By Joharah Baker
Earlier this month, Israeli occupation forces shut down the Islamic Study Center in the heart of Hebron on claims that the charitable society, which hosts an orphanage, library, bakery and shopping center, is linked to Hamas and even trains young recruits there. The center, which was established in 1962, has provided a home for hundreds of disadvantaged Palestinians who would otherwise have nowhere else to turn.
Since its inception, shops, a school, bakeries and even medical clinics in the city have been established by the center, thus catering to thousands of Hebronites. The Israeli army raid and subsequent closure has left children without shelter, others without a school and hundreds of citizens without their businesses and therefore their livelihood. Not only were these places shut down by military order, much of their content was confiscated – computers, files, refrigerators, frozen foods and ovens. All because the Israeli government has concluded that the Islamic Study Center is funding and supporting Hamas.
While the actual closure of the shopping area is to go into effect on May 1, it might as well be now. With little legal recourse save for the bleak possibility of appealing and actually winning the case before an Israeli military judge, the Palestinian shopkeepers and the center understand they will not be in business any time soon. According to the military order tacked up on the walls, the facilities including the orphanage, the shops, bakeries and clinics pose “an unwarranted danger to the IDF and as such cannot be allowed to remain open”.
The center begs to differ, naturally. One of the society’s officials, Ahmad Farrah was quoted in the press as saying, “We are a charitable society. We have nothing to do with politics. We have been functioning since 1964, before the Israeli occupation, and the Israeli army and intelligence services investigated us numerous times and they never found any evidence suggesting any illegal activities.”
This is certainly not the first time the Israeli military raids Palestinian charitable societies in the name of Israeli security and allegations of ties with Hamas. In both Gaza and the West Bank, Israel has repeatedly shut down societies and centers on the basis of links with the Islamic movement. They have also shut down others alleging ties with Fateh or the Islamic Jihad. Still, even as often as this may happen, it is extremely disturbing all the same.
Israeli columnist Gideon Levy wrote an article about the Hebron raid in the Israeli daily Haaretz in which he basically slashes the Israeli military establishment for its ridiculous claims that a beauty shop, an orphanage or a clothing store could be used as a cover for training Hamas operatives. However, one is only to read some of the posts below the article to understand why such outrageous behavior is accepted and even praised by so many Israelis and Jews around the world.
“This Levy wants us to feel pity for these little Arabs, future Martyrs? Well I don’t. There are much worse disasters, massacres, genocides and human tragedies in the world than wasting precious thought, time and resources on the whining Arabs that nothing is ever enough for them,” writes one blogger named “Genuine Tosefta”.
One Australian Jew projected the deep-set racism so many Israelis or pro-Israelis feel towards the Palestinians. He wrote, “I think the children should have all explained to them [sic] and ask them if they wish to be re-settled in a Jewish home full of love and kindness without the threat of teaching them the sins of Hamas and its partners.” Excuse me?
While the incident is atrocious enough on its own, the underlying mentality that fuels and gives credence to such claims is the real threat, not only against Hamas but against the Palestinians in general. The fact that an orphanage could be shut down in an instant and the propaganda swallowed up whole about it being a spawning ground for Hamas suicide bombers is not only offensive in nature but completely incredible to any semi-sane listener not blinded by prejudice.
But like all statements, acts or even concepts, this last atrocity was not originated in a vacuum. Israel has long linked “acts of terror”, especially those perpetrated by Hamas, to Islam itself. Of course, this concept was largely exasperated by US President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” on the premise that “You are either with us or against us” following the attacks of September 11. In today’s world, Islam often equated with violence, terror and jihad, the concept of which has been slaughtered, taken out of its context and misused and abused by those in power who so desperately need to create humanity’s villain out one of humanity’s greatest religions. And of course, Israel does not lose a single opportunity to exploit this newly established dichotomy at every turn.
An article published on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website outlines the link between Islam’s call for charitable activities and Hamas. “Hamas’s dawa network turns the perpetrating of terrorist acts, including suicide terrorism, as a means that, in effect, provides economic security and certainty in the severe economic situation that the Palestinian population currently finds itself in, and thus encourages the perpetrating of such acts of terrorism.”
The Islamic Study Center in Hebron maintains it is not linked to Hamas in any way and was established long before Hamas was even conceptualized. The hundreds of orphans who enjoy a warm bed, hot meals and an education most likely do not concern themselves with the Islamic movement. This is not to say that some of those benefiting from the center’s facilities or others who have leased shops from them are not supporters of Hamas. There probably are some, just like there are others who support Fateh, the PFLP or no one for that matter and only care about bringing home a paycheck at the end of the month to feed their families. But that is not the point, is it? The point is, the Israeli army doesn’t care about the little people caught in the middle. It does not care about the children whose first home is broken or lost and whose second is also being snatched away.
The point is, a dangerous foundation has been laid. Put the two phrases “Israeli security” and “Hamas” together and magically “The end justifies the means.” Logic flies out the window because Israel has been able to evoke images of dead Israelis, rockets and intimidating armed and green-swathed men carrying the Quran the moment Islam or Hamas is uttered.
What is necessary here is not a praise of the Islamic movement but a distinction between Hamas as a political movement and Islam as a religion. The two are not synonymous. The Palestinians are battling enough prejudices just by being Palestinian without having to worry that an orphanage could so easily be labeled a Hamas training camp with hardly anyone batting an eye.
To be fair, some have already made the distinction. Commenting on Gideon Levy’s article one blogger named Mark simply wrote, “IDF, shame on you.”
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (This article was first published in Miftah.org and is republished by PalestineChronicle.com with permission)