Posts Tagged Hamas
Q: Martin Kramer spoke of Gaza’s “superfluous young men.” Is anyone in Gaza “superfluous”?
A: “I don’t mind if Gazans continue producing babies, but they will have to move somewhere else. They simply will not fit into their current geography—forgetting about feeding and employing them, too.” (Dr. Hassan Abu Libdeh, president, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2000.)
Q: Okay… Well, if that’s the situation, wouldn’t it make sense for Gaza’s government to promote family planning?
A: “Unlike the West that practices family planning, we encourage having children for political reasons.” (Dr. Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, co-founder of Hamas in Gaza, 2003.)
Q: Political reasons? For couples having children?
A: “Marriage is the same as jihad. With marriage, you are producing another generation that believes in resistance.” (Muhammad Yousef, member of the Qassam Brigades in Gaza, the Hamas underground, 2008.)
Q: I hadn’t thought of that. So would you say the present Israeli sanctions are starving the “resistance” in the cradle?
A: “It’s not a humanitarian crisis. People aren’t starving.” (Khaled Abdel Shaafi, director, UN Development Program in Gaza, 2008.)
Q: But Kramer said that the present sanctions might be breaking Gaza’s runaway birth rate. If so, how?
A: “The percentage of married females in 1997 was 57.2% compared to 50.5% in 2007. This indicates a decrease in marriage rates in the Gaza Strip, which could be due to Israeli siege and the resulting economic impacts.” (Dr. Luay Shabaneh, president, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009.)
Q: Aha, that’s how. But Gaza’s still growing fast, so what’s the long-term solution?
A: “All the rural Jews in the southern district from Ashdod (Isdud) to Eilat (Umm Rashrash) are less in number than one refugee camp in Gaza. Their density is six persons per square kilometre while that of Gaza’s population—the owners of this very land—is 6,000 per square kilometre.” (Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, president, Palestine Land Society, 2007.)
Q: Yes, but… that land is in Israel proper. Are you saying that Gaza’s problem can’t be solved in Gaza’s pre-1967 borders?
A: “Hamas looks toward Palestine! All Palestine! The liberation of Gaza is only a step on the road to the complete and total liberation of all Palestine, with the help of God Almighty.” (Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, 2009.)
Q: Thank you for your… candor.
Charles “Chas” Freeman, the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is slated to become chair of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), is being praised by his supporters as a brilliantly “contrarian” analyst. But has anyone gone back to examine the analyses? Here is an example from June 2002:
I’m a very practical man, and my concern is simply this: that there are movements, like Hamas, like Hezbollah, that in recent decades have not done anything against the United States or Americans, even though the United States supports their enemy, Israel. By openly stating and taking action to make them—to declare that we are their enemy, we invite them to extend their operations in the United States or against Americans abroad. There’s an old adage which says you should pick your friends carefully. I would add: you should be even more careful when designating your enemies, lest they act in that manner.
So what has happened over the past seven years? The United States hasn’t budged on its designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. (In September 2002, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage even called Hezbollah “the A-team of terrorism” as compared to the B-team, Al Qaeda.) The United States has boycotted both organizations, and has insisted that others boycott them as well. Above all, it’s supported Israel to the hilt in two wars, in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009, in which Israel pounded first Hezbollah and then Hamas for weeks with U.S.-supplied aircraft and ordnance. There’s little more the United States could have done, short of bombing Beirut and Gaza City itself, to demonstrate to Hezbollah and Hamas that they’re on America’s wrong side.
Yet here we are, nearly seven years later, and where is the wave of Hezbollah- and Hamas-sponsored international terror in and against the United States? It’s not materialized, for a host of reasons that were already clear back in 2002. Freeman’s warning was a classic example of preemptive cringe—in this case, shying away from merely naming an organization as terrorist for fear it might threaten you.
And this wasn’t the only time Freeman did it. In October that same year, as war with Iraq loomed, he raised the specter of Saddam attacking the United States. This came in response to a cost-benefit analysis of war made by the strategist Anthony Cordesman. Warning that Saddam “would will use every weapon in his arsenal” if attacked, Freeman asked:
Is Saddam so stupid and autistic that he hasn’t noticed that for several years the United States has been declaring our intention to come and get him—especially this president? And if he has noticed, do you think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he has prepositioned retaliation against the United States here in the United States? Inspectors can find and eliminate nuclear programs because they’re bulky, consume a lot of power and the like, and maybe they can do the same with chemical programs, but biological programs can be cooked up in the basement of relatively small houses. So I just wonder again, as we look at the possible benefits—and Tony [Cordesman] has made an eloquent case that, great as the risks are, the benefits are substantial, and waiting increases the risks—do we have a risk that we might experience an attack on our own homeland by unconventional means from this regime as it goes down?
“The problem with this argument is several-fold,” replied Cordesman gently. “First, it means Iraq has to be very confident that its intelligence operations are clever and subtle. But I have never been impressed by the cleverness and subtlety of Iraqi intelligence.” In any case, he added, “the threat of such risks also isn’t a valid argument against going to war,” since “presumably they can make the threat more sophisticated over time”—i.e., an Iraqi terror threat was an argument for U.S. action, not against it.
Of course, Saddam went down without launching an unconventional attack from a basement in America.
All this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow had Freeman warned us in advance of the possibility of a 9/11-style attack coming out of Saudi Arabia—and remember, he’d been U.S. ambassador to that country when the threat began to coalesce. Some “contrarians” did warn, but he didn’t, and he isn’t even credible in explaining the attacks after the fact. (Example: “What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.”)
So I don’t see anything realistic about Freeman’s sort of “realism,” and if this is what constitutes “contrarian” thought—conjuring up threats to intimidate ourselves—then we’ll only have dropped preemptive action in favor of preemptive cringe. Washington is teeming with real realists—rigorous thinkers who are independent of foreign billionaires and relatively free of that psychological scarring that induces an obsession with Israel. Is Chas Freeman the best this administration can do?
Update: Terrorism expert Thomas Joscelyn points out that Hezbollah did attack Americans more recently than Freeman allowed in his 2002 quote—to wit, the Khobar bombings, done by the Saudi Hezbollah in 1996 (here is the 2001 indictment). He asks how Freeman—supposed authority on all things Saudi—managed not to know that. It’s an excellent question. Joscelyn also reminds us that Hezbollah has had a hand in attacks on American forces in Iraq. True, but this is not what Freeman had in mind when he warned against designation of Hezbollah. There were no American forces in Iraq yet, so he was cringing over something different: an attack on the homeland or international terrorism against Americans. They haven’t happened.
Pointer: See my previous post on Freeman and 9/11.
Update, late afternoon, March 10: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”
Henry Siegman, who must spend every waking hour hating Israel, has a piece in the London Review of Books, which is never complete without an Israel-bashing tirade. This one is called simply “Israel’s Lies.” Siegman spends a lot of time faulting Israel for the breakdown of the previous six-month cease-fire with Hamas, reached through Egyptian mediation in June 2008. In one passage, he accurately reports the quid pro quo of the cease-fire:
[The cease-fire] required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad… and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions.
Correct. But only a couple of paragraphs earlier, he set up the cease-fire as an entirely differently deal—and accused Israel of violating it:
Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further.
Therefore according to Siegman, Israel violated the cease-fire before Hamas fired a single rocket, by reneging on its supposed commitment to ease sanctions. Rashid Khalidi, writing in the New York Times, went even further: “Lifting the blockade,” he wrote, “along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.” (My emphasis.)
None of this is true.
First of all, contra Khalidi, Israel did not agree to “lifting” of the “blockade,” only to easing it. At the time, the Economist reported the cease-fire thus (my emphasis):
The two sides agreed to start with three days of calm. If that holds, Israel will allow some construction materials and merchandise into Gaza, slightly easing an economic blockade that it has imposed since Hamas wrested control of the strip.
And Israel did just that: it slightly eased the sanctions on some construction materials and merchandise. Siegman falsely claims that Israel “tightened” its “throttlehold” on Gaza after the cease-fire, and that this is confirmed by “every neutral international observer and NGO.” Untrue. The numbers refuting him appear in the last PalTrade (Palestine Trade Center) report on the Gaza terminals, published on November 19, as part of its “Cargo Movement and Access Monitoring and Reporting Project.” The report says the following (my emphasis):
Following the announcement of the truce ‘hudna’ on June 19, 2008 and took effect on June 22, a slight improvement occurred in terms of terminals operation times, types of goods, and truckloads volume that [Israel] allowed to enter Gaza Strip.
This is exactly what Israel had agreed to permit. Here is the table from the PalTrade report, comparing average monthly imports before the Hamas coup (June 12, 2007), between the coup and the “truce,” and then after (i.e., during) the “truce” (through October 31). (If you can’t see the table below, click here).
As is obvious from this table, Israel did ease sanctions during the cease-fire. The average number of truckloads per month entering Gaza during the cease-fire rose by 50 percent over the period before the cease-fire, and Israel also allowed the import of some aggregates and cement, formerly prohibited. (No metal allowed, of course—it’s used to make rockets.) Israel did not allow more fuel, but the PalTrade report notes that fuel brought from Egypt through the tunnels “somewhat made up the deficit of fuel that entered through Nahal Oz entry point.” (For Israel’s own day-by-day, crossing-by-crossing account of what went into Gaza during the cease-fire, go here. This account also puts the increase of merchandise entering Gaza at 50 percent.)
Why do the Khalidi and Siegman errors (or lies, if made knowingly) matter now? If you believe Khalidi’s claim that the last cease-fire included “lifting the blockade,” you might say: why shouldn’t Israel agree to lift it in this one? Or if you believe Siegman’s claim that Israel tightened the sanctions at the crossings during the cease-fire, you might say: Israel shortchanged the Palestinians once, so the next deal on the crossings has to have international guarantees. But in both cases, you’d be relying on entirely bogus claims.
Israel has a compelling strategic reason to keep the sanctions in place. (I say sanctions and not blockade, because Israel doesn’t control the Egyptian-Gazan border, and so cannot impose a true blockade.) Israel’s sanctions are meant to squeeze the “resistance” out of the Hamas regime—and, if possible, to break its monopoly on power in Gaza. Unless these goals are met, at least in part, it’s lights-out for any peace process. And as long as sanctions don’t create extreme humanitarian crises—as opposed to hardships—they’re a perfectly legitimate tool. It was sanctions that ended apartheid in South Africa, kept Saddam from reconstituting his WMD programs, got Qadhafi to give up his WMD, and might (hope against hope) stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Hamas owes everything not to its feeble “resistance,” but to the tendency of the weak of will or mind to throw it lifelines. It’s now demanding that the sanctions be lifted, and the usual chorus is echoing the cynical claims of a tyrannical and terrorist regime that shows no mercy toward its opponents, Israeli or Palestinian. Supporters of peace shouldn’t acquiesce in another bailout of its worst enemy. It’s time to break the cycle, and make it clear beyond doubt that the Hamas bubble has burst. The way to do that is to keep the sanctions in place.
Martin Kramer posted this comment in the thread “Did Hamas Really Win in Gaza?” at Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH).
One way to approach this question is to ask whether Hamas has achieved the objectives for which it escalated the crisis, by its refusal to extend the cease-fire. Musa Abu Marzuq, number two in the Damascus office, explained the primary Hamas objective in a very straightforward way: “The tahdiyeh had become ‘a ceasefire [in exchange for another] ceasefire,’ with no connection either to the crossings and [the goods] transported through them, or to the siege. Terminating it was [thus] a logical move.” So Hamas gambled, escalated, and now finds itself, once again, in a “cease-fire for a cease-fire.” Israel’s primary objective was to compel a cease-fire by means of deterrence alone, without opening the crossings, thus serving its long-term strategy of containing and undercutting Hamas. This it has achieved, so far.
When Israel launched its operation, Hamas announced a secondary objective: to inflict significant military casualties on the Israelis. For this purpose, it had built up a network of fortifications supposedly on the Lebanon model, which it promised to turn into a “graveyard” for Israeli forces. The military wing announced that “the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will pay a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face.” This too never happened. The Hamas line quickly folded, its “fighters” shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population. That Hamas failed to fight did surprise many Israeli soldiers, who had expected more. But there was no battle anywhere, and Israel suffered only 10 military fatalities, half of them from friendly fire. Hamas has taken to claiming that Israel has hidden its military casualties, and has thrown out various numbers—a rather precise measure of what it had hoped and failed to achieve.
There is something perverse in the notion that Hamas “won” by merely surviving. Robert Malley has said that “for Hamas, it was about showing that they could stay in place without giving way, and from this point of view it has achieved its main objective.” This was not its “main objective” by any stretch of the imagination. Rashid Khalidi has written that “like Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006, all [Hamas] has to do in order to proclaim victory is remain standing.” But Hamas had a specific objective—lifting the “siege”—which was altogether different from the objective of Hezbollah. This objective Hamas manifestly failed to achieve. It also failed to achieve the secondary objective it shared with Hezbollah: inflicting Israeli military casualties. It defies logic to declare the mere survival of Hamas to be a triumph, given that Hamas openly declared a much larger objective, and Israel never made the military destruction of Hamas an objective.
War is only the pursuit of politics by other means, and anything could happen going forward. Israel could forfeit its war gains by inept diplomacy—something for which there is ample Israeli precedent. Hamas could parley its setback into a diplomatic gain—something for which there is ample Arab precedent. But I think there is little doubt that at the end of the war, Israel had achieved many of its stated objectives, and Hamas had not.
A final point, on the comparison of Hamas to Hezbollah. It is always a mistake to lump these two movements together. Hezbollah’s “Islamic Resistance” deserves the name. For years, it confronted Israel militarily in southern Lebanon, and fought battles of maneuver and assaulted Israel’s fortified lines. Its cadres received serious Iranian training, and while they didn’t win a straight fight with the IDF in 2006, they were battle-hardened, fought hard, and inflicted casualties. The “resistance” of Hamas has always been a fiction. Hamas’s so-called “military wing” developed in circumstances of occupation, and it specialized exclusively in the suicide belt and the Qassam rocket, both terrorist weapons which it directed almost exclusively at civilians. The videos of masked Hamas “fighters” in elaborate jihad-chic costumes, brandishing guns and jumping through hoops of fire, were cheap posturing. Hamas doesn’t have a cadre of battle-hardened fighters; one Israeli soldier aptly described those who did pop up in Gaza as “villagers with guns.”
If the “siege” of Gaza is significantly eased or lifted (which I still think is unlikely), it won’t be because Palestinian “resistance” forced Israel’s hand. It will be because Palestinian suffering has weighed on the conscience of others. That’s a very old story, and there’s nothing new or “heroic” about it. Those who’ve promised to liberate Jerusalem and Palestine by arms are (again) begging the world for sacks of flour.
The late Edward Said, the Palestinian-American icon, described the role of the intellectual as “speaking truth to power.” In that spirit, many Palestinian academics and thinkers broke with Yasir Arafat and Fatah, accusing them of corruption and compromise.
These intellectuals are nearly all secularists, who’ve long insisted to the world that the cause of Palestine is also the cause of revolution, equality, and democracy. So now that Hamas rules, are these intellectuals speaking the same truth to (and about) the Islamists who’ve become the new power?
No one knows what guidance Edward Said would offer were he alive today. But during his last decade (he died in 2003), he made occasional reference to Hamas (and Islamic Jihad). When these references are assembled, as they are below, they convey a consistent message. Palestinian intellectuals seem to have ignored it, as they rush headlong to embrace an Islamist regime.
Said made his first reference to Hamas in 1993, after two visits to the West Bank. At the time, Hamas hadn’t yet become a household word in the West. Nor had it perfected the method of the suicide attack. Said was underwhelmed by the encounter:
In 1992 when I was there, I briefly met a few of the student leaders who represent Hamas: I was impressed by their sense of political commitment but not at all by their ideas. In 1993 I arranged to spend some more hours with them and with their rivals for political sway, Islamic Jihad. I found them quite moderate when it came to accepting the truths of modern science, for instance (interestingly the four young men I spoke to were students with outstanding records: all of them were scientists or engineers); hopelessly reductive in their views of the West; and irrefragably opposed to the existence of Israel. “The Jews have to leave,” one of them said categorically, “except for the ones who were here before 1948.” … In the main, their ideas are protests against Israeli occupation, their leaders neither especially visible nor impressive, their writings rehashes of old nationalist tracts, now couched in an “Islamic” idiom. (The Politics of Dispossession, pp. 403-5.)
In 1994, Tariq Ali interviewed Said for the BBC, and Said repeated his opinion that Hamas had no ideas on offer:
In my opinion, their ideas about an Islamic state are completely inchoate, unconvincing to anybody who lives there. Nobody takes that aspect of their programme seriously. When you question them, as I have, both on the West Bank and elsewhere: “What are your economic policies? What are your ideas about power stations, or housing?”, they reply: “Oh, we’re thinking about that.” There is no social programme that could be labelled “Islamic.” I see them as creatures of the moment, for whom Islam is an opportunity to protest against the current stalemate, the mediocrity and bankruptcy of the ruling party.
That same year, 1994, Said sharpened his critique of Hamas, even as the movement gained momentum as an oppositional force:
As to Hamas and its actions in the Occupied Territories, I know that the organization is one of the only ones expressing resistance…. Yet for any secular intellectual to make a devil’s pact with a religious movement is, I think, to substitute convenience for principle. It is simply the other side of the pact we made during the past several decades with dictatorship and nationalism, for example, supporting Saddam Hussein when he went to war with “the Persians.” (Peace and its Discontents, p. 111.)
By placing Hamas in the same box as Saddam, and by equating Islamism with dictatorship, Said left little room for doubt as to the responsibility of the secular critic.
In 1996, the year Hamas gained international notoriety with a series of devastating suicide bombings, Said found still more disparaging adjectives for the growing movement of “Islamic resistance”:
Unfortunately, it is not to my taste, it is not secular resistance. Look at some of the Islamic movements, Hamas on the West Bank, the Islamic Jihad, etc. They are violent and primitive forms of resistance. You know, what Hobsbawn calls pre-capital, trying to get back to communal forms, to regulate personal conduct with simpler and simpler reductive ideas. (Power, Politics, and Culture, p. 416.)
In 2000, Said again returned to the poverty of ideas in Hamas:
They don’t have a message about the future. You can’t simply say Islam is the only solution. You have to deal with problems of electricity, water, the environment, transportation. Those can’t be Islamic. So they’ve failed on that level. (Culture and Resistance, p. 62.)
In 2002, in the midst of the second intifada, Said made his last and most devastating critique of the Islamists, chiding Arafat for allowing them to wreak havoc with the cause:
He [Arafat] never really reined in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which suited Israel perfectly so that it would have a ready-made excuse to use the so-called martyrs’ (mindless) suicide bombings to further diminish and punish the whole people. If there is one thing that has done us more harm as a cause than Arafat’s ruinous regime, it is this calamitous policy of killing Israeli civilians, which further proves to the world that we are indeed terrorists and an immoral movement. For what gain, no one has been able to say. (From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map, p. 185.)
So from an early date, Said discovered that Hamas hadn’t a clue as to how to govern. He described it as gripped by “hopelessly reductive” ideas. He dismissed its violent resistance as “primitive” and “mindless,” and deplored that violence for doing more harm to the Palestinian cause than the harm done by Arafat. Above all, he warned secular intellectuals against concluding a “devil’s pact” with Hamas that would sacrifice principle to convenience. Said would not compromise his secularism. In 1999, he succinctly explained why he could not ally himself with Islamists, even in the shared cause Palestine: “First, I am secular; second, I do not trust religious movements; and third, I disagree with these movements’ methods, means, analyses, values, and visions.” (Power, Politics, and Culture, p. 437.)
Given Said’s standing as the guiding light of Palestinian intellectuals, it’s remarkable that not a single one has echoed his critique of Hamas since the Palestinian elections. To the contrary: several of them have rushed to enter that “devil’s pact” against which he warned.
For example, there is Said’s own nephew, Saree Makdisi, a professor of literature at UCLA, who keeps a weblog, “Speaking Truth to Power.” (The title suggests that he’s especially qualified to keep Said’s flame alive.) But Makdisi seems to have forgotten his uncle’s dismissal of Hamas rhetoric as “rehashes of old nationalist tracts,” when writing these fawning words in praise of an article by the Damascus-based commissar of Hamas, Khalid Meshaal.
Meshaal revives the language of genuine struggle rather than that of hopelessness and defeat; he relies on the unapologetic rhetoric of national liberation, rather than the tired cliches and bureaucratic language (“performance,” “interim status”) borrowed from Israeli and American planners…. What was refreshing about Meshaal’s piece was his use of a defiant language of struggle.
Similarly, George Bisharat, a University of California law professor and activist, wrote an op-ed praising the Palestinians for doing exactly what Said said he could never do on principle: trust a religious movement:
The Palestinians have gained a government with spine one they trust will be far less yielding of their fundamental rights. It is to the shame of the secular nationalist Palestinian movement that it was not the one to offer this alternative. One day, Palestinians will have to wrestle with questions of what kind of polity they truly want, Islamic or other. For now, they have entrusted their future to Hamas, and the world will have to grapple with their democratic choice.
Issa Khalaf, Palestinian-American author of a book on Palestinian politics and holder of an Oxford Ph.D., shared nothing of Said’s view of Hamas policy as a danger to the Palestinian cause. To the contrary: in an op-ed he hailed the Hamas “strategy” as “eminently sound, including its principled defense of the Palestinians’ core interests, its efforts to create a national consensus and a countervailing balance to the one-sided American-Israeli alliance.” He also added his expert assurance that “its Islamist militancy will be dramatically curtailed upon assumption of the perquisites and symbols of state power.” (“There is no question in my mind,” he insisted.)
After the elections, Rami Khouri, the Palestinian-Jordanian columnist now based in Beirut, went to meet a few Hamas members, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh in Beirut. Unlike Said, he came away glowing from his encounter (which lasted all of two-and-a-half hours). In an article entitled “Talking to the Guys from Hamas,” he reported his epiphany:
What does one learn from such encounters? The two most significant themes that emerge from discussions with Hamas officials, and from their many statements, are a commitment to national principles and a clear dose of political pragmatism… Hamas will surely continue its three-year-old slow shift towards more pragmatism and realism, because it is now politically accountable to the entire Palestinian population, and to world public opinion. Incumbency means responsibility and accountability, which inevitably nurture practicality and reasonable compromises.
All the evidence so far indicates that the promise of such an “inevitable” transformation has not been kept. Of course, it’s a promise Hamas itself never made; it was made instead by Palestinian intellectuals and their Western academic allies. In making it, they hurriedly jettisoned their own secular principles. “I do not trust religious movements,” said Edward Said. Since the election of Hamas, not a single Palestinian intellectual has dared to repeat that sentence. Instead, an entire raft of them (the sample above is comprised entirely of nominal Christians) has insisted that those whom Hamas openly reviles should trust the “Islamic Resistance,” and conclude just the sort of “devil’s pact” that would strengthen its grip on the Palestinian cause. (Rami Khouri has gone the farthest, openly urging Arab liberals to ally with the mighty Islamists on the basis of their shared “core values.”)
Admittedly, there is no more dangerous enterprise in the Middle East than speaking truth to (and about) Islamist power. But it’s another sign of the weakness of the Palestinian people that it hasn’t a single intellectual who remembers how to do it.