Inhumanity For Inhumanity

Left Apologias for Hamas

Franklin Dmitryev

[This is part of a longish piece—‘Israel’s war and Hamas attack stoke retrogression’— originally published in News & Letters]

Aterrible new round ofwar and reaction was set off on October 7 by Hamas, which rules Gaza in one-party fashion while suppressing protests.

Carrying out massacres in Israel at a music festival, Hamas indiscriminately targeted mainly civilians, from babies to the elderly, and killed mostly Jews but also Palestinians, Thai guest workers and others. Its fighters wore body cameras documenting their own atrocities, such as beating, torturing and raping victims, including children, before killing them. One man told interrogators that his commander said that when it came to women and children, “Do whatever you want.”

The horrors multiplied as the Israeli state declared war and rained massive 2,000-pound bombs on the Gaza Strip, again mainly killing civilians, including babies and children—and at the same time Israeli soldiers and settlers ramped up the violence against Palestinians on the West Bank, as another front in their war.

So many shocking news reports have come out of Gaza every day since October7 that the horrors start to seem normal. Hospitals have been bombed, and most can no longer function. The UN agencies said that people “are literally starving to death as we speak,” and that clean water is running out. Apartment buildings, schools, bakeries and refugee camps have been decimated. Nearly half of housing units have been destroyed. Two-thirds of the population is homeless.

Netanyahu and his fanatical allies have made no secret of their ambition to annex all of Palestine, or “the whole land, including Gaza, including Lebanon,” as Capt. Amichai Friedman preached to cheering troops. In fact, an Israeli think tank with ties to Netanyahu issued plans on October 17 for the complete ethnic cleansing of Gaza.

Clearly the historical and ongoing context is Israel’s expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians at its founding and its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 1967, and its relentless displacement, invasive surveillance and everyday violence.

This in no way justifies the way some in the world Left celebrated the murderous attacks and hostage-taking by Hamas. The void in revolutionary thought led them to equate the reactionary, theocratic-nationalist, authoritarian, patriarchal organisation Hamas with “the Palestinian resistance” and therefore to declare its atrocities “legitimate”.

 In truth this ideological pollution of the Left came to the fore during the Bosnian genocide in the 1990s. There is a real division on the Left between those who raise up Hamas as the embodiment of Palestinian resistance, and therefore see all its actions as justified, and those who reject its total disregard for human life. And yet, as with Syria and Ukraine, there is a large mushy middle that doesn’t outright endorse Hamas but wants to conciliate the campist part of the Left that does and to maintain an unprincipled unity with them.

The crisis of the Left is situated within the global crisis of capitalism and the ascendancy of counter-revolution. The biggest and loudest parts of the Left have lost confidence in the self-activity of the masses reorganising society, which is unseparated from their lack of confidence in the power of the Idea, that is, of a philosophy of revolution. In their desperation, they grab onto whatever power seems to oppose U S imperialism, whether that be a “multipolar” order based on China and Russia, Syria’s Assad, Hamas, or unprincipled unity with the broad Left. Seeing the world’s state powers divided into camps is easier than trying to hear the two worlds of rulers and ruled that clash within every country, and a diversion from a revolutionary perspective. Their ground is tail-ending state powers—real or aspiring—not dialectics of revolution. Missing is a banner of full human liberation.

Those on the Left who deny that Hamas targeted civilians, or who equate them with Palestinian resistance, or declare them to be a “progressive force” or their al-Aqsa Flood to be “a global turning point,” have evaded the crucial question of what Hamas is for. The group has made no secret of its vision of the future: an Islamist, authoritarian, patriarchal state covering the area from the Jordan River to the sea. Israel’s theocratic right shares the same vision, except with a different religious ruling group in charge. Its debased concept of “liberation” extends no further than expelling the occupation and does not mean liberation for women, workers, Jews, or the Christians and nonreligious who make up a substantial portion of the Palestinian population. One need only look at women’s repression and courageous resistance in Iran, the country that supports, funds, and arms Hamas. The religious right in Israel is no better.

In this time when vestiges of democracy are under attack, war is spreading, new variants of fascism are growing in country after country, and society and its material foundations are crumbling under the impact of the climate and ecological crisis, nihilism infects the ruling class, whose belief in its own future is flagging. Too much Left thought is also trapped within the horizons of decaying capitalism. It therefore attaches itself to powers of resistance or opposition, not revolutionary transcendence. Resistance can lead to revolution, but not when it limits itself to these narrow horizons.

What is the nature of the resistance of Hamas, which presents itself as the one and only form of Palestinian resistance? Its origins lie in the global fundamentalist retrogression—Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu—that surged in the 1980s, in part powered by Khomeini’s counterrevolution in Iran. Iran has supported Hamas for most of its existence. Islamist movements fed off the impatience with the lack of success of secular nationalist revolutionary movements. Hamas was born during the first Palestinian intifada, a mass uprising that began from below in the Jabalia camp in 1987 and spread throughout the occupied territories and within Israel.
The Israeli state had already been supporting the establishment of what became Hamas as an Islamist alternative to secular revolutionary groups. David Hacham, who worked in Gaza for the IDF at the time, said 20 years later, “I think we made a mistake.”

However, Netanyahu and some of his top extremist allies repeatedly propped up Hamas and undermined the Palestinian Authority to maintain divisions and sabotage any chance of an independent Palestinian state as had been envisioned in the 1993 Oslo Accords that followed the first intifada. Hamas and Israel’s right-wing extremists danced a deadly duet that energised reaction on both sides, ever since a right-wing Jewish extremist assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, signer of the Oslo Accords, in 1995. His successor was well ahead in the polls until a campaign of suicide bombings by Hamas pushed the Israeli electorate to the right and paved the way for Netanyahu’s first stint as Prime Minister.

In 2005 Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from inside Gaza, while keeping control from the outside. Hamas won the last election in Gaza in 2006 and defeated its secular rivals militarily the next year. Since then, Israel has maintained a harsh blockade making life for ordinary Gazans difficult. Netanyahu in particular combined periodic military attacks on Gaza, callously calling the bloodshed “mowing the grass,” to limit the power of Hamas with, at the same time, propping it up. His illusion that Hamas could be forever contained within his chosen limits follows from the grand illusion that an occupied people’s quest for self-determination could be buried for good.

[Courtesy: News & Letters]

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Vol 56, No. 29, Jan 14 - 20, 2024