By Agustin Velloso
2008 marks the 20th anniversary of Hamas as a political movement in Palestine, involving two decades of continuous struggle against Israeli occupation. Most importantly, Hamas has confronted not just the Middle East’s most powerful army, equipped with state of the art weaponry and nuclear arms, but also the most powerful Western countries. These have supported Israel, completely contravening international law in relation to the Occupation. In addition, Hamas has been abandoned to its fate by neighbouring Arab regimes.
In spite of this, since its beginning in1988, Hamas has grown year after year until, in January 2006, it won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories. It is reasonable to conclude that this popular validation confirms beyond doubt that the Palestinian people support the political programme of Hamas to end Israeli occupation of their land.
It is also a sign of appreciation for Hamas’ impressive record of service: resistance in front of Occupation aggression, honesty in political management, concern for the most deprived people and efforts to achieve national and political unity.
Moreover, many Hamas leaders have sacrificed their lives during these 20 years: Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, Yahya Ayyash, Mahmoud Zahar’s sons and plenty of others. One must also remember all the prisoners in Israeli jails: social and political leaders, congressmen, mayors, as well as women and children. To that number one must also add, ironically, Hamas prisoners in Palestinian Authority jails and tortured and killed by PA policemen.
Although it is clear that Hamas has no monopoly on the fight for national liberation, nor seeks one, a few unquestionable realities have emerged. The 2006 election results have been followed by consistent popular support. This was evident during the tearing down of the border wall in Rafah some weeks ago and in the human chain against the blockade three days ago. That support and the wider support of the Arab masses, are indisputable facts in 2008.
The panic at this reality felt by Israel and its allies is another clear signal of Hamas’ role in the Palestinian conflict. Hamas’ rivals in the Palestinian Authority supported by the "international community", headed by Abu Mazen, Saeb Erekat, Nabil Shaath and a few others, is falling apart since Fatah was kicked out of Gaza last year.
The Minister of Culture has renounced his post. Rank and file civil servants curse Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – a much-heralded former World Bank expert imposed by the US government – for his economic policies and totalitarian ways.
That the PA – and thus its Israeli and US backers – has lost Gaza is self-evident. Israel and its allies now fear the West Bank may follow suit. All credit for this belongs to the Palestinian people, who make enormous sacrifices and correspondingly vote for people prepared to share their burden. The corollary is that they despise false prophets of peace negotiations and alleged honest brokers.
In recognizing the current authority of Hamas, one must remember that its political foundation – the Covenant of August 18th 1988 – states, among other things, that peace negotiations have been useless as a means to achieving Palestinian’s national objectives, while resistance is the appropriate way towards liberation.
Palestine’s recent history clearly shows what the two different political alternatives have achieved. Supporters of negotiations with Israel as sketched out by Yasser Arafat have seen settlements increase, more deaths, more prisoners in Israeli jails, repeated destruction of houses and infrastructure, relentless land-theft, generalized terror and misery.
Resistance efficiently and unabatedly threatens the occupiers’ rule. Furthermore, it erodes the occupier’s morale while strengthening its own. By demonstrating the injustice and inhumanity of the Occupation, resistance maintains dignity for the occupied people under the most difficult conditions. At the same time, it exposes Western acquiescence in and support for the Occupation. Resistance renders inescapable Western complicity in Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians and deciphers the real meaning of Western democracy, modernity and Christian values.
With its massacres in Gaza, Israel mimics once again what the US is doing in Iraq: killing, destroying, dividing, oppressing and assaulting in a thousand ways in an endless futile cycle. This is no more than the logical outcome of every military occupation by a foreign power. No occupation is possible without violence.
Hamas may reckon that, after 20 years of resistance and with their increased political power, maybe the time has come to add negotiation to their strategy. On February 21st this year the European Parliament called for an end to the blockade of Gaza, finally joining those Arab leaders who insist that the international community talks to Hamas.
This is not a signal of these leaders’ generosity, of course. But Hamas has taken the bait and offered Israel a truce several times. It has talked to third parties – effectively, countries other than the US – about a peace agreement with the Israeli occupiers. As various analysts have said in the past, this is what Israel fears most.
The reason for its fear is that lions do not negotiate with gazelles. They just kill and eat as many as they want. Lions have never heard of animal rights or worried about television footage of their gazelle-eating crimes. So they have no need to pretend their killings are in self-defence or to persuade all the other animals that gazelles are dangerous terrorists and represent a serious threat to the lions’ right to exist.
Israel’s deputy minister of defence has notoriously used the army radio to threaten Gaza’s one and a half million people with another Shoah (Holocaust), something forbidden by international law and clearly a warning about events to come in Palestine.
Israel, usually responsible for killing a couple of Palestinians a day, this week is killing ten and twenty times more, in order to provoke Hamas into giving up its calls for peace and its conversations with mediators and take once more to its Qassam rockets. While these home-made rockets are reported as fearsome weapons by Israeli and Western media, they are well aware that, after six years of their use, their total victims are fewer the number of Palestinians killed in a single Israeli air force attack on Gaza.
Hamas scored an important victory when it tore down the Rafah border wall, adding yet another humiliation to Olmert’s fragile government, still reeling from the fiasco of its 2006 Lebanon invasion. Israel, as happens with the US, cannot allow victims to go unpunished if they outwit the Boss. Hamas cannot be allowed to travel the world proposing peace conversations to third parties, let alone that these third parties might explain to the world that Israel rejects those peace proposals. The lion knows it gets fatter eating gazelles than engaging them in conversation.
The best way for Israel to avoid negotiations with Hamas is to provoke the movement into abandoning peace proposals. If the price is just that the world learns one more time that Israel can kill twenty Palestinians a day for a month or two, then Israel is willing to pay up. Ultimately, Israel can always count on the support of Western media: Qassam rockets will get front page coverage while Palestinian children and babies will be reported as fighters killed in confrontations. Hamas, as ever, gets depicted as an incorrigible branch of the international terrorism.
Offering peace talks is never enough for liberation movements to get recognition from their opponents. For the offer of negotiations to have an impact, the aggressor has to pay the price of not taking into account the rights of the oppressed. Unpunished, the aggressor sees no need to talk. So Israel sees no need to negotiate with Palestinians. What is called "the peace process" will forever benefit Israel exclusively unless the international community or the Palestinian resistance bring Israel to book for its crimes.
This is the sad reality of justice in the world. Hamas, as the Palestinian people’s representative, is the legitimate party to decide on the national liberation strategy. The international community, responsible for upholding international law, should at least respect Palestinians’ right to resistance against the illegal Occupation.
Given that failure to uphold international law and Western government support for the ongoing boycott against Gaza on the one hand and on the other the never ending horror of Israeli crimes, Palestinian supporters must in any case increase their solidarity with Hamas and the Palestinian cause.
-Agustin Velloso is a university lecturer in Spain. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (Toni Solo, in Nicaragua, translated this article from Spanish).