This piece does not intend upon being in support of Hamas. This essay is absolutely not going to show support of any of the operations that bring about the killing of Israeli civilians, which are openly condemned even by some members of Hamas. Yet, it can not be denied that a great number of the Palestinian population itself and the Muslim world at large, supports Hamas and recognises it as a legitimate political party with a valid social and educational program. It competes in established municipal and administrative elections and gains many seats by democratic vote. Many of its leaders are in Israeli jails (when they and their families are not assassinated by order of the Israeli government), and it appears that Israel has an enormous need to destroy Hamas, literally and figuratively. Putting Hamas into an inferior category and attempting to create a negative aura around it, primarily for the fact that it is religiously based (Muslim) and thus to suggest even that those who may support it in some way are harbingers of a new dark age for the entire Middle East, is a common Zionist and Israeli activity. It has become a well-established campaign and often claims are made against Hamas that have no bearing in reality, and against the evidence that they have actively adhered to a truce on military operations, even when Israel did not. It must also be remembered, that criticism of Hamas as a religiously inspired movement is contradictory especially when the raison d’être of Israel is as a state with a Jewish majority and where there are religious laws that reflect the cultural tradition of this majority.
When the supporters and leaders of this group are dismissed for their intellectual capacities, it is a matter of disregard for the dignity of self-determination of a people and for the respect that is due to a human being who does not deserve to be insulted as intellectually inferior. This article takes to task the insulting of Hamas on an intellectual level.
There is a small group of politically active British Jews who operate and make their personal statements under the name of a group called Jews Against Zionism. Not to be confused with the Orthodox Jews, True Torah Jews Against Zionism Jews Against Zionism, many members of this group are proud to consider themselves secular, although by no means all of them are, and they are often occupied in labour union activities and Palestine solidarity campaign work. Their online coffeehouses are basically Mark Elf’s blog, Jews Sans Frontieres, Dead Men Left, and Lenin’s Tomb, not to mention, most of their members are prominent contributors to a Yahoo Group list which represents a mainly British Palestine solidarity group called Just Peace UK and its similar group specifically for Jews, Jews for Justice for Palestinians. The Secretary of Jews Against Zionism, Tony Greenstein, had made a recent comment on Elf’s blog which is cause for wonder as to his opinion of the Palestinian street.
Elf’s other blog, Jews Against Zionism reprinted a complete version of Nick Cohen’s article on Anti-Semitism published in the New Statesman. If you aren’t familiar with this journal, their online blurb states: “The New Statesman was created in 1913 with the aim of permeating the educated and influential classes with socialist ideas.” Great! Sounds like a very noble aim. Sounds like it was created for the folks of Jews Against Zionism. In fact, education is so important, that illiteracy may be one claim that rather than have a compassionate tone for those who have not had much opportunity, can be hurled as a condemnation.
This, in fact, seems to be what Tony Greenstein is doing in a comment to Cohen’s essay. Greenstein writes:
“To suggest that Hamas is at the centre of a multiheaded, anti-Semitic hydra is political paranoia. Israeli soldiers and settlers, with fists, boots and bullets, bulldoze the houses and crops of poor peasants, steal their water and land, kill their children and humiliate their elders, all in the name of the Jews. It is, after all, a Jewish state.”
So far, so good. Yet, Greenstein continues, “Nick Cohen wonders why the illiterates of Hamas echo the absurdities of European anti-Semites? He muddles cause and effect and persists in looking down the telescope the wrong way.”
Woah… what did Cohen claim about Hamas? That they were a bunch of illiterates? If one knows anything at all about Hamas, claiming that education and literacy are unimportant to them is quite the lie and smear. Almost all of the Hamas leaders and spokesmen not only are clerics and university educated, but most have an enviable articulacy that has won them influence not only in their natural constituency, but also abroad. One is not obligated to support Hamas, or even to like them, however, a recognition of their intellectual contribution to the Palestinian street is almost de rigueur.
On the BBC page which addresses the question, “Who are Hamas?” the first of two functions is stated as: “It is involved in building schools and hospitals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in helping the community in social and religious ways.”
Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi and Mamoud Zahar were Physicians, Khalad Mashaal a physics professor. Most of the spokesmen living abroad are university educated. It might be interesting to determine what educational background Greenstein, and Elf who support his words have, but it appears unlikely that they have undergone such advanced levels of higher education necessary to be involved in the professions of the Hamas leaders cited. To claim that those of Hamas are illiterates is basically just an insult, like calling people who don’t agree with you fascists.
MSN Encarta’s site says, “Many of Hamas’s leaders were educated in Cairo during the rule of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Present members include religious leaders, sheikhs (Arab chiefs), intellectuals, businessmen, young activists, and paramilitary fighters. Hamas provides social services to the needy in the 11 refugee camps in Gaza. Providing social welfare and education through clinics, kindergartens, summer camps, medical services, sports programs, and job programs ties the Hamas leadership to its supporters.” Doesn’t sound like a bunch of ignorant hoodlums who can barely write their names….
All right then, WHAT did Cohen actually say about Hamas to get this rise out of Greenstein? Here is what Cohen said about Hamas: ”Please don’t tell me that it helps the Palestinians to give the far right the time of day, or pretend that Palestinian liberals, socialists, women, gays, freethinkers and Christians (let alone Israeli Jews) would prosper in a Palestine ruled by Hamas.”
And then he said this:
“While we’re at it, don’t excuse Hamas and Islamic Jihad and all the rest by saying the foundation of Israel and the defeat of all the Arab attempts to destroy it made them that way.”
Upon reading it ten times, no one can find a suggestion that Hamas is comprised a bunch of illiterates. In the article, they surely aren’t considered the good guys, but to berate them intellectually, and with that, to suggest that the people who might consider Hamas a valid representative for themselves, precisely because Hamas has social and educational matters as one of their primary goals for Palestinian society, is quite offensive to the Palestinian street, and this is precisely what Tony Greenstein is saying when he is criticising Nick Cohen for conflating “the absurdities of European anti-Semitism” with the “illiterates of Hamas”.
Do only a handful of fanatics support Hamas? According to the BBC site, “The grass-roots organisation – with a political and a military wing – has an unknown number of hard-core members but tens of thousands of supporters and sympathisers.”
Again, from MSN Encarta; “Hamas’s following is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, but until 2000, less than 18 percent of the population of the West Bank and Gaza supported its political views. By 2004 support for Hamas grew to a quarter of the approximately 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with most of that support in the more impoverished region of Gaza.”
Hamas leaders are greatly revered by the populace. On August 22, 2003, nearly 100,000 Palestinians crowded the streets to mourn the death of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab. That sure is a lot of people for a funeral…
Besides the educational and charitable work that Hamas objectively provides, “the extensive array of charitable and welfare services that stood in stark contrast to the inefficiency and collapse of the PA ministries” Merip,
it also has an organisational goal, and that is “to forge a “new national movement” out of the debris of the old. If there was a strategy, it seemed to be the “resistance only” path charted by Hizballah in south Lebanon. If there was a political objective, it appeared to be to effect a compelled, non-negotiated Israeli retreat from part or all of the Occupied Territories, again with south Lebanon as the model. “The intifada is about forcing Israel’s withdrawal from the 1967 territories,” said Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, then the Hamas political leader in Gaza, in October 2002. “But that doesn’t mean the Arab-Israeli conflict will be over.”” Merip
Basically, these are the things that Jews Against Zionism have often claimed to support, that the Intifada is legitimate, that Israel must retreat from the Occupied Territories, that the PA has not been providing services for the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories and the international community itself has washed its hands of responsibility for them. It would seem that Hamas is carrying some of the same political baggage.
So, the question begs, can Hamas in some way be considered as representative of Palestinian national political aspirations which are held by a great segment of the populace? Are they a radical faction that have no support in the Palestinian street? “In Palestinian local government elections in Gaza and the West Bank in December 2004, January and May, Hamas lists won an estimated 60 percent of all seats and clear majorities in 30 percent of all councils. The greatest prize was the West Bank town of Qalqilya, where Hamas’ “Change and Reform” slate took all 15 positions, a victory seen as a protest not only against Fatah’s history of mismanagement but also against Fatah’s powerlessness to prevent the encirclement of the town on all sides by Israel’s wall. Predictably, these successes have posed a “dilemma” for US and European diplomats, who champion “Arab democracy” on the one hand but are compelled to ostracize the main Palestinian beneficiary of democracy on the other.” Merip.
Ostracising Hamas is the dilemma, and not a simple task either, because they are considered to have a legitimate political goal, to enjoy popular support by the Palestinian people who see this group as succeeding where the PA has failed, and who have democratically elected by a large majority with continual consensus not only in the Gaza Strip. To make blanket statements that are not factually established, but rather based on typically racist insults is something one would expect from those who really would like to undermine the legitimacy of the choices that the Palestinians make for themselves to bring about the end of their domination by the Zionists. Tony Greenstein who is known for blaming Israel Shamir, Paul Eisen and others for their alleged ties with right wing racists (often obfuscating the entire issue by declaring that those who can’t be pinned down with any specific accusation, but who nevertheless are vocal critical voices to the Jewish lobby as being “third positionists”) appears here to be himself a proper white supremacist ideologist.