Any discussion of Israel’s war on Gaza that does not focus on 1) the Zionist military’s and Israel’s systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through roughly 1948 (that’s how Palestinian refugees ended up in the Gaza Strip); 2) the military conquest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967; 3) the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007, following the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 (yes, the occupation ended, but Gaza remains a prison camp — as though guards left a prison but maintained strict control over who and what — food, medicine, infrastructure supplies, etc. — could enter and leave); and 4) the exploitation of the kidnapping and murders of three young Israeli residents of an illegal West Bank settlement (one a 19-year-old soldier) to rout Hamas (which denied responsibility; it normally claims credit for his acts) in the West Bank (Israeli forces rearrested several hundred West Bank Palestinians, including some who had been released in an earlier prisoner exchange; political leaders stirred up revenge fever and one Palestinian youth was burned to death, while another was severely beaten by police) — any discussion that fails to take all these things into account is worse than worthless. It is crudely dishonest. (Compare the reaction to the murder of the three Israelis with the murder by Israeli soldiers of two Palestinian youth on May 15 while peacefully commemorating the 1948 destruction of Palestine, known as the Nakba.)
Hamas is wrong to fire rockets at civilians (though few hit their targets), even considering that the villages those civilians live in were once Palestinian villages that Zionist/Israeli forces seized during the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing. The rocketing, however, is a sign of weakness versus Israel, not strength, and must not permit us to overlook this background of brutality against Palestinians. This year Hamas agreed to join the Palestinian Authority’s coalition government (after the Israeli government, again, made a mockery of “peace talks”) signaling an endorsement of the PA’s agenda — including recognition of Israel. Was this a welcome step for the Israeli government? No. It immediately set out to punish the Palestinians for this new unity — it prefers a divided Palestinian community and a Hamas it can demonize. (Years ago, the Israeli government nurtured the emergence of Hamas precisely because it could serve as a religious rival to the popular secular Fatah.)
Hamas, it is true, maintains a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, but that has not kept it from issuing statements over the years — joining the coalition is only the most recent — indicating a willingness to accept Israel as part of a two-state solution. It is Israel that has broken truces with Hamas. Its soldiers have often killed and injured Gazans minding their own business on their own side of the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, while Hamas leaders have been assassinated by the Israeli government following offers of a truce. It is clear that Israeli leaders do not want a Hamas they can make peace with, just as they don’t want an Iran with which they can have normal relations. They need the specter of an “existential threat” to maintain their iron rule. In particular, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must push this intransigent line especially hard to keep the members of his coalition government who are further to the right than he is (yes, further) on the reservation.
Israeli leaders and spokesmen continually say that their only goal in this war is “peace and quiet” for the people if Israel. Maybe a decent goal would include justice for the long-suffering Palestinians. This is not about Hamas, an organization that endangers the innocent people it claims to champion with futile yet criminal activities like the rocket fire. This does not let the Israelis and their brutal response — underwritten by American taxpayers and supporter by their rulers — off the hook, however. Ont the contrary, since Israel created and maintains the open-air prison, it is responsible for all the evils that go on inside. Its hard-line policies embolden the most extreme elements and undercut the moderate voices. Has the “peace process” even slowed the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank?
No, it’s not about Hamas; it’s about the Palestinians, who do not deserve this punishment at the hands of the Israelis.
For further discussion of the larger context, see Ramzy Baroud’s “Ravaging Gaza: The War Netanyahu Cannot Possibly Win.” Also worthwhile are Nathan Thrall’s “How the West Chose War in Gaza” and Neve Gordon’s “On ‘Human Shielding’ in Gaza.”