Monday, January 30, 2006

The Significance of the Hamas Election Victory

The Significance of the Hamas Election Victory
by John Spritzler [ ]

The Israeli government, not the Palestinian Authority, holds actual governmental power and sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, so the Hamas election victory is more significant for what it says about Palestinian aspirations than for what it portends for future policies of the Palestinian Authority.

The tremendous significance of the Hamas victory is this: it shows that many Palestinians--not just a crazy fringe--believe a Jewish state in Palestine has no legitimacy--that it is racist and, like apartheid South Africa, should be abolished.

Palestinians have rejected the "road map to peace" with its "two-state solution" because they want an end to racism, not a little statelet to live in next to a dominating racist Jewish state occupying 78% of Palestine.

The incumbent Palestinian Authority ruled by the PLO/Fatah was famous among Palestinians for three things:

1. Corruption
2. More corruption
3. Spineless servility to the Israeli government

Hamas is famous among Palestinians for four things:

1. Calling for the destruction of Israel. (To most Palestinians this means abolishing a state based on racism against non-Jews; it does not mean killing Jews because they are Jews or driving anybody into the sea, any more than those who wished to destroy the Apartheid state of South Africa aimed to kill whites because they were white or drive them into the sea.)

2. Providing many social services without corruption.

3. Waging armed resistance against Israeli occupation of Palestine

4. Calling for Palestine to be an Islamic state

Most observers report that people who voted for Hamas did so in spite of, not because of, its call for an Islamic state. In the past it was the PLO/Fatah, with its aim of a secular democratic state, which claimed the mantle of opposition to a Jewish state in Palestine, and that was why the PLO once enjoyed enormous support from Palestinians. Lately, the PLO/Fatah has been seen by Palestinians as a "partner in the peace process" which means an instrument of Israel for forcing Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of the racial separatism and exclusion that is the basis of the Jewish state project. Hamas now claims the mantle of opposition to a Jewish state in Palestine, and that--not some sudden rise in enthusiam for an Islamic state--is the most obvious explanation for its present popularity.

Until now the mass media have been able to claim that only a fanatical fringe wants the destruction of Israel. But yesterday's election results indicate massive opposition to the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. I believe Hamas's call for the destruction of Israel (in contrast with the PLO's crass servility towards Israel) gained Hamas far more votes than it cost them. This is entirely consistent with the fact that polls have long shown that the greatest concern of Palestinians, by far, has been to obtain their right of return inside the Green Line with restitution for their confiscated property. And as everybody knows, if Palestinians are allowed to return, then the population inside the Green Line might soon lose its overwhelming Jewish majority, and the existence of a Jewish state--which officially is only for "the Jews" rather than everybody regardless of their religion who lives inside its borders--will be untenable.

The cat is now out of the bag. The only just and tenable solution to the conflict in Palestine/Israel is for all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, to be one democratic state, with genuine equality for all regardless of religion. The time has come to abolish states based on racial separatism, which is exactly what a Jewish state is.

In response to the upset vote, the media are doing their utmost to confuse the public by portraying Palestinians, who agree with Hamas's opposition to the existence of the Jewish state of Israel, as terrorists. For example, a BBC article reports:

"Israel can't accept a situation in which Hamas, in its present form as a terror group calling for the destruction of Israel, will be part of the Palestinian Authority without disarming," Mr Olmert's office reported him as saying.

Let us be clear. Terrorism is the killing of innocent civilians, and it is wrong. When the U.S. deliberately targeted German and Japanese civilians in World War II without any military strategic rationale, that was terrorism. When the U.S. deliberately targets civilians in Iraq, that is terrorism. When the Irish IRA set off bombs in British subways, that was terrorism. Whoever orchestrated the 9/11 attack committed terrorism. When Hamas kills random Jews at a bus stop or restaurant in Tel Aviv, that is terrorism.

But people who called for the DESTRUCTION OF the Third Reich, and people who called for the DESTRUCTION OF Apartheid South Africa, and people who called for the DESTRUCTION OF the Confederacy (the slave-based South in the USA before the Civil War), and people who called for the DESTRUCTION OF the Vichy state (Nazi occupied France), and people who "CALL FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL"--these people are not for that reason terrorists.

Likewise, those who killed German soldiers occupying France and enforcing oppression, and those who killed German soldiers enforcing Nazi rule over Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and those who killed South African government police or soldiers (or informers) enforcing apartheid, and those who killed slave-owners enforcing slavery in the United States, AND THOSE WHO KILLED ISRAELI SOLDIERS OR ARMED CIVILIANS ENFORCING OPPRESSION OF PALESTINIANS--these people were NOT terrorists. They were fighting violent oppression with violence, as was their right, both morally and even under existing international law. We honor the French Resistance, and the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion because we know the difference between resistance to oppression, and terrorism.

So yes, let us denounce terrorism. But let us also denounce the mass media and Israeli officials and American politicians who try to confuse us by equating morally justifiable violent resistance against oppressive regimes with terrorism. There's a huge difference.

The reasons most Palestinians voted for Hamas are good reasons, which all good people should support.

Having stressed above why I believe the landslide vote for Hamas reflects entirely commendable aspirations on the part of Palestinian voters, there is the separate question of what to make of the Hamas leadership, as opposed to the many people who voted for them.

I will be frank about Hamas. I think they have committed terrorism. I disagree with their goal of an Islamic state. I know that the Israeli government has secretly supported Hamas because they thought it would be easier to isolate the Palestinians from world support if they were associated with political Islam than if they were associated with the democratic secular aims espoused by the PLO. [1]

For all of their hostility towards the Zionists, Hamas has a political Achilles Heel which helps the Zionists stay in power, and which is the basis for a tacit and mutually beneficial relationship between the two forces. By stating that the future Palestinian state should be one in which "It is the duty of the followers of other religions to stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam...," [2] Hamas legitimizes the concept of a religiously exclusive state in Palestine, the very core idea behind the Zionist's Jewish state with its declaration that the sovereign authority
in the 78% of Palestine they call Israel is "the Jewish people" rather than everybody who lives inside its borders regardless of their religion.

Framing the conflict in terms of WHICH religion shall be sovereign instead of WHETHER ANY religion will be exclusively sovereign is an enormous gift to the Zionist leaders; it not only helps them strengthen their grip on frightened Jews in Israel, but it also helps them garner undeserved world-wide sympathy for their racist Jewish state project. The Palestinian people need leaders who confer legitimacy on the concept of religiously exclusive states in Palestine like they need a hole in the head.

Likewise, and in keeping with their "Islam versus Jewish sovereignty" framework, Hamas gives the Zionist leaders another huge gift by carrying out not only justifiable violence against Israeli soldiers and armed civilians who oppress Palestinians, but also terrorist violence against random Israeli civilians at bus stops and restaurants in places like Tel Aviv. If the Zionist leaders didn't have Hamas terrorism to keep the Jewish working class population in line they would probably have had to invent it, since it serves the same role of social control for them as 9/11 does for George Bush.

It is a real shame that Hamas does not fight for a Palestine where nobody is forced to accept the sovereignty of another's religion. If Hamas fought for a Palestinian society based on the working class values of equality and solidarity, and if they offered Jews genuine equality (minus the ability to oppress anybody, of course), this would make it a lot easier for ordinary Jews to see that their Zionist leaders are only using them, and that their real safety and security and prosperity lie with becoming equal citizens in a single democratic Palestine--a revolutionary Palestine that rejects the capitalist values of inequality and competition and top-down control.

Israeli leaders like Sharon seem to appreciate the gifts offered them by Hamas. Sharon recently returned the favor, tacitly. By pulling out of Gaza unilaterally instead of pretending that it was the result of shrewd PLO negotiating, Sharon handed Hamas a gift: he allowed Hamas to claim that its armed resistance, not the PLO's negotiating, deserved the credit for the pullout. This certainly helped Hamas win the recent election, as Sharon clearly knew it would.

When the conflict is framed by the Hamas/Zionist pairing as a fight of one religion versus the other,
it is a recipe for maintaining the status quo of elite rule. What gets lost are the actual revolutionary anti-capitalist aspirations of ordinary people, of all religious persuasions, for a society based on equality and solidarity and democracy.


See "Analysis: Hamas history tied to Israel" by Richard Sale, UPI Terrorism Correspondent, published 6/18/2002 at

The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), 18 August 1988, from]


At 9:13 PM, February 04, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Hello John,

Like always, your words and, most importantly, actions are an inspiration. Earlier, I posted a version of this piece that you emailed out on the Nakba '48 website.

I agree for the most part with everything you have said and I think you bring up some really important, valid and thought-provoking points. Yet I feel like the end of your piece leaves somethings unresolved as well. So what should be done about Hamas? Where do they fit in then when trying to frame the conflict as not the traditional Jew vs Arab or Jewish fundamentalist vs Islamist fundamentalist but as capitalist and racist ideology vs the working masses. Do you think they should be completely cast aside as fundamentalists?

Hamas, like everyone else, should definitely be criticized for their exceptionalism (limited that it is). Yet I also believe it is very important at the same time to stress where Hamas' problematic nature originates. Contrary to what is being propagated through Western orientalist discourse, it certainly is not inherent in "political" Islam (what's not political?). As we see with many other religions, its basis is humanistic and in the beginning there was even immense revolutionary potential (resurrected by those like Ali Shariati) before co-optation. I do not mean to accuse you of orientalism, but I think the emphasis of your critique certainly could be interpreted this way in the current context of increasing Arab and Muslim oppression. But I do not think your tone is constructive in telling the Palestinian people what they do not need.

If revolution is the path to true liberation, this will also remove the root cause of Hamas' exceptionalism. As you point at, the Israeli elites are the ones who hold power, not Palestinians except in micro contexts like the PA. Yes, suicide bombings provide a justification for their existence. I don't mean to rationalize bloodshed but they also have the effect like 9/11 did for many people (including myself) to begin seriously questioning the reality constructed for them.

Besides, Hamas is relatively new. Regardless if they existed or not, the employment of ideology to occlude the monopolization of power is what needs to be exposed, not the victims of such practices. When this ideology is eviscerated, pathing the way for revolution, positions of exceptionalism like Hamas' will no longer be tenable.

At 10:10 AM, February 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, it's rather simple. I think my ethics most closely resemble those of Albert Camus in his book "The Rebel": if you are going to take someone else's life for the cause, you must be willing to then sacrifice your own.

I believe that is why so many people cannot get over the whole concept of "suicide bombing": it is so anti-thetical to their current ideology of selfish hedonism, limitless self-gratification, and unsurpassable subjectivity bordering on solipsism. The core capitalist values of "me-first" simply cannot assimilate/reconcile the altruistic act of a suicide bomber.

Therefore, I characterize "terrorism" in a different manner than John (although as Rob points out, I believe John's piece is extremely well-written and thought-provoking from start to finish). For me, terrorism is the ability to push a button from an airplane flying over the sky and launch a missile that will kill someone, and then go home and have dinner with your family. That is a terrorizing inhumanity that makes the hair on the back of my head stand-up.

Thus to consolidate my remarks with reference to John and Rob, I'll say this: Hamas' victory does indeed signify the inspiring fortitude of the Palestinian people's will to live while being terrorized daily (see BBC for today's death count from a missile attack on a building in Gaza). I also agree that Hamas' ideal of an Islamic state is itself problematic. However, we need to have it clearly spelled out to us what an Islamic state constitutes before we throw the baby out with the bath water. We definitely know what Zionism brought us: Israel with its capitalism and terrorism. If Islam can be reconceptualized into a liberation theology, then an "Islamic state" would not appear so problematic after all, since it would look nothing like the "scary" Islamism that is being ingrained in Westerners' minds as uncivilized, oppressive barbarism (However, in the hands of the current set of beleagered and reactionary Islamic leadership worldwide, the prospects for such a turn are not promising...) I guess my point is, I'm somewhere in-between Rob and John: I definitely see terrorism as something different than what John does, but at the same time, I'm not willing to apologize for Hamas quite as much as Rob. Anyways, none of this matters anyway, since Hamas is just a social construction that we can always be re-negotiated through dialogue between persons-in-history...

At 3:47 PM, February 05, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

With regards to terrorism, I more agree with David than John. But, would this really change anything that much? Remember, Fateh has used more "terrorism" (using John's definition) in the past year than Hamas, who even according to Israel, has strictly kept to their cease-fire.

My goal is not to apologize for Hamas, just to try and point out more clearly who is the one that holds power and is thus ultimately responsible for this bloodbath. As pointed out by John with Hamas and with 'Al-Qaeda' (if there is such a thing) and even Iran, this reactionary nature has been explicitly encouraged by the West. I think it is extremely important at all times to stress that this reaction is just that--the product not the producer of oppression.

I think it certainly does matter because, as white Western males, we automatically have an undeserved and often unacknowledged privileged position in this 'dialogue'. As such, I do not see how we can tell Palestinians what to do since we can only possibly strive to partially comprehend the context of their existence. I believe we should focus our energy on removing that which produces this dehumanizing existence (i.e. ideology) and, if they should be willing, assist them in developing the theoretical tools required to make this liberating turn in their own lives. When this is done then dialogue can truly begin to take place.


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