Be Fair to Hamas, Mr. Obama

By Stuart Littlewood – London

Can it be true? This week in the High Court in London, lawyers acting for an independent Palestinian organization will start proceedings against the British government.

They seek a judicial review of policy decisions that have brought the UK’s relations with Israel into conflict with international law.

"The UK has clear international law obligations to do something effective to stop Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians,” says Phil Shiner who leads the case. “It must co-operate with other states using all lawful means to bring the situation to an end and it must stop giving aid and assistance to Israel. This means that the UK’s continuing policy of arms trading with Israel is completely out of bounds, as is our role in continuing with the EU preferential trading agreement. The point of this case is to make the Government focus on what it is legally obliged to do, beyond ineffective hand-wringing.”

At the same time an adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has written to US President Barack Obama asking him to “treat Palestinians fairly and be open-minded in dealing with Hamas”. 

His plea will be echoed by millions who are sick of the hypocrisy and double standards that are at the root of the West’s failure to deliver justice in the Holy Land.

I hear the letter was delivered to US Senator John Kerry during his recent visit to the war-torn Gaza Strip. A pity Kerry, who heads the Senate’s foreign relations committee, didn’t bother to meet Hamas while there.

A delegation of six British MPs also visited the Gaza Strip to review the situation and assess the crisis. Their trip was organized by CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding), which aims to promote "an enlightened and positive approach to Arab-British relations". There is no mention of a meeting with Hamas in their press release.

Other visitors included the president of the European Parliament and president of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly Hans Gert with a delegation. Gert said he had no intention of meeting Hamas. ”Our visit to the Strip is just to inspect the situation in Gaza.” Incredible.

Are these the best political brains tax money can buy?

Palestinians are polite, hospitable and sophisticated. You learn a lot if you stop and talk. For the benefit of us ordinary folk do please tell us, Mr. Obama, why top politicians, who should know better, rule out conversation with Hamas.

Are Hamas not their cup of tea?

True, many Hamas leaders had a tough upbringing in refugee camps and did time in Israeli jails or in exile. But they have overcome… they have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. PM Haniyeh is the product of a refugee camp and was a leading figure in the student movement before graduating from the Islamic University and entering politics. Arrested three times by the Israelis, he was deported to South Lebanon in 1992. He became director of the office of Sheikh Yassin, a co-founder and the spiritual leader of Hamas who was assassinated by the Israelis in 2004. Haniyeh is also an Imam.

Foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, brought up in Egypt, is a surgeon and headed the nursing department at the Islamic University. He was deported along with Haniyeh to South Lebanon. Targeted for assassination, Al-Zahar’s home was bombed in 2003 by an Israeli F-16 murdering his eldest son and seriously injuring his wife. Last year an Israeli air raid killed a second son.

Looking through the list of Hamas ministers published shortly after their election victory in 2006, many have professional qualifications and are better equipped for office than their western counterparts. Dr. Basem Naim, the health minister, has a degree in medicine from Germany and a PhD in surgery. The Minister of National Economy has a degree in civil engineering. The deputy PM and Education Minister is Dean of Islamic Studies and Law at al-Najah University and has a PhD in Middle East Studies from Manchester University. The Finance Minister has a PhD from Iowa University.

There is even a Minister for Women’s Affairs, a mother of seven, who holds a PhD in Islamic Sharia. The Minister of Public Works has a degree in civil engineering from Alabama University. The Minister of Culture graduated from teacher training college in Ramallah and holds a master’s in Sharia. The Minister of Planning holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania and was visiting professor at several US universities. The Minister of Agriculture has a PhD in Environment and Water from Manchester University and is a fellow of the American Society for Science Advancement.

So Hamas clearly has a pool of talent that might have governed wisely given the chance. But the pro-Israel alliance made it their business to thwart this fledgling Arab democracy at every turn and try to crush it.

Re-writing the Charter Would Be Smart

Hamas’s popularity stems largely from its social, educational and healthcare programmes. Armed resistance to Israel’s Occupation is their right. Serious negotiations will come only after Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders, as required by international law.

Hamas’s charter says: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." It does not state that a Hamas government is sworn to destroy Israel, although it includes a ‘hadith’ (reported saying of the Prophet) about killing Jews hiding behind rocks. But are such reports from the 8th or 9th century to be taken seriously in diplomatic circles in the 21st century?
The land of Palestine is regarded as an Islamic Waqf (trust) consecrated for future Muslim generations. It cannot be negotiated away by political leaders. Hamas therefore rejects peace moves that involve more territorial concessions.
The West condemns the charter, which was written well before Hamas had pretensions to government. It is what one might expect from a religiously inspired resistance movement – long-winded and couched in inflammatory language. But is it any more offensive than the outrageous mission statements of Israel’s political parties or its racist laws?
Nevertheless Hamas, with new responsibilities, would be smart to re-write the charter in tune with modern diplomacy.

Meanwhile the real and immediate threat comes from Israel, which is in the process of obliterating Palestine to clear the way for its Greater Israel project stretching from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean. Despite this, western leaders require Hamas to disarm, renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist. How silly. Palestinians elected Hamas to uphold their own rights to freedom and self-defence.
Haniyeh, within days of being elected, offered long-term peace if Israel recognized Palestine as an independent state on 1967 borders. Previously the PLO had “recognized” Israel without any reciprocal recognition by Israel of a Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords were supposed to end the Occupation and give Palestine independence. "What we’ve got instead are more settlements, more occupation, more roadblocks, more poverty and more repression."
So the question remains: why should Hamas renounce violence against a foreign power that violently occupies their homeland, bulldozes their houses at gun-point, uproots their beautiful olive groves at gun-point, sets up hundreds of armed checkpoints to disrupt normal life, batters down villagers’ front doors in the dead of night at gun-point, builds an illegal ‘separation’ wall to annex their territory, steal their water and isolate their communities, and blockades exports and imports to cause economic ruin?

As Omar Abdul Razek, Hamas’s finance minister, said when interviewed by Aljazeera in May 2006: “Which Israel would you want me to recognize? Is it Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates? Israel with the occupied Golan Heights? Israel with East Jerusalem? Israel with the settlements? I challenge you to tell me where Israel’s borders lie.”

Interviewer: “ … the 1967 borders.”

Razek: “Does Israel recognize the 1967 borders? Can you tell me of one Israeli government that ever voiced willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders?”

Topping the Terrorist League

‘Bad guy’ resistance terrorists claim less than a thousand victims a year, while ‘good guy’ state terrorists slaughter civilians by the hundreds of thousands. In human rights terms there is no distinction between the two.

The long list of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians – attacks that cannot be justified on grounds of defence or security and are so disproportionate as to constitute grave violations of human rights – puts Israel alongside the White House at the top of the state terrorist league.

The demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes for “administrative” and planning reasons, the wholesale destruction of businesses and infrastructure, the excessive violence against non-combatants, the impoverishment and displacement of Palestinians through land expropriation and closure, the abductions and imprisonments, the assassinations, and especially the 22-day blitzkrieg on Gaza resulting in 1330 dead including 410 children, 5450 wounded and the whole place reduced to rubble… all these add up to terrorism in anybody’s language.

Let us use Netanyahu’s definition since he has just been asked to form Israel’s next government. His book Terrorism: How the West Can Win defines terror as the "deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends”.

In an interview with Jennifer Byrne in February 2002, he spectacularly shot himself in the foot: "Terrorism is not dependent on the identity of the perpetrator of terrorist attacks, it doesn’t depend on the cause that is supposedly espoused. Terrorism is defined by one thing and one thing alone, the nature of the act. It is the deliberate systematic assault on civilians that defines terrorism."
If terror is unjustifiable, then it is unjustifiable across the board. Demands for Palestinians to cease their terror campaign must be linked to demands for Israel to do the same. The Palestinians had no history of violence until their lands were partitioned and overrun by a brutal intruder whose greed is never satisfied.
Netanyahu heads the Likud party, which is the embodiment of greed, racist ambition, lawlessness and callous disregard for other people’s rights. In any other country it would be banned and its leaders locked up.

Likud intends to make the seizure of Jerusalem permanent and establish Israel’s capital there. It will “act with vigor” to ensure Jewish sovereignty in East Jerusalem (which still officially belongs to the Palestinians as does the Old City). The illegal settlements are “the realization of Zionist values and a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel”. They will be strengthened and expanded.

As for the Palestinians, they can run their lives in a framework of self-rule “but not as an independent and sovereign state”.

Kadima, the party of Livni, Olmert and Barak, is little better and has also pledged to preserve the larger settlement blocs and steal Jerusalem.

In the 1947 UN partition Jerusalem was designated an international city under independent administration to avoid all this aggravation.

The Occupation should have collapsed under the weight of its illegality, but rather than enforce international law and UN resolutions the international community insists on a solution based on power negotiations, in which the Palestinians are bound to lose. Not only has Israel been allowed to strengthen its Occupation during this dead-end process, but its violations of human rights and international law have escalated. Palestinians are left struggling under the yoke of Israel’s ‘Matrix of Control’, a maze of laws, military orders, planning procedures, restrictions on movement, more settlements and a perverse bureaucracy.
There is no sign that Israel intends returning stolen land and relinquishing enough control for a viable Palestinian state. So please tell us Mr. Obama (and the same goes for you, Gordon Brown)… why do you continue support for the criminal regime while refusing to talk with the other side? 

– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit He contributed this article to

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