The dehumanisation of a people is a prerequisite to their subjugation. It’s clear that this tactic is being employed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians. Just look to Netanyahu’s recent address at the UN, which was denounced as Islamophobic by Arab-Israeli members of the Knesset. Or the choice of “experts” on Palestinians prepared for media enquires. Of whom, one Professor Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University, asserts: “The only thing that can deter terrorists […] is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped. It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East.”
It’s concerningly effective. Even those who agree that Israel is in the wrong express deep reservations over the collective conduct of the Palestinian populace. Hamas is a dangerous organisation, the line goes, and they must be stopped by any means necessary. The Palestinians must turn their back on Hamas, and instead embrace the Palestinian Authority led by the prince of mediocrity, Mahmoud Abbas. Equating Hamas with the Islamic State is not only boldly inaccurate, but deeply Islamophobic.
The bogeyman fear of militant Islam clouds our better judgement. The Palestinian Authority is a blight on the liberation efforts of Palestinian people, and the sooner it is dissolved, the better. Hamas, which was democratically elected in 2006, was never given a chance as its electoral success was immediately punished by Western-backed sanctions.
Do we have any reason to believe that Israel would have been in danger had Hamas remained in power? Following Hamas’ victory at the polls in 2006, the newly elected Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, wrote to President Bush: “We are so concerned about stability and security in the area that we don’t mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and offering a truce for many years. […] We are not warmongers, we are peacemakers.”
Of course, this was ignored.
And then earlier this year, when Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told the world “we ask for tolerance, for coexistence,” the world turned its back.
It’s so much easier to see Hamas as a vengeful, destructive organisation, but it’s a false classification that endangers any peace endeavour. Peace can only come about in a united Palestine: it’s not a stretch to say that elements of the extreme-right in Tel Aviv know this and have done everything in their power to undermine a unity government.
The 1988 Charter of Hamas, which is so often pointed to as supreme and overriding evidence of the supposed genocidal intentions of the organisation, is, I will concede, unashamedly anti-Semitic. But it is not at all representative of the contemporary organisation. As Professor Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University explains, “The differences between the party’s platform and the Islamic Charter do not represent an attempt at deception or the empty and unconsidered use of words. They are a product of a change and modification of lines of thought as a part of the process by which Hamas has become a political movement.”
In the words of Mashaal, the Charter “should not be regarded as the fundamental ideological frame of reference from which the movement takes its positions.” Moreover, Hamas spokesperson Ibrahim Ghoshesh has said “it goes without saying that the articles of the charter are not sacred […] they are subject to review and revision.”
Of course, it would be patently absurd to attempt to absolve Hamas from its various failures and crimes. It is worth pointing out that the extreme-right frequently attempts to dissuade the world from taking a position on Israel-Palestine by professing that the conflict is “too complicated” to understand. Nothing is black and white, they claim. While I will suggest that there is a clear distinction between occupier and occupied, between oppressor and oppressed, I would wonder why the courtesy of grayscale thinking is not extended to Hamas.
Hamas is not what you think it is. The scapegoating of the organisation and the scorn heaped on Palestinians that dare to defend it is nothing short of Islamophobia. Whether the world likes it or not, Hamas must be a party to peace for there to be any peace at all.