There was widespread dismay when people learned of the Hamas offensive in Israel two weeks ago. I felt, after talking to people, that perhaps the best way for them to understand what happened, is to ask themselves, as I had asked myself years back, a question. This is a question that I am now proposing to you and other readers of this commentary.
But before I do that, let me give you some background for the question.
The Nakba or Palestinian Catastrophe involved the expulsion of some 700,000 Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, confiscation of their lands and houses, and a permanent ban on their return imposed by Israel. In other words, the state of Israel was born out of the pillage and robbery of somebody else’s land, which is the basis of the latter’s existence, personality, and culture. That is Israel’s original sin. This was the reason that, even before the Nakba, the great Jewish intellectual Hannah Arendt opposed the establishment of the Zionist state, built on the completely binding unity of people, territory, and state, where the original Palestinian Arab majority would be forcibly converted into a minority. At the height of the Second World War, in 1942, Arendt actually equated Zionism with Nazi racism!
In 1967, during the second Arab-Israeli War, Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and has since maintained control, though in some parts Israel has allowed nominal authority to be exercised by the Palestinian Authority. The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 were supposed to begin the process leading to a Palestinian state, but instead, in the words of Hamas leader Usamah Hamdan, “it changed the objective from that of securing Palestinian rights to that of providing security for the occupation.” Israel has resisted every initiative to create an independent Palestinian state. It has, in fact, annexed East Jerusalem, and now, it has a far-right government that is intent on using Israeli settlers to occupy large parts of the West Bank to establish facts on the ground.
According to The New York Times, June 29, 2023,
More than 130 settlements have been built with Israeli government permission since 1967. In addition, more than 100 settlement outposts have been erected since the 1990s without government authorization. The Israeli authorities are working on authorizing many of them retroactively…Some settlement construction has continued under every Israeli government over the past decades. More than 400,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank alongside more than 2.6 million Palestinians.
Now things have been moving even faster. Again according to the Times, which, incidentally, is one of Israel’s biggest backers,
In the six months since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history — came to power, the country’s planning authorities have advanced or approved permits for 13,000 new housing units in West Bank settlements. The minister overseeing settlement construction, has instructed ministries in Israel to prepare to improve the infrastructure in settlement areas of the West Bank to absorb another 500,000 settlers…
So my question, dear reader, is: imagine you’re a young Palestinian who has grown up in refugee camps, who can’t return to your grandparents’ home and lands in Palestine because they have been expropriated by Israelis, who sees that Israel has no intention of ever leaving the West Bank but, on the contrary, is intent on annexing it, who watches while Israel spits on peaceful, legal methods to secure your people’s rights, violates international agreements, and tells international public opinion to go to hell, what would you do?
Would you not be tempted to join Hamas, who says military means are the only way your people can secure their rights?
But before you answer, let me make a few more comments, this time on some of the responses to the recent Hamas operation in Israel
First, there is among progressives and liberals a tendency to blame both Israel and Hamas in equal measure for the violence. This is a false equivalence. When it comes to violence, Israel is a thousand times more responsible and accountable for violence than Hamas since it created the conditions whereby many Palestinians have come to the conclusion that violence is the only way they can secure their rights.
Second, there is, also among progressives and liberals, a tendency to separate Hamas from the Palestinian people. They’re deluding themselves. The only reason Hamas can carry out such bold military operations is because it enjoys tremendous support among Palestinians. When Israel says it is out to eliminate Hamas, what it is really saying is that it is prepared to commit genocide by killing off the mass base of Hamas, the Palestinian people, who will constantly reproduce the children who will join the organization.
Third, some of us may find some of Hamas’ methods ethically unjustifiable. I do. But I find them understandable. Understanding is the first step towards dialogue, towards a peaceful solution. But Israel does not even want to understand, to acknowledge the reasons why Palestinians have been cornered into committing the acts they condemn out of desperation. And the West as a whole is guilty of the same refusal to understand the fundamental injustice of the Palestinian situation. As in the past, the apartheid state and its defenders have in recent days resorted to the inflammatory rhetoric of the Holocaust to shut down any debate.
So back to my question, if you were a young Palestinian, faced with a situation where except for a handful, Israelis refuse to even hear your case, where dialogue and negotiations with you are alien words in the vocabulary of the Israeli state, where the president of the most powerful country on earth says he backs Israel 100 percent and is prepared to give Israel all the weapons it needs to perpetuate a fundamental historical injustice, what would you do?
Let me give you my answer, and borrow literally from what Max Weber, the famous liberal who was one of the founders of sociology, said he was prepared to do to put “his people back on their feet.” If I were a young Palestinian confronted by these conditions, I would most likely be prepared not just to join Hamas but to make a pact with the devil himself to rectify the historical injustice visited on my people.