Anyone wondering why no resolution has been found to the vexed Israeli-Palestinian question, despite countless internationally-driven peace initiatives, need look no further than the article by Hamas politburo member Mousa Abu Marzouq (Mail & Guardian online, November 29). In his relentlessly accusatory, tiresomely tendentious screed, Marzouq ticks off all the standard conspiratorial, post-colonial, ultra-leftist and anti-Western boxes.
It’s all there – rapacious settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, racism, exploitation, international law violations – all in all, the standard narrative of unrelenting Jewish-Zionist evil versus pristine Palestinian innocence.
In a broader sense, Marzouq’s article encapsulates the self-defeating culture of denialism, unreflecting sense of righteous victimhood, obsessive rewriting of established historical truths and above all, implacable determination to eradicate the reborn Jewish state come what may that drives Palestinian politics to this day. Such an ideology allows for no wiggle room, no compromise, no taking into account of the claims of the other side. In so absolutist a world view, the endgame is not peace, but victory. That, certainly, is what drives Hamas, a totalitarian, unapologetically Islamist movement that regards as unacceptable anything less than the total annihilation of the Israeli state.
So far as the actual details of Marzouq’s article are concerned, one finds that virtually every allegation he makes against Israel is subject to serious challenge, if not outright refutation. Because of space constraints, it will be possible to respond to only a few of them. Let’s begin by unpacking the allegation, one regularly levelled at Israel, that Gaza is being subjected to a “siege”. Now a siege, as everyone knows, consists of an attempt by hostile forces to seize control of a particular place, be it a town, territory or even, arguably, an entire country. Its defining nature is that one side seeks to force its way in while the other seeks to keep them out.
Consider, then, how the Gaza story has unfolded since 2005. It commenced with the withdrawal of Israeli military forces together with the (sometimes forced) removal of Jews then living in the territory. What quickly followed was the violent overthrow of the ruling Fatah regime by Hamas, which reiterated its intention of carrying out cross-border attacks against Israelis. After Israel responded by erecting a border fence and imposing a naval blockade (completely legally, under international law), Hamas resorted to firing missiles over the barrier. When Israel stymied this tactic both by military retaliation and the introduction of an effective anti-missile defense system, the focus switched to the building of dozens of infiltration tunnels under the border (which Israel is now countering by building an underground wall).
Across, over, under – Hamas has employed every conceivable stratagem to inflict harm on its neighbor. It would be an easy matter for Israel to seize control of Gaza if it so desired, but instead its efforts have been focused on preventing attacks from there. If anything, therefore, it is Israel that can claim to be under siege. And if Gaza is indeed, as Marzouq laments, “the largest open-air prison in the world”, it is a prison of Hamas’s own making.
Next, let’s examine the claim of Israel having launched “three, mostly aerial wars, on the territory”. The clear implication is that these were unprovoked wars of aggression. I doubt whether even Marzouq believes this to have been the case. All three conflicts, as he well knows, were preceded in the days and weeks leading up to them by a continual cross-border rocket barrage against Israeli civilian targets, with the eventual number of missiles fired numbering in the thousands. The record further consistently shows Hamas having violated internationally brokered ceasefires, not to mention using densely populated civilian areas from where to carry out its attacks.
Other allegations will have to be dealt with more briefly. What about the claim that the Palestinians gained nothing from 25 years of negotiations? Here, Marzouq omits to mention that Hamas has consistently opposed the negotiations process and done everything in its power to stymie it (perhaps most notably in the 1990s, when it embarked on its campaign of suicide terrorism to undermine the Oslo peace process).
How true is it that the Palestinians lost the remaining 22% of their land to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War? Actually, the West Bank and Gaza were at that time already occupied by foreign powers, respectively Jordan and Egypt, and were captured by Israel in a defensive war.
And was 78% of the Palestinians’ homeland indeed “stolen” back in 1948? In reality, there had never been a politically sovereign, territorially distinct entity known as ‘Palestine’, only a territory that had prior to this been under the control of a succession of colonial powers. The State of Israel was legally established, with the explicit sanction of the United Nations, on part of the land, while a Palestinian state would have come into being on the remainder, had the local Arab population, in alliance with the surrounding Arab states, not embarked on a disastrous military campaign aimed at annihilating Israel and gaining control of the entire territory. It also does not help that Palestinian propaganda persistently, and bizarrely, denies that Jews have any roots in the area, historical or otherwise.
Marzouq peddles the notion that the aims and ideology of Hamas, and other extremist Islamist movements seeking Israel’s destruction, are the moral equivalent of this country’s struggle against apartheid, and should be supported accordingly. South Africans should resist being manipulated in this way. In reality, there are few real points of comparison between what occurred here and what is at issue in the Middle East. Even more pertinently, let no equivalence be drawn between the essentially democratic, humanitarian vision of a South Africa that belongs to all that live in it and the hate-driven, zero-sum agenda of Hamas and their ilk. The one made possible a peaceful transformation to non-racial democracy; the other will simply perpetuate a conflict that has already gone on for too long, and continue to prevent the Palestinians from attaining the freedom they so desire.
David Saks is the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies