2 Naïve Questions about Hamas (Palestine National Interest) (2014)

Gazan rockets

It’s hard to see the point. As the body and casualty count continues to rise in Gaza, and neither party seems open to a ceasefire, I find myself more and more confused. I don’t see how Hamas rule in Gaza has done anything wreck the Palestinian national interest while securing the rightwing in Israel. Ignoring his pugnacious and obnoxious signature style, especially as reflected in the title of this recent piece, would friends to the left of me or on the anti-Zionist left please explain what’s wrong with the basic contours of Jeffrey Goldberg’s analysis here in this piece re: the motivations driving Hamas in this current round of conflict and the counter-factual posed at the end of the article?

The main points seem to be 2:

[1] “Mahmoud Abbas, the sometimes moderate, often ineffectual leader of the Palestinian Authority, just asked his rivals in Hamas a question that other bewildered people are also asking: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”…There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Palestinian lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives. The decision is Hamas’s. As the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said yesterday, “We face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable — and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.”

[2] In 2005, the Palestinians of Gaza, free from their Israeli occupiers, could have…created the necessary infrastructure for eventual freedom. Gaza is centrally located between two large economies, those of Israel and Egypt. Europe is just across the Mediterranean. Gaza could have easily attracted untold billions in economic aid. If Gaza had, despite all the difficulties, despite all the handicaps imposed on it by Israel and Egypt, taken practical steps toward creating the nucleus of a state, I believe Israel would have soon moved to evacuate large sections of the West Bank as well. But what Hamas wants most is not a state in a part of Palestine. What it wants is the elimination of Israel. It will not achieve the latter, and it is actively thwarting the former.”

To anticipate critical pushback, I’d add that it’s not that I don’t see how the 1967 occupation of the West Bank constitutes a key driver factoring into this conflict with Hamas. But I don’t think that’s what, at present, motivates Hamas rule in Gaza, its steps and missteps. My own guess is that what drives this current round of conflict from the Hamas side has more to do with partisan party interest, the attempt to bolster it’s own reputation and authority, more than it does with advancing the Palestinian national interest against the 1967 occupation.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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6 Responses to 2 Naïve Questions about Hamas (Palestine National Interest) (2014)

  1. Fred says:

    “There is no doubt that Hamas could protect Palestinian lives by ceasing its current campaign to end Israeli lives.”
    I just don’t think that this is honest. After decades and decades of occupation, indiscriminate killings, arrests, whatever, it’s not hard to see how many on the Palestinian side would think “There is no doubt that Israel will continue to arrest us, attack us, expel us, exclude us, and kill us. We can either lie here like lambs to the slaughter or we can fight back.” (And I’d ask you to think about the number of Palestinians arrested/kidnapped/killed by Israeli security forces before the rockets were fired, even with no evidence being presented that Hamas was involved in the kidnappings and murders of the three teenagers.).
    And there’s nothing particularly unique about this. History is filled with the outnumbered fighting to the death (e.g., see Masada), and when they’re on “our” side, or a side we’re sympathetic with, we call it courage. When they’re on the side of the “other” its prima facie evidence of their monstrosity, that they aren’t human (and deserve the violence that “we” inflict upon them). That’s why I think it’s a dishonest point. (And converse points could also be made, Why does Israel keep on killing Palestinians–furthering the conflict and incurring international wrath–when not even a single Israel has yet been injured by the rockets, let alone killed?)

    The second point is an amazing display of ignorance racism.

    • zjb says:

      I think Goldberg’s point 2 is not at all unfair. Had the political leaders in Gaza turned directly to governance, state-building and economic development instead of “resistance,” I think it’s safe to bet that both conditions on the ground and the political calculus would look different, with the rightwing in Israel sidelined, not empowered. As for the contradiction between resistance movements versus governance, this has been addressed by lots of people writing about the Hamas, not all of them Israel-flacks.

      And yes, people have the right to resist occupation, but there are red lines and war crimes that all resistance movements have committed, historically. But I would hate to think that Masada represents the best mode of doing so. If that’s what you think Hamas is doing, well, I hope you’re wrong, because I couldn’t think of a more self-destructive way of undermining one’s own national or human interest.

      But societies also have the right to defend their own people, even in cases of asymmetrical conflict such as this. Israel was quite insistent on a policy of calm for calm and even very sharp critics of Israel, in general, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular have observed this. I too want the killing to stop. I think there are very few serious people in Israel who don’t. At any rate, at no point have I said, or have I heard others say that the innocent people of Gaza deserve what’s happening to them. The discussion, which I think happens when you have this scale of conflict, has been more political (i.e. relating to Hamas & the government of Israel) than moral (relating on a human, individualized scale to the trauma and terror experienced overwhelmingly in Gaza).

      On a personal note, I don’t think it’s a good debating point to accuse or imply that your interlocutor of being dishonest. You’ve done this at least twice. I have put as much time and thought into this as I’m sure you have, and I try to come to conclusions as best as I can on the basis of a wide-range of reading. We can agree to disagree, but not at one point have I impugned the integrity of either your argument or your person.

      • Mordy says:

        Sorry that this is off-topic (but related to this comment exchange). Something I’ve been thinking a lot about during this latest conflict (particularly regarding its representation in social media) is what it means for people to grant no validity to their opponent’s positions when arguing about I/P. It seems to be a kind of maximalism more often found in negotiations – that you will guarantee the best result by refusing to compromise an iota in your position. There has been a lot of talk about this strategy re Republicans in congress thwarting Obama’s agenda, particularly regarding the negotiation pose of ‘being unreasonable.’ (Nb a lot of this discussion has figured around how ineffective this practice ends up being.)

        But why do we see something similar in social media arguments? What does someone stand to gain by accusing their opponents of being a) stupid, b) disingenuous, c) racist, d) pro-murder, etc. I am primarily talking about the pro-Palestinian movement here but I’m sure similar things are found in the pro-Israel movement as well. It’s not like Mondoweiss is ‘negotiating’ with the broader world – they’re just making arguments. So who gains from a maximalist argument that refuses to recognize any kind of validity on the other side? Is it just personal psychology that makes it so difficult to say, “I understand why Israel feels compelled to bomb Gaza but I still think it’s wrong because the civilian deaths aren’t worth the supposed security,” versus, “Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people and using security as a pretext to do so”?

        Sorry if this isn’t very clear. It has been germinating in my mind over the last few days but I thought you might be in a good position, Z, to help me unpack it further.

      • zjb says:

        Totally clear. Thanks, Mordy.

  2. Michael says:

    The motivations? Its all about the money, as usual. Hamas is in dire straights, having bet on the “wrong horse” in Syria, it lost its Iranian back-up and cash flow. The new rulers of Egypt blocked the tunnels, so Hamas lost the smuggling fees, too. The PA refuses to pay Hamas officials, despite the “unity government” circus. When even the military ranks don’t see their blood money, they turn to the only thing they know to do – shoot on Israel and cry wolf, hoping the suffering of Gazans will bring a new sponsor.

    In the long term, I think Egypt will be unable to avoid taking control over Gaza. The violence keeps spilling over to Sinai, and the Egyptian army has too much financial interest in the tourism industry there to allow escalation. In the end, I think the Egyptians will allow Israel to weaken Hamas, and take control over Gaza, claiming they come to protect Gazans from Israel. The gas reserves off the coast of Gaza will be a nice bonus. The questions is, how many rounds of conflict will it take?

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