Thursday, August 7, 2014

On Demonizing the Enemy

Do you think that Hamas celebrates death, intends to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, deliberately fires rockets from populated areas in order to increase Palestinian casualties and to embarrass  Israel on the world stage, and forces Gazan civilians to act as human shields?  Do you think that if they could, they would wipe out every Israeli man, woman, and child, and that it is only Iron Dome and the primitiveness of their rockets that prevents this outcome?  Do you think they built tunnels for this purpose? 

If you do, I don’t know why. You don’t have any credible evidence to warrant these claims.  And yes, I have read the Hamas Charter, and yes, the movement is anti-Semitic.

Here’s two more questions: Are you a liberal who feels bad about the suffering of the Gazans, but who makes a sharp distinction between them and Hamas? Does it make a difference to you that while some Gazans express reservations about Hamas’ fundamentalist ideology, many, perhaps most of them, support Hamas’s resistance against Israel – and I assume  that is also true of most West Bank Palestinians?

Like most insurgent movements with a military wing, Hamas is hardly a paragon of virtue in wartime. There is  considerable evidence that Hamas recklessly endangers the lives of Palestinian citizens by firing indiscriminately rockets and missiles. This constitutes a war crime.  I really can’t see that they actually endanger the lives of Israelis – they certainly frighten them --  but firing rockets into Israel the way they do should be considered a war crime. An occupied people under a brutal siege has a right to armed resistance.  If it were the Jews and not the Palestinians, you would agree.  It may not be prudent for them to exercise that right, but they have it.

People ask, “What is Israel supposed to do when rockets are fired at them?” To them I ask, “How are the Palestinians supposed to fight justly when they can’t get close enough to well-protected IDF  forces to shoot at them?” These are hard questions but whatever their answers, both sides must take maximum reasonable precautions to spare civilians. Once again, both sides didn’t, and both sides committed war crimes, though not of the same magnitude.  I have not yet been entirely convinced that Hamas fought a just war  – although political theorist Anthony Burke makes a persuasive argument for the justice of Hamas’s waging war under international humanitarian law and the laws of war. Their demands for a truce are reasonable, and in most cases, Israel has agreed to these demands in the past.

Now here’s a question for me: if I think that the Palestinians have the right to resort to armed resistance as a last resort, why do I detest Hamas? That’s easy. They are a  religious fundamentalist political party that opposes all my liberal values. I detest all religious fundamentalist political parties. I shudder to think how the Jewish Home party, or better, the Shas party, would fight a war were they to be in control of the Israeli government, and Israel  was under Palestinian occupation for generations, and a decade long-siege. Needless to say I detest Hamas’s  anti-Semitism, just like I detest the anti-Palestinianism and anti-Arabism of the Jewish fundamentalist right.

But just because I detest a political party, that doesn’t mean I have the right to interfere with a democratically-elected government, provided that government is not interfering with my country.  And when they do interfere with my country, I only resort to war as a last resort, after all other resorts fail. In this case, of course, the Palestinians are not a separate independent country, but a people under occupation and siege. 

What I have written makes me a defender of liberal values, not Hamas.  In wartime, those values often get chucked overboard by liberals, especially if they feel a need to rally around the flag.  Demonizing the enemy is as old as warfare.  We shouldn’t do it. Especially when that enemy has been under a brutal occupation for decades.

8 comments:

American Dream said...

Do you mean to say, "but firing rockets into Israel the way they do should be considered a war crime" or "but firing rockets into Israel the way they do should NOT be considered a war crime"?

Ael said...

Bravo, sir.

You are very brave to make these common sense statements.

I wish it did not require courage, but mobs have no empathy.

Hugh Ekeberg said...

Just wondering, is it credible to call Hamas anti-Semitic when they themselves are also Semitic? This term seemed relevant in Europe a long time ago, but in the middle east, it has no currency.

Another term is warranted I think. Especially given how its' usage is so abused by Zionists.

droid said...

Great post.

One thing I havent seen analysed is the frequency and targeting of rockets and raids. There was a report of a marine attack in the first days of the current conflict, the notorious video of the attack on the guard post (rather than the nearby kibbutz), the claims that at least some rockets are in fact, aimed at military targets, and of course, the IDF videos which seem to show a lot of Hamas fighters attempting to engage soldiers rather than attack civilians.

Since Hamas disavowed the use of suicide bombs when they entered the political process 2006, I think a strong case could be made that they have become a far more 'moral' military force than the IDF (thats not to say that their rockets don't violate the laws of distinction due to their indiscriminate nature of course).

Ash Mayer-Thibault said...

It is problematic to paint Hamas as antisemitic for a few reasons.
First of all it has moved away from it's charter ever since it became a political party. Arguing for a long term truce with Israel. The only reason it hasn't modified the charter yet some say, is to maintain an internal balance within the different tendencies which compose it.


Secondly, and more importantly. Antisemitism is an ideology fundamentally tied to European nation building and modernization, in which the jews slowly started to be seen in the same way as colonized people in Africa, America and Asia (after having been hated for their religious particularism in medieval Europe, but antisemitism and medieval antijudaism should not be confused). It was an ideology of domination and oppression which considered a threat the aspirations of jews to equality. Now antisemitism being an European ideology doesn't mean that it only exists in Europe. However a big difference should be made between on one hand the resentment an oppressed and colonized people might feel towards the colonizer and racist ideologies on the other which serve to justify systematic domination or oppression. "Kill the boer" was a black south African slogan but it is not comparable to the semi-racism that the boer faced when dominated by the new, english colonizers during the boer wars at the end of the 19th century. There are other examples.

So is the article 7 of the Hamas charter for example, racism or resentment? The objective relations of power on the ground tend towards the second.

However this doesn't mean that European antisemitism cannot be considered ideological ammunition in Palestine against the occupation. Of course, wrongfully so, because it reinforces antisemites who might pose a threat to jews in other contexts, it reinforces Israeli hasbara, it whitewashes the role of British, French or American imperialism in the situation and it prevents Palestinians from having a better understanding of their own situation. And it's the role of jews who fight for justice and decolonization (whether they call themselves antizionists or not is irrelevant in this case IMO) to point out the differences. But the two should be made distinct.


I also wanted to comment on the very idea of "religious fundamentalism" which I think should be deconstructed, both in the case of islam and judaism, but I'll leave this for another time.

droid said...

Great post.

One thing I havent seen analysed is the frequency and targeting of rockets and raids. There was a report of a marine attack in the first days of the current conflict, the notorious video of the attack on the guard post (rather than the nearby kibbutz), the claims that at least some rockets are in fact, aimed at military targets, and of course, the IDF videos which seem to show a lot of Hamas fighters attempting to engage soldiers rather than attack civilians.

Since Hamas disavowed the use of suicide bombs when they entered the political process 2006, I think a strong case could be made that they have become a far more 'moral' military force than the IDF (thats not to say that their rockets don't violate the laws of distinction due to their indiscriminate nature of course).

anthony42burke said...

Jerry, thanks for this excellent post, I certainly share your feelings about Hamas and your comment that the way they fire rockets contravenes the international law of war. To clarify my own argument - I argued, in some sorrow, that if Hamas' objective is to break the blockade, they have a just cause for war i.e. to resort to force, but this is not an endorsement of the way that have either used rockets or put their own people in the path of danger. Very best, AB.

Louis said...

Jeffrey Goldberg answered your questions 3 days (August 4) before you asked them.

http://www.theatlantic.com/jeffrey-goldberg/