Palestine: Unifier of the Islamic World

Pro-Palestinian rally in Cairo. (Photo: Ali Martin, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Dr. M. Reza Behnam

Memory is long in the Middle East and the Gaza massacre will not be forgotten. Palestinians must determine their own future. Anything less will only prolong forever wars.

The October 7 assault by Hamas commandos has shattered Israel’s social contract.

It sent a message to Israel that it cannot have security while being the military occupier of 5.3 million Palestinians. 

The attack and Israel’s response have also forced the United States to reconsider Tel Aviv’s continued “usefulness” as a strategic partner in the region.

‘Crime of Resistance’

The Gaza Strip, blockaded since 2007, is an occupied territory that has been subjected to savage Israeli aerial attacks every two to three years since 2006.

The people of Gaza continue to be collectively punished for the “crime” of resistance.

The Western media and many American politicians have failed to understand that Hamas is a Palestinian liberation fighting force, not a terrorist organization.

No other national movement in history has had such powerful foes.

Hamas, with an estimated 30,000 – 40,000 fighters and no territorial sovereignty, has had to confront the might of Israel and the United States, two of the most advanced and largest militaries in the world.

The horrific images of death and destruction from Gaza defy humanity.  Israel’s claims that it is acting in self-defense, that it is attempting to avoid civilian casualties, and that it is striking only legitimate military targets violate common sense.

Israel’s blueprint of disproportionate killing, with its terrible cost in civilian lives, is being executed in Gaza today.

The strategy known as the Dahiya doctrine was developed in 2006.  It is named after a Shia suburb of Beirut bombed mercilessly by Israel’s northern front army.

Its commander, Gadi Eizenkot, put it this way: “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on … We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction on them…This is a plan. And it has been approved.”

The “Dahiya-style” assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 did not go unnoticed by the United Nations.

Known as the Goldstone Report (Justice Richard Goldstone chaired the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict) it called Israel’s military attack: “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

The violent and hateful rhetoric of current Israeli politicians and military officials is also not new.

‘Flatten Gaza’

Prior to Israel’s October 27 ground offensive into Gaza, Israel “Defense” Forces spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, admitted that hundreds of tons of bombs had already been dropped on Gaza and that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “flatten” Gaza.

In addition to calling for the wholesale destruction of the Gaza Strip, cabinet members like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have argued for the depopulation of Gaza and the “transfer” of Gazans to other countries.

Before Hamas’ recent military offensive, Washington, Tel Aviv and their Arab allies thought that the world had become disinterested in the Palestinian cause.

They have failed to understand the centrality of Palestinian independence and self-determination to a lasting peace in the Middle East.

The Biden administration’s inability to appreciate how deeply Arab identity is tied to Palestine was displayed in a feature article by the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (Foreign Affairs, November/December 2023, page 23).

He writes, “The region is quieter than it has been for decades.” The administration also failed to grasp that the impoverished oppressed Gaza Strip had become the fulcrum of political resistance.

US’ Historical Reckoning

The United States is faced with a historical reckoning.

On October 10, in the White House Briefing Room, President Joe Biden stated unequivocally, “We stand with Israel.” And on October 18, when Biden made his one-day show-of-support trip to Israel to hug Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, he sent a clear message that the United States stands solidly with the military occupier.

Washington is decidedly a partner in Israel’s genocidal military campaign and war crimes.

US-origin weapons are being used extensively in Gaza. In addition to the $14.5 billion in additional military assistance Biden has requested for Israel, the Pentagon has covertly increased its weapon shipments, sending more laser-guided missiles for Apache gunships, 155mm artillery shells and bunker-buster bombs.

The Biden administration has also approved the sale of 24,000 semi-automatic and automatic assault rifles.  This, despite its fear that they might end up in the hands of Israel’s violent “settlers,” who have been terrorizing Palestinians in the West Bank.

The deal has also made US gunmakers $34 million richer.

Furthermore, Israel’s extremist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has distributed assault rifles to Israeli “settlers,” has created and armed vigilante “security” squads (currently there are 700), and has made it easier for Israeli civilians to obtain firearm licenses.

In 2023, prior to October 7, Israeli occupation troops and “settler” vigilantes killed 250 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  After October 7, and as of this date, they have killed 239 more.

Israel has turned the West Bank into another “open-air prison,” with Palestinians afraid to leave their homes for fear of being arrested or shot. 

Shamelessly, the Biden administration signaled its willingness to tolerate a certain number of casualties, beyond which they would be made uncomfortable.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as much during his remarks on November 10 from New Delhi, following a nine-day trip through the Middle East. He stated:  “Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks….”

Blinken’s statement “ far too many” is strangely curious.  He seemed to be indicating that the administration had decided on the number of dead Palestinians they would tolerate before making demands on the Israeli regime to stop.

The administration and US propagandists have prioritized the ordeal of Israeli families and the release of their relatives.

On the other hand, they have paid scant attention to the agony of Palestinians whose family members have been held hostage in Israeli prisons for years.

Palestinian Prisoners

The terms used to describe the recent exchanges of detainees are revelatory.

Released Israelis have been referred to as “hostages,” implying innocence, while Palestinians have been identified as “prisoners,” suggestive of lawlessness.

Under administrative detention, which is a violation of international law, Israel incarcerates Palestinians indefinitely, without charges or trials.  They can also be detained based simply on the grounds that they may break the law in the future. 

At the end of September 2023, some 1,310 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention orders.

Addameer, a prisoner support and human rights association, reported that between 2017 to 2021 Israeli occupation authorities issued 5,728 administrative detention orders across Occupied Palestine. 

Israel employs administrative detention extensively, routinely and cruelly.

There has been little or no sympathy, however, in Washington or in the Western media, for the Palestinian mothers and fathers whose children continue to languish in Israeli prisons, humiliated and facing cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors.

A Wake-Up Call

Hamas’ attack was a wake-up call not only for Israel and the United States, but for the Arab autocrats who have signed up to do business with the apartheid regime.  They have been under the illusion that by ignoring the occupation, it would just go away.

It was also a wake-up call for most Israeli civilians, who have thus far been able to avoid the consequences of their indifference and denialism of the occupation. 

Washington’s disregard for Arab lives, if not manifest before, is blatant today.  If millions of Arabs killed in America’s wars in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Libya were not proof enough, the tens of thousands of dead and injured Palestinians in Gaza further attests to that callous dispassion.

It has not been lost on the Arab world why October 7 was chosen by Hamas for its attack on Israel.

The late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat (1970-1981), was assassinated on  October 6, 1981.  Sadat was regarded as a traitor in the Islamic world for making peace with Israel without the consent of the Egyptian people and in disregard for the Palestinian cause. 

Authoritarian Arab regimes fear the message of a free Palestine.” The recitation has come to symbolize the struggle for justice against oppressive regimes.

Fearful that they might meet President Sadat’s fate and wanting to appear in solidarity with Palestinians, a delegation of Islamic and Arab officials conducted a ministerial tour in mid-November of the five permanent UN Security Council member states, with their first stop in China.

A ceasefire, increased humanitarian aid and support for an independent Palestinian state were the issues on their agenda. 

Like the Israelis, many of the Persian Gulf autocrats, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, would like to see Hamas disappear and Iran—a non-Arab supporter of Palestinian freedom—immobilized.

To that end, they have partnered with and mistakenly tied their futures to the United States and Israel.  They now have the opportunity to unify behind Palestine, knowing that Arab nationalism and identity are tied to it.

‘Free Palestine’ Across the Globe

Popular sentiment for Palestinian rights is very deep throughout the region. That sentiment was demonstrated during an October 11 football match in Cairo; throngs of Egyptian fans chanted, We give our lives and souls for you Palestine.”

Today, the refrain “Free Palestine” can be heard across the globe.

During a recent rally in London, pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted, In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.”

And in the United States, demonstrators have greeted the president with chants such as “Biden, Biden you can’t hide; we charge you with genocide;” a refrain reminiscent of the anti-war anthem that plagued President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-69) during the Vietnam War era—“Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today.” 

By uncritically supporting Israel’s racist messianic regime that uses Judaism and the Bible to execute their genocidal occupation project, Biden has essentially contributed to an environment that has become increasingly unsafe for Jews and Muslims at home and abroad. 

The wreckage of World War I gave birth to Israel.

The victorious imperial powers placed the Zionist entity in the Middle East to control and divide the Arab world.

Israel has never been a part of it and has no real friends there.  Born in violence, it maintains itself through violence.

For the first time, the world is witness to the brutal force that Israel has been exercising to exist—its true face.

The bloodbath in Gaza has forced many Western countries to reconsider their relations with Israel as Spain and Belgium have.  Even its chief enabler, the United States, will have to reevaluate its policy.

The essential issues that led to 9/11 and brought the Middle East and the United States to this watershed moment in history must finally be dealt with.

Throughout their long struggle, Palestinians have never given up their longing for  independence and self-determination.  It is folly to believe, as Tel Aviv and Washington have, that Hamas and the resistance it has come to represent, can be annihilated.

Memory is long in the Middle East—the Gaza massacre will not be forgotten.

Palestinians must determine their own future.  Anything less will only prolong forever wars.

– Dr. M. Reza Behnam is a political scientist specializing in the history, politics and governments of the Middle East. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out

1 Comment

  1. It didn’t escape my attention that the first sprouts of the Arab Spring of 2010 were in 1987, in the West Bank and Gaza Intifada. It comes as no surprise that the autocracies of the Arab world fear their fellow Arabs chanting “Free Palestine”. Just an additional point – Zionists have claimed that “Free Palestine – from the River to the Sea” is “genocidal” – because they can’t imagine a land free of oppression for all. By casting Palestinians as inherently genocidal, they are resurrecting the ancient “blood libel”, which libelled all European Jews as inherently (and literally) blood-thirsty: Zionists are now libelling Palestinians are inherently genocidal.

Comments are closed.