Gaza: History Matters
Mohammed, age six, marched with determination to his bedroom, put on a record of the Fatah marching song, picked up a wooden toy rifle and marched out to the balcony. He pointed the rifle to the sky where minutes ago, Israeli planes flew over dropping bombs on Palestinian refugee sites. Mohammed told me he wanted to be a pilot so he could fight Israeli warplanes. “But Mohammed, the Palestinians do not have planes.” “I don’t care, I will fight them whatever way I can.” Was a resistance fighter born this minute or was he a “future terrorist”? (Beirut 1973)
How does one explain the horrific fate that has befallen caged Gaza – a land saturated with rubble and body parts – carpet-bombed by air, invaded by ground, attacked by sea? Put to the test of history, Israeli “explanations” fail the credibility test.
History matters. Israel conquered and occupied Gaza (along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem) in 1967. Hamas was an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers. In Gaza, it provided a network of social welfare institutions supporting the poor. During the first Palestinian Intifada (literally “shaking off” the occupation), a Hamas resistance military wing was formed. Israel and the US favored and met with Islamic Hamas leadership as a counterforce to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Fatah faction then dominant in the Intifada. As Hamas later strengthened, Israel reversed the process.
History matters. Palestinians have consistently resisted Israeli dominance over their lives. Gazan resistance has been especially problematic for Israel. In the 1970s, before Hamas, Ariel Sharon was charged with “pacifying” Gaza. Sharon imposed a brutal policy of repression, blowing up houses, bulldozing large tracts of refugee camps, imposing severe collective punishment and imprisoning hundreds of young Palestinians.
Domination and colonialism are contrary to the United Nations Charter. The legitimacy of struggle for self-determination by peoples under colonial and foreign domination was reaffirmed in U.N. General Assembly resolution 2787 (December 6, 1971). As others before them, Palestinians have and do exercise the legal and moral right to resist.
History matters. In 2005, Israel withdrew its illegal colonial settlers from Gaza. Israeli scholars Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe and Tamar Yaron noted in a Counterpunch article at the time that the primary motive of the evacuation of the settlers was to remove them from harm’s way in anticipation of an intensified future mass attack on Gaza.
History matters. After Hamas won elections in 2006, its leadership accepted a two-state solution based on the pre-war June 4, 1967 borders, but this was unacceptable to Israel. Earlier, Israel destroyed secular Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Arafat for failing at Camp David in July 2000 to comply with its demands to accept permanent Israeli control over Palestinian life and land confined in enclaves. Hamas became the new challenge to Israel’s vision.
The facts of history affirm that Israel will not accept a sovereign Palestinian state on any part of historic Palestine. Hamas is not the issue. All Palestinian leaders sooner or later, secular or Islamic, are declared unacceptable partners for peace no matter how much they concede to Israel. That Israel hides behind the “Hamas Islamic threat” today to destroy it as a potential partner is becoming transparent.
Today, Palestinian Authority President Abbas’s Fatah “security force” is used against Hamas supporters on the pretense that Abbas could be accepted by Israel as a satisfactory “partner” but for Hamas. Both before and after Hamas won the 2006 elections, Abbas fared no better than Arafat though he conceded more. In fact Jonathan Cook’s new book, Disappearing Palestine,” describes the persistent Israeli strategy to achieve the diminution of Palestine. Nonetheless Abbas continues to comply with Israeli/US demands, faulted by his people and humiliated by his keepers.
The picture changes when history matters. Treating Israeli war crimes as historically detached events, unrelated to its Zionist ideology and militaristic strategy to control all of Palestine, becomes more transparent each day.
Israel has a choice: by accepting Palestinian rights under international law now and jettisoning its exclusivist ideology and militarism, Israel secures the future of its people in a shared Israel/Palestine; or by continuing its present policy of ruthless repression of indigenous Palestinians and denying them self determination, it cultivates an intensified and unyielding native resistance. Israel has always chosen the latter. Will President-Elect Obama have the courage to help Israel embrace the first?
ELAINE C. HAGOPIAN is Professor Emerita of Sociology, Simmons College, Boston