Two weeks ago Mahmoud al-Zahar, by some accounts the most influential Hamas leader in Gaza, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. At the time I blogged about it here. It seems an appropriate topic with which to launch my first challenge to Ibrahim here on Judeo-Arab Conflict, precisely because Hamas is so important. The movement handily won the previous Palestinian elections, in January 2006, elections which were basically free and democratic; many of us feel that the Palestinian voters behaved like voters everywhere, and chose the party they most identified with. When leading Hamas figures describe their positions, these are the positions of the freely chosen representatives of the Palestinian people. They need to be listened to, and taken seriously.
It is safe to assume that al-Zahar wrote this piece in full deliberation and assisted by colleagues. It’s not every day that he has the opportunity to reach such an important readership as the Washington Post can offer him. There are no Freudian slips or sloppy formulations in this op-ed. The man chose every word with care.
The full text, free of my comments, can be read here.
No Peace Without Hamas
President Jimmy Carter's sensible plan to visit the Hamas leadership this week brings honesty and pragmatism to the Middle East while underscoring the fact that American policy has reached its dead end. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acts as if a few alterations here and there would make the hideous straitjacket of apartheid fit better. While Rice persuades Israeli occupation forces to cut a few dozen meaningless roadblocks from among the more than 500 West Bank control points, these forces simultaneously choke off fuel supplies to Gaza; blockade its 1.5 million people; approve illegal housing projects on West Bank land; and attack Gaza City with F-16s, killing men, women and children. Sadly, this is "business as usual" for the Palestinians.
Carter represents no one, and has no diplomatic standing. Preferring him over the officials of the Administration is akin to thumbing your nose at the American government. Al-Zahar does so because he prefers Carter over the Administration, whom he sees as complicit in Israeli crimes. The depiction of the crimes assumes the readers cannot remember that the Palestinian campaign of murder preceded the Israeli response to it.
Last week's attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot should not surprise critics in the West. Palestinians are fighting a total war waged on us by a nation that mobilizes against our people with every means at its disposal -- from its high-tech military to its economic stranglehold, from its falsified history to its judiciary that "legalizes" the infrastructure of apartheid. Resistance remains our only option. Sixty-five years ago, the courageous Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose in defense of their people. We Gazans, living in the world's largest open-air prison, can do no less.
The attack on the fuel depot was designed to hurt the Palestinian populace, not the Israelis, but al-Zahar is proud of it, because of the totality of the war between Palestine and Israel, which includes a war over history: Israel has invented a false version of it so as to harm the Palestinians.
The comparison with the Warsaw ghetto is obscene, and I won’t respond to its content. But notice that twice in one paragraph al-Zahar has denied the Jews of their right to their own history, once in regard to their land, once in regard to the persecutions they suffered.
The U.S.-Israeli alliance has sought to negate the results of the January 2006 elections, when the Palestinian people handed our party a mandate to rule. Hundreds of independent monitors, Carter among them, declared this the fairest election ever held in the Arab Middle East. Yet efforts to subvert our democratic experience include the American coup d'etat that created the new sectarian paradigm with Fatah and the continuing warfare against and enforced isolation of Gazans.
On the contrary. Sanctions against countries which democratically elect unacceptable leaders are the price voters pay for their decisions. It is their right to choose horrendous leaders, and it is the right of others to respond appropriately. This is what was done to Apartheid South Africa, but also, on a smaller scale, to Austria under president Waldheim, and later to the same Austria when a quarter of its electorate supported Haider. It might also be worthwhile to add that the sanctions against Hamas are maintained by the EU, not only Israel and the US. How the Americans or Israelis can be blamed for the internal Palestinian war of 2007 is a puzzle al-Zahar does not resolve.
Now, finally, we have the welcome tonic of Carter saying what any independent, uncorrupted thinker should conclude: that no "peace plan," "road map" or "legacy" can succeed unless we are sitting at the negotiating table and without any preconditions.
Had Carter had been listening to himself on the need for peace, and to al-Zahar on the need for war until Israel disappears, he would have gone home a disillusioned man. But he had no intention of listening, only of preaching.
Israel's escalation of violence since the staged Annapolis "peace conference" in November has been consistent with its policy of illegal, often deadly collective punishment -- in violation of international conventions. Israeli military strikes on Gaza have killed hundreds of Palestinians since then with unwavering White House approval; in 2007 alone the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed was 40 to 1, up from 4 to 1 during the period from 2000 to 2005.
Ah, the good old days in 2002 when the Palestinians were united in violating international conventions by massacring Israeli civilians, how fine they were! Such a sad state of the matter that the Israelis have figured out how to suffer less from Palestinian murder campaigns.
Only three months ago I buried my son Hussam, who studied finance at college and wanted to be an accountant; he was killed by an Israeli airstrike. In 2003, I buried Khaled -- my first-born -- after an Israeli F-16 targeting me wounded my daughter and my wife and flattened the apartment building where we lived, injuring and killing many of our neighbors. Last year, my son-in-law was killed.
Hussam was only 21, but like most young men in Gaza he had grown up fast out of necessity. When I was his age, I wanted to be a surgeon; in the 1960s, we were already refugees, but there was no humiliating blockade then. But now, after decades of imprisonment, killing, statelessness and impoverishment, we ask: What peace can there be if there is no dignity first? And where does dignity come from if not from justice?
Was Hussam only a student, or perhaps also a Hamas fighter? Further down it will appear he was a fighter, meaning his death could have been part of a war. It is however tragic, because when Hussam was 19, Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip with the intention of never returning, and had Hussam and his fellows determined to dedicate all their efforts and ingenuity to building a better future for themselves and their people, Israel would have applauded them for their efforts, and would have moved out of most of the West Bank just as Olmert was explicitly elected to do in Spring 2006. As Hussam’s father will relate in the next paragraph, however, he raised Hussam not to wish for a better life, but to kill and be killed for a life without Israel.
Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state -- the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees -- to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away. Judaism -- which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam -- has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.
This is the crux of the matter, indeed. The war with Israel is about its existence and the “fundamental crime” of its ever having been founded. Al-Zahar, who elsewhere (in the Hamas Charter) professes to believe that the Jews are the source of most evil in human history, here pretends to admire them for their contributions, while insisting that they have no right to their own history, their own culture, their own dreams. Only Palestinians can have those.
A "peace process" with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again.
Israel must first undo its victory in its war of self defense in 1967, before any peace negotiations may even begin (“without preconditions”). Once it has done so, it will be possible to dismantle the Jewish State, for only so can the Palestinians “be whole again”, whatever that might mean, because that’s their unilateral decision: that they not have to live with a Jewish State.
I am eternally proud of my sons and miss them every day. I think of them as fathers everywhere, even in Israel, think of their sons -- as innocent boys, as curious students, as young men with limitless potential -- not as "gunmen" or "militants." But better that they were defenders of their people than parties to their ultimate dispossession; better that they were active in the Palestinian struggle for survival than passive witnesses to our subjugation.
Better that they did their utmost to kill Israeli civilians on the long road to destroying Israel, rather than trying to make a better future for themselves in the real world. (Which could be what Tikkun Olam is about, since he professes to admire it so).
History teaches us that everything is in flux. Our fight to redress the material crimes of 1948 is scarcely begun, and adversity has taught us patience. As for the Israeli state and its Spartan culture of permanent war, it is all too vulnerable to time, fatigue and demographics: In the end, it is always a question of our children and those who come after us.
If we wage war long enough, someday we’ll win, and the result will prove everything was justified.
Everything clear, President Carter?