Hamas to be declared a terrorist group by UK

Palestinians take part in a rally marking the 31st founding anniversary of Hamas in Gaza, 16 December 2018. Imge: Xinhua

JVL Introduction

We hold no brief for Hamas and have no truck with its fundamentalist views which we deplore.

But Hamas’s ideology and even more its Charter bear only a tangential relationship to the lived reality on the ground and the spirit of Palestinian resistance which it encapsulates for so many.

It is impossible to understand it in terms of some simplistic reduction to the concept of “terrorist”.

We are reposting two articles by Prof Avi Shlaim – one from 2009 and one from 2014 – which try to understand the situation in Gaza under occupation in historical perspective.

Priti Patel’s intervention is particularly egregious, a capitulation to those who see the Middle East conflict in Manichean terms, a struggle between the goodness and light of Israel and the forces of darkness, represented by the Palestinians.

Warmly welcomed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews it will – as intended – merely provide another ideological excuse to attack and delegitimise those who organise in solidarity with Palestinian rights.


How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe

Oxford professor of international relations Avi Shlaim served in the Israeli army and has never questioned the state’s legitimacy. But its merciless assault on Gaza has led him to devastating conclusions

  • Avi Shlaim, The Guardian, 7 January 2009

The only way to make sense of Israel’s senseless war in Gaza is through understanding the historical context. Establishing the state of Israel in May 1948 involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. British officials bitterly resented American partisanship on behalf of the infant state. On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck wrote to the foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, that the Americans were responsible for the creation of a gangster state headed by “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. I used to think that this judgment was too harsh but Israel’s vicious assault on the people of Gaza, and the Bush administration’s complicity in this assault, have reopened the question.

I write as someone who served loyally in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. What I utterly reject is the Zionist colonial project beyond the Green Line. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the June 1967 war had very little to do with security and everything to do with territorial expansionism. The aim was to establish Greater Israel through permanent political, economic and military control over the Palestinian territories. And the result has been one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.

Four decades of Israeli control did incalculable damage to the economy of the Gaza Strip. With a large population of 1948 refugees crammed into a tiny strip of land, with no infrastructure or natural resources, Gaza’s prospects were never bright. Gaza, however, is not simply a case of economic under-development but a uniquely cruel case of deliberate de-development. To use the Biblical phrase, Israel turned the people of Gaza into the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, into a source of cheap labour and a captive market for Israeli goods. The development of local industry was actively impeded so as to make it impossible for the Palestinians to end their subordination to Israel and to establish the economic underpinnings essential for real political independence.

Gaza is a classic case of colonial exploitation in the post-colonial era. Jewish settlements in occupied territories are immoral, illegal and an insurmountable obstacle to peace. They are at once the instrument of exploitation and the symbol of the hated occupation. In Gaza, the Jewish settlers numbered only 8,000 in 2005 compared with 1.4 million local residents. Yet the settlers controlled 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and the lion’s share of the scarce water resources. Cheek by jowl with these foreign intruders, the majority of the local population lived in abject poverty and unimaginable misery. Eighty per cent of them still subsist on less than $2 a day. The living conditions in the strip remain an affront to civilised values, a powerful precipitant to resistance and a fertile breeding ground for political extremism.

In August 2005 a Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon staged a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza, withdrawing all 8,000 settlers and destroying the houses and farms they had left behind. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, conducted an effective campaign to drive the Israelis out of Gaza. The withdrawal was a humiliation for the Israeli Defence Forces. To the world, Sharon presented the withdrawal from Gaza as a contribution to peace based on a two-state solution. But in the year after, another 12,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank, further reducing the scope for an independent Palestinian state. Land-grabbing and peace-making are simply incompatible. Israel had a choice and it chose land over peace.

The real purpose behind the move was to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel by incorporating the main settlement blocs on the West Bank to the state of Israel. Withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank. It was a unilateral Israeli move undertaken in what was seen, mistakenly in my view, as an Israeli national interest. Anchored in a fundamental rejection of the Palestinian national identity, the withdrawal from Gaza was part of a long-term effort to deny the Palestinian people any independent political existence on their land.

Israel’s settlers were withdrawn but Israeli soldiers continued to control all access to the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air. Gaza was converted overnight into an open-air prison. From this point on, the Israeli air force enjoyed unrestricted freedom to drop bombs, to make sonic booms by flying low and breaking the sound barrier, and to terrorise the hapless inhabitants of this prison.

Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.

America and the EU shamelessly joined Israel in ostracising and demonising the Hamas government and in trying to bring it down by withholding tax revenues and foreign aid. A surreal situation thus developed with a significant part of the international community imposing economic sanctions not against the occupier but against the occupied, not against the oppressor but against the oppressed.

As so often in the tragic history of Palestine, the victims were blamed for their own misfortunes. Israel’s propaganda machine persistently purveyed the notion that the Palestinians are terrorists, that they reject coexistence with the Jewish state, that their nationalism is little more than antisemitism, that Hamas is just a bunch of religious fanatics and that Islam is incompatible with democracy. But the simple truth is that the Palestinian people are a normal people with normal aspirations. They are no better but they are no worse than any other national group. What they aspire to, above all, is a piece of land to call their own on which to live in freedom and dignity.

Like other radical movements, Hamas began to moderate its political programme following its rise to power. From the ideological rejectionism of its charter, it began to move towards pragmatic accommodation of a two-state solution. In March 2007, Hamas and Fatah formed a national unity government that was ready to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Israel, however, refused to negotiate with a government that included Hamas.

It continued to play the old game of divide and rule between rival Palestinian factions. In the late 1980s, Israel had supported the nascent Hamas in order to weaken Fatah, the secular nationalist movement led by Yasser Arafat. Now Israel began to encourage the corrupt and pliant Fatah leaders to overthrow their religious political rivals and recapture power. Aggressive American neoconservatives participated in the sinister plot to instigate a Palestinian civil war. Their meddling was a major factor in the collapse of the national unity government and in driving Hamas to seize power in Gaza in June 2007 to pre-empt a Fatah coup.

The war unleashed by Israel on Gaza on 27 December was the culmination of a series of clashes and confrontations with the Hamas government. In a broader sense, however, it is a war between Israel and the Palestinian people, because the people had elected the party to power. The declared aim of the war is to weaken Hamas and to intensify the pressure until its leaders agree to a new ceasefire on Israel’s terms. The undeclared aim is to ensure that the Palestinians in Gaza are seen by the world simply as a humanitarian problem and thus to derail their struggle for independence and statehood.

The timing of the war was determined by political expediency. A general election is scheduled for 10 February and, in the lead-up to the election, all the main contenders are looking for an opportunity to prove their toughness. The army top brass had been champing at the bit to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas in order to remove the stain left on their reputation by the failure of the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006. Israel’s cynical leaders could also count on apathy and impotence of the pro-western Arab regimes and on blind support from President Bush in the twilight of his term in the White House. Bush readily obliged by putting all the blame for the crisis on Hamas, vetoing proposals at the UN Security Council for an immediate ceasefire and issuing Israel with a free pass to mount a ground invasion of Gaza.

As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of yorim ve-bokhim, “shooting and crying”.

To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak – terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Whatever the numbers, killing civilians is wrong. This rule applies to Israel as much as it does to Hamas, but Israel’s entire record is one of unbridled and unremitting brutality towards the inhabitants of Gaza. Israel also maintained the blockade of Gaza after the ceasefire came into force which, in the view of the Hamas leaders, amounted to a violation of the agreement. During the ceasefire, Israel prevented any exports from leaving the strip in clear violation of a 2005 accord, leading to a sharp drop in employment opportunities. Officially, 49.1% of the population is unemployed. At the same time, Israel restricted drastically the number of trucks carrying food, fuel, cooking-gas canisters, spare parts for water and sanitation plants, and medical supplies to Gaza. It is difficult to see how starving and freezing the civilians of Gaza could protect the people on the Israeli side of the border. But even if it did, it would still be immoral, a form of collective punishment that is strictly forbidden by international humanitarian law.

The brutality of Israel’s soldiers is fully matched by the mendacity of its spokesmen. Eight months before launching the current war on Gaza, Israel established a National Information Directorate. The core messages of this directorate to the media are that Hamas broke the ceasefire agreements; that Israel’s objective is the defence of its population; and that Israel’s forces are taking the utmost care not to hurt innocent civilians. Israel’s spin doctors have been remarkably successful in getting this message across. But, in essence, their propaganda is a pack of lies.

A wide gap separates the reality of Israel’s actions from the rhetoric of its spokesmen. It was not Hamas but the IDF that broke the ceasefire. It di d so by a raid into Gaza on 4 November that killed six Hamas men. Israel’s objective is not just the defence of its population but the eventual overthrow of the Hamas government in Gaza by turning the people against their rulers. And far from taking care to spare civilians, Israel is guilty of indiscriminate bombing and of a three-year-old blockade that has brought the inhabitants of Gaza, now 1.5 million, to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Biblical injunction of an eye for an eye is savage enough. But Israel’s insane offensive against Gaza seems to follow the logic of an eye for an eyelash. After eight days of bombing, with a death toll of more than 400 Palestinians and four Israelis, the gung-ho cabinet ordered a land invasion of Gaza the consequences of which are incalculable.

No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel’s concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.

This brief review of Israel’s record over the past four decades makes it difficult to resist the conclusion that it has become a rogue state with “an utterly unscrupulous set of leaders”. A rogue state habitually violates international law, possesses weapons of mass destruction and practises terrorism – the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. Israel fulfils all of these three criteria; the cap fits and it must wear it. Israel’s real aim is not peaceful coexistence with its Palestinian neighbours but military domination. It keeps compounding the mistakes of the past with new and more disastrous ones. Politicians, like everyone else, are of course free to repeat the lies and mistakes of the past. But it is not mandatory to do so.


 For Israel, the beginning of wisdom is to admit its mistakes

Israel should embrace Palestinian unity for its own security. A further land grab will only inflame tensions

Avi Shlaim, The Guardian, 7 September 2014

Israel has a habit of justifying its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, however illegal and indecent, in the name of security. But denying any security to the other side only perpetuates the conflict.

Five days after reaching a ceasefire with Hamas to end the latest round of fighting in Gaza, the Israeli cabinet decided to appropriate 988 acres of land on the West Bank, near the place where three Israeli teenagers were recently abducted and murdered, to make way for another illegal Jewish city. This is the biggest land grab in three decades. As the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, pointed out: “It was a decision that weakens Israel and damages its security.” What it proves, if further proof is needed, is that Israel’s leaders are determined to prevent a two-state solution to the conflict.

Operation Protective Edge, which came to an end after 50 days of fighting, was the third and deadliest war in six years between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians. On the Palestinian side, the war left 2,104 dead, mostly civilians, and 12,656 injured; 17,000 houses were destroyed or damaged; 520,000 people, out of a population of 1.8 million, were displaced. The damage to buildings and to the civilian infrastructure, estimated at $6bn, will take many years to repair.

What did Israel gain by unleashing the deadly firepower of the IDF against the caged population of this tiny coastal enclave? Virtually nothing. Israel had in fact provoked this crisis by its violent crackdown against Hamas activists on the West Bank following the murder of the three teenagers. Hamas rocket attacks – the ostensible reason for the war – were a response to Israel’s aggressive security measures. The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, defined the operation’s objective as “calm in return for calm”. But calm prevailed before Israel initiated the cycle of violence. Hamas was left with a quarter of its pre-war rocket arsenal and many of its tunnels, dubbed “terror tunnels” by Israeli spokesmen, were destroyed. But arsenals can be replenished and tunnels can be rebuilt.

Both sides claimed victory but Netanyahu’s sounded rather hollow. Announcing the ceasefire at a news conference, he claimed a major military as well as a diplomatic achievement for the state of Israel. Hardly anyone shared this assessment. The public, the media, the opposition, hawkish members of his Likud party, and some of his coalition partners, accused him of accepting a ceasefire that failed to meet any of Israel’s objectives. One newspaper gave the score as Hamas: 1; Israel: 0. Netanyahu’s popularity plummeted from 85% at the beginning of the operation to 38%.

Hamas had more solid reasons for rejoicing, despite the horrific suffering endured by the people of Gaza. By any objective criterion, the outcome of the conflict was a draw. But for a small and poorly armed militia to stand its ground against one of the mightiest armies in the world is a remarkable achievement. Not only did its fighters stand firm, they also succeeded in imposing on the enemy what it dreaded most – a war of attrition. Despite the intense military pressure, Hamas’s spirit did not break and its popularity skyrocketed. Above all, Hamas succeeded in sending a clear message that Israel would have no peace and no security as long as it continued to occupy Palestinian territory.

So what should Israel do? The beginning of wisdom is to admit mistakes and stop adding fuel to the fire. First of all, Israel should end its relentless campaign to demonise the people of Gaza. Demonisation is the enemy of dialogue and a major cause of diplomatic deadlock. The assertion of Major General Giora Eiland that there is no such thing as “innocent civilians” in Gaza is simply absurd. Gazans are normal people and, like normal people anywhere in the world, they long to live in freedom and dignity on their land.

Second, it is time to remove from Hamas the terrorist tag. This is a powerful weapon in the propaganda war but useless in the quest for peace. Hamas is indeed guilty of terrorism but it is also a legitimate political actor, having won a fair and free election in 2006. Netanyahu claims that Hamas is indistinguishable from the murderous fanatics who make up Isis. Hamas, however, is not a messianic jihadist movement but a local organisation with a pragmatic political leadership and limited aims.

Third, Israel should transfer its confrontation with Hamas from the battlefield to the conference table. On 2 June Hamas and Fatah reached an accord and formed a national unity government which consists of technocrats without a single Hamas-affiliated member. This government accepts the Quartet’s three conditions to qualify as a negotiating partner: it recognises Israel, it respects all previous Palestinian agreements with Israel and it renounces violence. One of Netanyahu’s undeclared war aims was to disrupt this unity government so Israel could continue to divide and rule, but the government survived the baptism of fire.

Hamas vehemently denies the legitimacy of Israel but its leaders have stated repeatedly that if Fatah negotiates with Israel a two-state peace deal based on the 1967 borders, and if this outcome is approved in a national referendum, it would respect it as the choice of the Palestinian people. Israel should therefore stop thinking of Palestinian unity as a threat and embrace it instead as a potential building block of its own security.

These existential issues may or may not be addressed at a later stage. For the time being in Cairo the two delegations are negotiating, through Egyptian mediators. Israel’s main demand is the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip. This is unrealistic because Gaza is the last outpost of resistance to the 47-year-old occupation and Hamas is not about to lay down its arms. Hamas is calling for the lifting of the illegal seven-year Israeli blockade of Gaza and the reopening of the borders. Other Hamas demands include the rebuilding of Gaza international airport, which Israel destroyed in 2001, the release of prisoners and the reopening of the “safe passage” to the West Bank. These are not new but grounded in earlier agreements that Israel violated.

Israel’s policy towards Gaza since the unilateral disengagement in 2005 has consisted of the systematic violations of international humanitarian law, duplicitous diplomacy and large doses of brute military force. With chilling cynicism, Israeli generals speak of their periodic incursions into Gaza as “mowing the lawn”. This policy has manifestly failed to procure the security that Israel’s citizens deserve. The writing is on the wall. A new and more constructive policy is desperately needed. Israeli politicians, however, are unlikely to be able to make any of the proposed moves without strong external pressure. This is where the international community comes in. It must begin to hold Israel to account in a way that it has so far shamefully failed to.

Comments (2)

  • Stephen Richards says:

    The fruits of clandestine meetings with Priti Patel? I wonder what the people of Britain would have done had they been ‘occupied’ during WW2? The state of Israel is a racist endeavour, a self evident truth & exposes the lie that is the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

  • Bernard Grant says:

    I would love to say that I believe that Israel will agree to anything offered by the Palestinians, even if it massively favoured Israel.
    Just going by all of Israel’s actions since 1948, they have never looked like they want a peaceful settlement and have become more determined than ever to take over the whole of Palestine. I actually blame ALL the US administrations, who have actively encouraged Israel’s ambition to occupy the whole of Palestine, they, the US see Israel as a perfectly positioned Military Base, that’s why they’ve given them nuclear weapons and some the most sophisticated hi-tec arms equipment, including fighter and bomber aircraft, hi-tec missiles, a strong and well equipped navy, etc etc. this for me is more than a stumbling block.
    The United Nations has tried over and over again to put actions in place, to stop the Israeli atrocities and aggression but the US veto all of them, giving Israel the confidence that whatever they do they will get away with it.
    Can anyone see how pressure can be put on the US, I can’t?

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