and who don’t have to live in the region, do not.

This escalation comes in the context of the international strangulation of Gaza to punish it for democratically choosing a resistance movement. On Wednesday Israel assassinated a group of Hamas men. In response, the Palestinians unleashed a barrage of homemade Qassam missiles on the nearby Israeli town of Sderot. Unusually, the missiles claimed a victim. Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai then threatened the Palestinians with “a greater holocaust.” On the 10th of February Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit had announced: “We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map.” Most of the Western media is keeping quiet about these genocidal threats. When Iranian President Ahmedinejad was misquoted as calling for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’ (he actually quoted Khomeini’s opinion that the Zionist regime – not the Israeli Jewish people – would be wiped from the page of time, that is, that an unjust power structure would fall) this was taken almost as casus belli in Washington and Tel Aviv. Israel’s threats are now being put into action. The death toll, including two Israeli soldiers, rises as I type.

Why then does the resistance continue the Qassam fire, which the tame Egyptian foreign minister recently called “cartoonish”? Critics say that it only provides an excuse for heavier Israeli repression. The resistance would argue that Israel doesn’t need an excuse, and that it is necessary to create a balance of terror as a deterrent to Israeli violence. (Notice how the Palestinians are called ‘terrorists’ when they use their bodies as weapons delivery systems; when they stop that tactic and use missiles, like the Israeli army, they are still called terrorists.) Zionists and their supporters also claim that Israel no longer occupies Gaza. The resistance would correctly respond that despite the pullout of ‘civilian’ settlers, Gaza is surrounded by Israeli forces by land and sea, and is under the tightest of economic sieges. Besides, Gaza is only one part of occupied Palestine. The resistance has made a political decision to resist as best it can until Palestine is liberated, or until there is a real peace process rather than the theatre we’ve watched since 1973.

It should also be remembered that Hamas has called consistently for a cessation of attacks on civilians on both sides. Activists need to repeat constantly the realities of the conflict, that Hamas is much closer to a recognition of Israeli Jewish rights than Israel is to a recognition of Palestinian rights. Activists need to constantly repeat themselves because they are drowned out by the Zionist propaganda machine. I’m not an activist, and I won’t endlessly repeat myself. But I wrote about Hamas here:

Since yesterday three American warships have been patrolling the coast of Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah described the recent assassination of Imad Mughniyeh as an Israeli pre-emptive strike, to remove this Hizbullah asset from the battlefield before a wider conflagration. The Saudis have just called on their citizens to leave Lebanon. This could be just another day in the Empire’s Middle East, or this could be the start of a major war. It may include Syria this time, even Iran. It is certain that Israel and the US want to restore the deterrent power they lost when Hizbullah defeated them in 2006.

There is a depth to Palestine of 300 million Arabs and a billion and a half Muslims. Arab leaders may be puppets, or corrupt dictators, or a combination of both, but the depth remains, and will remain. Unlike American power, it is not a passing phenomenon in the region. Hamas is tremendously outgunned, but its missiles are being steadily improved, with a steadily increasing range. Its developing fighting techniques mean that Israel must take some casualties whenever they enter Gaza. Hizbullah cannot be moved from the north. And the world is turning. We’re waiting for the rush to give up the fallen dollar. New alliances are rising, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which brings together China, Russia and the central Asian states. Iran is an observing member. When the US asked to join, it was turned down.

What seems really cartoonish are Zionist delusions of final victory.