Sunanda K. Datta-Ray | In Hamas, has Bibi found the enemy Israel needs?
When Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978, Golda Meir, Israel’s former Prime Minister, commented that they should get Oscars instead. Also revealing was Benjamin Netanyahu’s confession to his Likud Party, reported in the New York Times of October 22, 2023, that a strong and rich Hamas would kill all dreams of a Palestinian state. “This is part of our strategy”, the latter-day Machiavelli disclosed.
Little wonder that Yasser Arafat, the internationally respected Palestinian leader who died in 2004, contemptuously dismissed Hamas, acronym for the “Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya” (Islamic Resistance Movement), as “a creature of Israel”. By playing into Israeli hands, its murderous October 7 attack convinced the world that the relentless pounding of the Gaza Strip was justified. Hamas’ attack also sanctified Israeli outrage at the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, suggesting that October 7 “did not happen in a vacuum”.
It didn’t. It was another act of war in a war that has been raging since the Ottoman empire collapsed, and victorious Britain and France gobbled up all the Turkish territory they could. Through T.E. Lawrence and his Arab guerrillas, Britain also shaped terrorism into an instrument of state policy during the First World War, decades before the European Parliament branded Russia a user of “means of terrorism”. Zionist terrorists like the Irgun Zvai Leumi, Stern Gang, Palmach and other para-military groups eliminated adult Palestinian males in many villages before, during and after the Naqba, the Catastrophe, as the Palestinians call their final expulsion.
Given that gory background, Emmanuel Macron’s extraordinary suggestion of a global coalition against Hamas suggested as little awareness of West Asian history as of France’s own protracted war against settler terrorists in Algeria. What the European Union and, even more, the United States should do now is to stop blathering about a “two-state solution” and insist that Israel disgorge the lands that it seized from its neighbours in 1967. Like Germany in 1918 or Japan in 1945, it can have no say in the future of illegally occupied conquered territory in Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Friendly nations can then decide Palestine’s sovereign future without reference to Israel, which has never accepted a two-state formula and will continue to thwart it by every means possible.
Hamas distracted attention from the fraud, breach of trust and corruption charges pending against Benjamin Netanyahu, and to which he pleads not guilty, blaming a politically orchestrated leftist, media “witch-hunt”. Not only has the criminal prosecution been shelved, but critics who demanded Mr Netanyahu’s ouster for trying to undermine the judiciary have been silenced. Moreover, the crisis has allowed Mr Netanyahu to enlist the support of a respected centrist Opposition leader, Benny Gantz, who had earlier warned that “whether or not the charges prove to be true or without merit”, Mr Netanyahu will continue to act in accordance with his own political and personal interests. Mr Gantz is now a minister in Mr Netanyahu’s War Cabinet.
As in 19th century Bengal where the Anushilan Samity was dedicated to violently overthrowing British rule, a terrorist is often a freedom fighter on the wrong side of destiny. Given this linkage, it was not surprising when Israel’s 10th Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, replied that he “would have entered one of the terror organisations and fought from there” when asked what his life would have been had he been born a Palestinian. Two Israeli Prime Ministers with a terrorist past, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, may have inspired Sudan to sign the Abraham Accords and normalise relations with Israel, thereby obtaining a $1.2 billion US loan and abolition of the “state sponsor of terrorism” stigma.
Some may find it a little confusing, however, when India, a “big victim of terrorism”, cites its “strong position” on terrorism for not supporting the United Nations resolution for an “urgent, durable, and permanent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza”. It was argued that India “will have no credibility if we say that when terrorism impacts us, it’s very serious; when it happens to somebody else, it’s not serious”. It may seem to many that abstaining in the UN vote did just that.
Returning to Hamas, Israel didn’t create it. That distinction was shared between Ahmad Yasin, a wheelchair-bound Palestinian teacher of Arabic and Islamic studies who was also almost deaf and blind but close to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, Israel’s military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s. Gen. Segev told the New York Times that he had helped finance Palestinian Islamists as a “counterweight” to the secularist and leftist Palestine Liberation Organisation and Arafat’s Fatah party. “The Israeli government gave me a budget,” he confessed, “and the military government gives to the mosques”.
Avner Cohen, a former Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza for more than two decades, provided further confirmation. “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2009, and warned his superiors not to play divide-and-rule in the occupied territories, by backing Islamists against secularists. He advised annihilating the “monster” of Hamas before it “jumps in our face”.
That could have been done in December 1987 when an Israeli truck driver killed some Palestinian workers and started the first Intifada. Yasin and company issued their first leaflet days afterwards, and Hamas’ charter the next August. The Independent’s obituary of Yasin when a missile killed him on March 22, 2004 stated that “Hamas was not formally outlawed by the Israeli military authorities until 1989, fuelling the still commonly held belief among secular Arab nationalists that Israel and US intelligence fostered the group as a useful counterweight to Arafat’s PLO”. Stephen Zunes, an academic at the University of San Francisco, fleshed out that claim in America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’ Rise to Power.
Some well-wishing commentators wonder why the Palestinians did not offer non-violent passive resistance. The answer is that they were not allowed. In 1988, Israel expelled a Palestinian Christian pacifist activist, Mubarak Awad, who advocated Gandhian-style resistance. At the same time, Yasin was allowed to circulate anti-Jewish hate literature and call for Israel’s destruction by force. US policy was similarly duplicitous. Until 1993, American consular officials in Jerusalem periodically met Hamas leaders but were forbidden to meet PLO officials or leading moderates in Arafat’s coalition although the PLO had renounced terrorism and unilaterally recognised Israel as far back as 1988.
In India, the sad tale of building up Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had already played out by the time Israel discovered in Hamas the enemy that it needs.