Book Review: Hamas vs. Fatah

By Jim Miles

Hamas vs. Fatah – The Struggle For Palestine.  Jonathan Schanzer. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008. 

I’m not sure where to start with this volume – other than to say it is a history so out of context and so biased in its language that it is essentially meaningless.  If a scientist were to isolate human blood cells and study them under a microscope – and only blood cells under a microscope – they could learn and report about all sorts of facts about the cells, how the chemicals work, how different chemicals block certain other chemical reactions, how different components of blood will attack certain other components of blood, how the cells became less responsive to stimuli and ultimately die.  In that out of context scenario, without considering other interactions and engagements with the hundreds of other factors involved in the overall body, the scientist could conclude that blood cells do not function properly and should be considered a rogue element within the body.  But scientists aren’t that ignorant, only political scientists are.

Jonathan Schanzer does not describe himself as a political scientist, but rather as a scholar.  Examined from a scholarly perspective, this work remains fully out of context and with a language bias that places it well outside a true scholarly effort.  His brief biography states that he has travelled widely, including Israel and the Palestinian Territories and that he speaks Arabic and Hebrew.  Along with the lack of scholarly rigour in the manner in which he uses sources, there is also a lack of scholarly insight that might have been gleaned from any visits to the Palestinian Territories if he had actually communicated openly with the Palestinian people.  

The book jacket claims that this is a “ground breaking” work, but judging by the number of articles and books used in the reference notes, there is nothing really new here.  With so many references from other resources, and so very little in the way of personal insight from interviews and experiences from the Palestinians, it could hardly be considered a groundbreaking work, nor scholarly.  Further described as providing “a roadmap for a potential way forward” is also disingenuous, as the only solution provided is the old one of having the Palestinians acquiesce to all of Israel’s demands.  It is, at best, a compilation of information concerning the political and militia fights between Hamas and Fatah, combined with a total lack of context and biased language. 

That context in its largest form could be summarized in one word – Israel.  Schanzer writes almost as if Israel did not exist as part of the problem, as being fully the victim when it is given consideration.  Fatah and Hamas are certainly in competition with each other, and certainly have committed atrocities against each other, but that information can only be considered as legitimate within the overall context of Israel as an occupying nation that has intentions of its own that are crucial to the study of the conflict. 

Fatah vs. Hamas concentrates mainly on the more recent time period when the violence between Fatah and Hamas became most explosive, but it does make short incursions into the longer historical background.  There are brief discussions of the rise of Islamism beginning before the founding of the Israeli state, mostly as in opposition to western ideals – which Daniel Pipes, in his poorly written introduction, does note included  “military superiority [that] began to hand the Muslim world one defeat after the next.” 

There is no mention at all of the early Jewish Zionist movement that began well before the collapse of the Ottoman empire, but always had and always retained the divine right of occupying Palestinian territory to the exclusion – militarily if necessary – rather than the incorporation of the Palestinian people.  The British supported this movement along the way, most famously with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a simple letter of intent without any basis in international law – not that any existed at that time, other than the given supremacy of western imperialism. 

Schanzer argues “the [Palestinian] uprising pushed the British into a de facto alliance with the Jews of Palestine.”  Even though the British considered certain Jewish elements (the Irgun) to be terrorists in their own right they duplicitously supported the Jewish population over the Palestinians.  Schanzer’s language bias is clearly demonstrated when he says that the “United Nations General Assembly partition plan…endowed the Palestinian Arabs with a state that included an expanded Gaza strip, the West Bank, and much of the northern territory.[emphasis added]”   How considerate for sure, to be “endowed” with only portions of your own homeland, while a minority of the population, immigrants at that, is given a majority of the land.  The reader also needs to consider that Gaza is a city, was a city, and only became defined as a “strip” when it suited others political purposes. 

To reiterate the main failing of the book, it is the lack of context, an almost complete whitewash of anything Israel has done, leaving Israel to be entirely the victim of Palestinian violence, with Hamas bearing the ultimate responsibility for it, while Fatah plays a reluctant second fiddle. 

The elements of the missing context are massive.  There is no mention of the Israeli attitude of demographic purity for the Jewish nation by calling for the removal of all the Palestinians in some manner or other.  Demographics is mentioned, but only within the restricted context of the 1.4 million Palestinians remaining inside Israel, thus the necessity for the Gaza withdrawal.  That leads into the missing information on Israeli settlements, for the very purpose of absorbing Palestinian land and pushing the Palestinians into highly restricted bantustan like cantonments.  It also highlights the missing information that while Israeli settlers withdrew from Gaza, the Israeli military controls all other aspects of Gazan life, controls the borders, the airspace, the water and energy resources, and the ocean front.  Schanzer’s implication is that the Palestinians control Gaza and the West Bank, whereas the reality is that Israel controls them, and purposely foments the divisions towards its own purpose – more time to settle more land while the euphemistic “peace process” wends its way uselessly through the hallways of political offices and academic scholars. 

That jumps over an even bigger missing context, that Gaza and the West Bank are occupied Palestinian territory.  Israel has continued to build settlements within the West Bank, and most notably around Jerusalem, in order to isolate the Palestinians and secure Jerusalem as the Jewish capital.  As occupied territories, the continued destruction of infrastructure, the denial of freedom of movement, the loss of houses, farms, fields, water resources, are all against international law.  From that occupation and confinement comes resistance, recognized under the UN Charter, and this is the only time Schanzer acknowledges Israeli influence in Palestinian territory as they are “responding” to violence, never instigating it.   

Occupation is the single most important act determining the levels of violence and disruptiveness in a country.  Occupation is the reason for the violence and poor civil structure in Iraq.  The same applied to Lebanon under Israeli occupation.  The same in Northern Ireland under British occupation (after the long ago forgotten Scottish occupation).  The same applies in Afghanistan under American and NATO occupation, and previously under Soviet occupation (with its own American jihadi movement).  The strongest co-relation for terrorism is occupation.  At no point does Schanzer address this issue. 

Schanzer also delights in telling us how poorly the economy is doing, especially in Gaza after the Hamas takeover.  Context?  Israel controls all aspects of the Palestinian economy, using it initially as a source of cheap labour and cheap garden produce.  As the military tightened control the labour pool and produce were restricted.  At no time have the Palestinian Territories had any control over the economy other than what has been and is dictated to them through the Israelis.  Schanzer complains of the hundreds of millions of dollars forwarded from other Islamist structures and states to support Hamas in particular.  Nothing is mentioned of the more than 3 billion dollars received annually from the U.S. by the Israelis to subsidize their efforts to control not only the Palestinian “problem”, but to help the U.S. control the greater Middle East.  For Schanzer to avoid this simply demonstrates wilful ignorance on his part.

Other unidentified elements of context are the wall and the refugee problem.  The wall is argued to be a “barrier” against suicide bombers. Stop.  No consideration is given as to why it snakes its way through the territory in such a way that it isolates communities from each other, from their farmlands, from their water resources, from effective transportation corridors, encompasses many of the new settlements and helps divide the West Bank generally into three main isolate regions.  Militarily a zigzag line such as that makes little sense, nor is it located along the “green line” of the 1967 boundaries.  Schanzer’s arguments in this instance are shallow and ineffective, if not, again, outright wilfully ignorant. 

The refugee problem is given no consideration.  No consideration as to how it started, with the Israeli military expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages during the nakba.  The refugees are mentioned as being a percentage of either of the territories population respectively, but beyond that there is nothing.  Another problem that extends from this one is the right of return, another factor to be considered under international human rights laws.  For all the civil strife, and clan and family problems that are noted in the text, most are exacerbated by this problem, which in itself is a smaller element of the whole occupation/demographic exclusion problem. 

There are many smaller points for which this work can be seriously criticized, but to rebut them all would require a work of similar length, of which there are many already in print.  It is sufficient to say that there is nothing groundbreaking about Fatah vs. Hamas.  It does not meet scholarly standards.  It does not meet basic academic standards.  It remains poorly crafted propaganda for the Israeli state to continue to do what it wants to do because it is always the victim, never the perpetrator. I have well over two dozen books on my bookshelf, from authors of Israeli origin, American origin, and Palestinian origin that give considerably different portraits of events in Palestine/Israel.  If dissimulation can be considered lying, then Fatah vs. Hamas lies enormously. 

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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