Those who support Palestinian self-determination must challenge Israel’s justifications for war—and that means setting the record straight about Hamas.
AS THE world reels in horror at mounting Palestinian deaths in Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine and its willing accomplices in the U.S. mainstream media have issued their customary reply: Blame Hamas.
Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed all responsibility for Palestinian deaths on Hamas:
We’re sad for every civilian casualty. They’re not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians. They embed their rocketeers, their rocket caches, their other weaponry which they use to fire on us in civilian areas.
What choice do we have? We have to protect ourselves. So we try to target the rocketeers. We do. And all civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can…They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.
Netanyahu presents Israel as innocently defending itself—and Hamas as inviting Palestinian deaths for propaganda purposes.
WHILE THE mainstream media regularly describes Hamas as anti-Semitic or even genocidal, it rarely if ever describes Israel’s treatment of Gaza as racist or genocidal. But no other description of Israel’s blockade of Gaza is appropriate.
… Not only are calls for war crimes coming from high-level Israeli officials, but the premise—that Hamas would never accept a “Jewish presence” in Palestine—is false. When Hamas agreed to a unity government with the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Fatah, back in April, the terms were clear. As Nathan Thrall wrote in his article "How the West Chose War in Gaza" in the New York Times:
[The unity government deal] offered Hamas’ political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel. Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. (emphasis added)
Even after the chaos that Israel has wreaked in Gaza during July, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal reiterated the same commitments in a statement on July 27:
We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers…I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.
In other words, Hamas does accept the presence of Jews in Palestine—but it does not accept the presence of Israel as a Jewish state, with apartheid laws that deny equal rights to Palestinians. This is the opposite of the explicitly racist and openly genocidal attitudes expressed by some of the leading political figures of Israel.
SO WHY is Hamas firing rockets at Israel?
For many people in Gaza, though certainly not all, the rockets send a message: If Israel’s policy toward Palestinians is occupation and genocide, than it cannot be business-as-usual for Israelis either.
For this, Israel brands Hamas “terrorists.” It should be noted that this was also the U.S. government’s official designation for Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress because of its bombing of public institutions in apartheid South Africa. It was also how the British government described American insurgents who overthrew the rule of the king in 1776.
Israel also accuses Hamas of placing its rockets in neighborhoods and using civilians as human shields. Indeed, Israel would like Hamas to build a clearly designated military installation in the desert—so that Israel could cleanly eliminate any capacity for resistance. But resistance movements always operate similarly against enemies with an overwhelming military advantage—as the American revolutionaries and the Vietnamese also did.
Moreover, the Israeli complaints are for public relations purposes—the Israel Defense Forces haven’t made anything like a legitimate effort to avoid civilian casualties.
Witnesses to Israel’s killing of four young boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach in July said it looked “as if the shells were chasing them”—that is, the Israeli naval vessel kept firing until it hit its pre-teenaged targets. Israel has bombed half of Gaza’s hospitals, as well as a UN school serving as a shelter for people who had been told by Israel to flee their homes.
Whatever one might think of Hamas, its politics and its strategy and tactics, we should be clear about one thing: the current slaughter against Palestinians is the product of Israel’s actions, not Hamas’.
Furthermore, it is not the place of people in the U.S., sitting in the heart of the world’s superpower and the main international supporter of Israel empire, to lecture dying Palestinians about what they should and should not do in the face of Israeli atrocities. Who Palestinians choose to represent them politically is a matter for Palestinians to decide, and no one else. Our role is to pressure the U.S. government to stop facilitating Israel’s massacre with its political, diplomatic, economic and military support for Israel.