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Why Hamas’s Fight is Legitimate

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It is important to understand the genesis of the present round of violence between Israel and Hamas, really between Israel and the people of Gaza.

Both President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the American news media have consistently described the conflict as Israel justifiably responding to the firing or rockets into Israel by Hamas and protecting their citizens, as if world history only began at this moment and that prior context did not exists.

More thoughtful and better informed observer than Obama and Kerry have more correctly noted that the present waves of Hamas rockets was preceded by a sequence of events which left Hamas with little choice except to resist with their only available means, which is firing rockets into Israel.

Let us recall: On June 2, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas announced the completion of an agreement unifying the two governments and to be led by the moderate Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and with ministries run mostly by technocrats, a process worked out with input from the American government which included terms that would not automatically trigger a US ban.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, however vowed never to work with a government that included Hamas which he described, as is normal for him, as a ‘terrorist’ organization and also admonished western governments including the US not to conduct discussions with them, a call that went mostly unheeded, to Mr Netanyahu’s great frustration.

The abduction and murder of three Israeli youths was met by Mr Netanyahu’s .response: “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.” This was his chance to wreck the unity government.

Thus a ‘search and destroy’ operation was initiated consisting of 18 days of Israeli army rampages which targeted anything affiliated with Hamas on the West Bank. Hundreds were arrested, about 500 total, and about a dozen Palestinians killed, Hamas offices and clinics were ransacked and destroyed, with computers confiscated, hundreds of Palestinian homes were invaded, usually in the middle of the night with the homes ransacked and contents destroyed or damaged, guns were pointed at women and children and people terrorized, and many arrested. Homes of so-called suspected persons were blown up and destroyed.

In addition, Mr Netanyahu’s rhetoric contributed to an atmosphere of anger and vengeance which resulted in the abduction and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager by several Israelis.

As of almost three weeks later, there has been no evidence what so ever that the Hamas leadership was involved or even knew in advance about the kidnapping.

Furthermore Max Blumenthal has reported, based on his sources inside Israeli intelligence, Shin Bet, that they knew, with high probability, within hours of the kidnapping that the three abducted youths had been killed. This news was not released to the public thus permitting the ‘search and destroy’ operation to continue.

The rampage of Israeli soldiers in the west Bank was quickly followed by aerial attacks by Israel into Gaza which killed seven Hamas members.

Thus the charge, by Mr Netanyahu, of Hamas responsibility in the abduction and killing of the three Israelis, and the suppression of information to the effect that the Israeli government knew the three Israeli youths had been killed were disingenuous techniques of Mr Netanyahu to destroy or seriously degrade Hamas and destroy the unity government which Mr Netanyahu so despised.

Obama, Kerry, and Netanyahu and their minions constantly repeat the question. “What would you do if your country were attacked by rocket fire?” And, of course, there is the ever present refrain, “Israel has a right to defend itself”

A far less trite question is, “What would you do if you were Hamas, and your offices were being ransacked and destroyed, and your people killed.? And what would you do if the population of Gaza were living under a brutal siege, unable to export their agriculture or the products so their labors, with foodstuffs embargoed allowing only a bare subsistence, with electricity and fuel limited, and potable water in short supply, and with building and rebuilding of destroyed structure from two previous wars with Israel, as well as this one when it ends, impossible because of the Israeli siege?

All this is taking place in the political-diplomatic space created by the multiple failures of the Obama conflict resolution efforts which included sending Kerry to the Middle East with the instructions to ‘solve the problem’, as he had George Mitchell before, without any presidential directive or program toward a solution. Further, the efforts of Kerry were undermined, as were those of Mitchell’s earlier, by President Obama’s failure to apply any pressure at all to Israel and even to echo the narrative and talking points of the Israeli government and to repeat the Israeli-Zionist interpretation of Jewish-Zionist history and its justification for the Zionism project.

And, of course, there is the ever present refrain which Obama, like his predecessor George Bush, never tires of repeating: “Israel has a right to defend itself”, thus justifying Israel’s violent operation, both in 2012 and at present, which has been interpreted by the President as a ‘response’. Obama has advanced the argument that no nation could tolerate rocket fire aimed toward its citizens further justifying Israel’s air, land and sea attack on the people of Gaza, and implying that the cause of the present conflagration began with the Hamas launched rocket fire – that Hamas is responsible for the present round of violence.

Obama has never hinted at the slightest discomfort of the siege of Gaza in which at least half of Gaza’s 1.7 million people are food insecure and almost all are impoverished unable to export the products of their labors, nor to import enough of their material needs, including the need to upgrade their water and sanitation facilities. Though Obama is a constitutional lawyer, he seems not to have noticed that collective punishment as well as using food as a weapon of war violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Obama’s vetoes of all Palestinian sponsored UN Security Council resolutions which were critical of Israel or its occupation, his efforts to join Israel in quashing the Goldstone Report and rendering it ineffective, and his efforts to pressure the Palestinians not to seek memberships in UN Agencies or join international conventions, certainly undermined any possibility of Israel making an effort at compromise. Why should Israel compromise when the President of the United States as well as the US Congress will protect it from the pressures  or constraints of international law, and also echo its talking points for general popular consumption.

Obama has sought to confine the possible avenues of potential resolution to the so-call ‘peace process’ and to the principle that any resolution must be one mutually agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians, which means that any constraints potentially imposed by international law will not be applied to Israel  which occupies the land captured in the ’67 War and has a large and very well equipped military making it capable of occupying the land against the will of the Palestinian people for an indefinitely long period in to the future.

Everyday Israel seizes more Palestinian land, adds new settlers to the East Jerusalem and the West Bank population, and its leaders, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu, has indicated very many times that the state of Israel has absolutely no intention of relinquishing any substantial amount of West Bank territory or any of East Jerusalem. Such indications includes a meeting of Mr Netanyahu with President Obama in the Oval Office in which Netanyahu told Obama to his face that Israel would never withdraw from ‘Judea and Samaria’, the Jewish nationalist designation of the West Bank. And that Israel must maintain an indefinite military presence in the Jordan Valley.

Obama acts as though he did not hear him, or doesn’t care. And his response to Mr Netanyahu, on that afternoon in the Oval Office, was complete silence.

Obama has done nothing but reinforce Mr Netanyahu’s argument that the occupied territories are not illegally occupied but are “disputed areas” subject only to negotiations between parties in to which Israel has as much right as anyone else. He has certainly never attempted to counter Mr Netanyahu’s frequent claim that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews by virtue of ‘the Jewish historical right’.

During Obama’ s five and half years in office, Obama has never displayed any insight at all in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nothing beyond the echoing of the Israeli-Zionist narrative. He has never used the term Nakbah, nor recognized that there was an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948, though he did use the term “dispossession” in his (overrated) Cairo speech. I have never heard him use the term “occupation”.

His only insight into the Zionist movement is to echo the false claim that Jews dreamed and hoped for 2000 years to return to the Land of Israel. This mythology has been thoroughly debunked by Shlomo Sand and by any careful reading of the history of the Zionist movement – a movement which only became a project of Jews, and a small subset of Jews at that, in the 1880’s though it was preceded by four centuries by Christian Zionism, mostly in England, which set the parameters of Jewish Zionist thinking and introduced the term return to describe the migration of Jews into Palestine.

It is doubtful anyone would use the term “return” if the Egyptians decided to conquer Palestine though they ruled it a millennium before there was a Jewish city state in Jerusalem.

This war belongs to Obama as much as to anyone because it emerged in the vacuum created by Obama’s laziness and lack of courage in standing up to Netanyahu and the Zionist supporters in the US and in Congress.

Obama ignored the seven year long siege of Gaza. Now it has come back to bite him. His legacy will include that.

Given Obama’s limited shallow understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history, there may have been little else he could have done. Imagining Obama conducting a 13 day debate with Netanyahu, as Jimmy Carter did in 1978 at Camp David with Menachem Begin, is complete unimaginable.

Hamas and the people of Gaza can give up and let Israel slowly strangle them to death under a siege that stands in clear violation of international law which prohibits collective punishment.  Or they can fight back with their only means available.

Hamas’s fight, which is mainly a struggle to lift the siege of Gaza, is an honorable one. Hamas’s fight possess the dignity with the Israeli brutalizers cannot not even  imagine. In fact, the Zionists gave up any hope of dignity long before they ethnically cleansed Palestine of most of its indigenous population in 1948.

William James Martin can be reached at:  wjm20@caa.columbia.edu.

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