I wrote this in March 2008, before the most recent Gaza massacre, and also before the deployment of ‘morality patrols’ in Gaza. Whilst these patrols have no official authority and have usually (but not always) dispensed their advice politely, they still give off the unpleasant whiff of Saudi Arabia, and seem at best like a diversion from more pressing problems. I support Hamas unconditionally in its resistance to Zionism (and now to Wahhabi-nihilism too), but unconditional support does not need to be uncritical.
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 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: