The New York Times today, in the very first sentence of its article titled, “Leader of Hamas Delivers Defiant Speech at Anniversary Celebration,” reports, “GAZA CITY — Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, gave a defiant speech on Saturday, vowing to build an Islamic Palestinian state on all the land of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Despite quoting Meshal at length in the article, there was no direct quote confirming this first sentence. The Jerusalem Post did provide a direct quote: “Palestine was, still is and will always be Arab and Islamic…Palestine belongs to us and to no one else.” This is consistent with the Hamas Covenant 1988, which states in Article Thirty-One: “It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region, because the day these followers should take over there will be nothing but carnage, displacement and terror.”
Hamas and Israeli leaders share a fundamental agreement, which is that the conflict in Palestine is a religious one, between those who want Jewish sovereignty versus those who want Islamic sovereignty in all of what, after WWI, was called “Mandate Palestine” ( “from the River to the Sea,” 78% of which is today called Israel.) The leaders of both Hamas and Israel need the conflict to be framed this way because it diverts everybody’s attention away from what most people, regardless of their religion, want more than anything else, but what the Hamas and Israeli leaders do not want:
Most people in Palestine/Israel want peace and security in a society based on equality, concern for one another and mutual aid. In an egalitarian society where people are equal regardless of their religion, in which there are no rich and no poor, in which all have an equal say in determining the laws because they can attend the meetings that make the laws (as discussed in Thinking about Revolution) then no elites would be able to enjoy special privileges and power and wealth the way the billionaires and politicians and generals who rule Israel do and the way Islamic “supreme rulers” and clerics with other similar titles do in Islamic theocracies.
Were it not for their success in framing the conflict as a religious one, Israel’s ruling elite would be quickly swept away by a working class movement of Israelis, such as the one that sparked the huge demonstrations in Israel, back in August 2011, against the impoverishment of ordinary Israelis. But this movement for economic equality, directed against the billionaires and politicians ruling Israel, fell apart as soon as Prime Minister Netanyahu used a pretext in Gaza to direct Israelis’ attention to the great bogeyman—Palestinians. Posing as the protector of all Israeli Jews against their “real enemy”—Arabs—allowed Netanyahu to neutralize the working class movement. This is the strategy of social control that Israeli leaders absolutely depend upon, and without which they would be swept from power. In order for this strategy to work, Jews must be made to fear non-Jews. And in order to make this so, the non-Jews must be perceived by Jews as having a terrible goal, one that would mean misery or worse for Jews.
Israeli leaders do two things to create this sufficiently frightening bogeyman. First, they carry out violent ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, driving most of the non-Jewish Palestinians out of what became Israel in 1947-9, driving more out in 1967, and refusing to this day to let these (now millions) of refugees return to their land inside what is called Israel. Thus 70% of the people living today in Gaza are refugees from Israel itself. Israeli leaders either deny that they carry out ethnic cleansing or they justify it as necessary to ensure that there will be a Jewish majority of at least 80% in Israel so that it will be a “Jewish state” without which, Israeli leaders falsely claim, Jews cannot be safe in the world. Using the need to protect this ethnic cleansing project as their excuse, Israeli leaders inflict one brutal atrocity after another on the Palestinians, in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. The effect is exactly as intended: it makes Palestinians furious, and angry at the Israeli government; and some, seeing that the Israeli government claims to be “of the Jewish people,” get angry at Jews, which is exactly what Israel’s leaders want to happen.
Israeli leaders, starting with the first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, have been telling Jews that the “Arabs” want to “drive the Jews into the sea.” Anything that helps make this lie credible helps Israel’s leaders control and dominate ordinary Jews and remain in power.
Enter Hamas. Hamas never says that it wants all people in Mandate Palestine to live as equals under the law. No. It says it wants Islam to be sovereign. It’s true that if one reads further in the Hamas Covenant one will find language saying that Jews and Christians and Muslims will live peaceably together under this sovereignty of Islam. Few Jews, however, read this Covenant. And even if they did they would have good reason to be skeptical because they know full well that Hamas directs violence against ordinary non-combatant Israeli Jews, often lethal violence, which suggests that Hamas considers Jewish people to be the enemy just because they are Jewish and living in Mandate Palestine. Hamas makes sure that Israeli Jews remain terrified of Palestinians. This is why the Israeli government does things to strengthen Hamas’s power in Gaza, over and over again. Every time Israel attacks Gaza, Hamas emerges more powerful. All reporters on the scene, regardless of their political orientation, say this is true. Israel’s leaders know it is true; that’s precisely why they attack Gaza as they do. These attacks on Gaza are, thus, the second thing Israeli leaders do to create a sufficiently frightening bogeyman with which to control Israeli Jews.
Hamas and Israel’s leaders need each other; each helps the other keep a grip on its own people, providing the other a perfect enemy with which to frighten its “own people” into obedience.
While playing this role for Israel’s leaders, Hamas needs to tell Palestinians that it is fighting for what Palestinians actually want. Thus Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal, spoke eloquently in Gaza today in opposing the right of Israel, as a Jewish state, to exist. He’s right. A Jewish state based, as Israel is, on ethnic cleansing and making non-Jews second-class citizens under the law, has no right to exist, no more than the American slave-based Confederacy or the German Master-Race Aryan state or the apartheid-based South African state had a right to exist. And Meshal spoke eloquently about the right of Palestinians to use violence against Israel. Again, he is perfectly right, except for one thing. When Hamas uses violence against Israeli soldiers, and when Palestinians in general use violence against the violent civilian Jewish settlers who attack Palestinians, this is both morally justified as self-defense and also politically useful because it helps the world (and especially Israeli Jews) see that Palestinians are only being violent in self-defense, against those who are violently attacking them to enforce ethnic cleansing. But when Hamas kills non-combatant Israeli Jews (with rockets or suicide bombers, it makes no difference) it is not in self-defense, it is not morally justified, it accomplishes nothing positive militarily or otherwise for Palestinians, it actually strengthens Israeli leaders’ power and ability to continue the ethnic cleansing, and (this is the explanation for it) it strengthens Hamas’s power over Palestinians for the reasons discussed above.
The ordinary people who live in Mandate Palestine are in a carefully laid trap. The only way to escape the trap is to first understand that it exists and then to deliberately escape from it, by rejecting the entire “religious war” framework that the trap depends upon.