Damascus, Syria — HAMAS’ RESCUE of a BBC journalist from his captors in Gaza last week was surely cause for rejoicing. But I want to be clear about one thing: We did not deliver up Alan Johnston as some obsequious boon to Western powers.
It was done as part of our effort to secure Gaza from the lawlessness of militias and violence, no matter what the source. Gaza will be calm and under the rule of law — a place where all journalists, foreigners and guests of the Palestinian people will be treated with dignity. Hamas has never supported attacks on Westerners, as even our harshest critics will concede; our struggle has always been focused on the occupier and our legal resistance to it — a right of occupied people that is explicitly supported by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Yet our movement is continually linked by President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to ideologies that they know full well we do not follow, such as the agenda of Al Qaeda and its adherents. But we are not part of a broader war. Our resistance struggle is no one’s proxy, although we welcome the support of people everywhere for justice in Palestine.
The American efforts to negate the will of the Palestinian electorate by destroying our fledgling government have not succeeded — rather, the U.S.-assisted Fatah coup has only multiplied the problems of Washington’s “two-state solution.”
Mr. Bush has for the moment found a pliant friend in Abu Mazen, a “moderate” in the American view but one who cannot seriously expect to command confidence in the streets of Gaza or the West Bank after having taken American arms and Israeli support to depose the elected government by force. We deplore the current prognosticating over “Fatah-land” versus “Hamastan.” In the end, there can be only one Palestinian state.
But what of the characterization by the West of our movement as beyond the pale of civilized discourse? Our “militant” stance cannot by itself be the disqualifying factor, as many armed struggles have historically resulted in a place at the table of nations. Nor can any deny the reasonableness of our fight against the occupation and the right of Palestinians to have dignity, justice and self-rule.
Yet in my many years of keeping an open mind to all sides of the Palestine question — including those I spent in an American prison, awaiting Israeli “justice” — I am forever asked to concede the recognition of Israel’s putative “right to exist” as a necessary precondition to discussing grievances, and to renounce positions found in the Islamic Resistance Movement’s charter of 1988, an essentially revolutionary document born of the intolerable conditions under occupation more than 20 years ago.
The sticking point of “recognition” has been used as a litmus test to judge Palestinians. Yet as I have said before, a state may have a right to exist, but not absolutely at the expense of other states, or more important, at the expense of millions of human individuals and their rights to justice. Why should anyone concede Israel’s “right” to exist, when it has never even acknowledged the foundational crimes of murder and ethnic cleansing by means of which Israel took our towns and villages, our farms and orchards, and made us a nation of refugees?
Why should any Palestinian “recognize” the monstrous crime carried out by Israel’s founders and continued by its deformed modern apartheid state, while he or she lives 10 to a room in a cinderblock, tin-roof United Nations hut? These are not abstract questions, and it is not rejectionist simply because we have refused to abandon the victims of 1948 and their descendants.
As for the 1988 charter, if every state or movement were to be judged solely by its foundational, revolutionary documents or the ideas of its progenitors, there would be a good deal to answer for on all sides. The American Declaration of Independence, with its self-evident truth of equality, simply did not countenance (at least, not in the minds of most of its illustrious signatories) any such status for the 700,000 African slaves at that time; nor did the Constitution avoid codifying slavery as an institution, counting “other persons” as three-fifths of a man. Israel, which has never formally adopted a constitution of its own but rather operates through the slow accretion of Basic Laws, declares itself explicitly to be a state for the Jews, conferring privileged status based on faith in a land where millions of occupants are Arabs, Muslims and Christians.
The writings of Israel’s “founders” — from Herzl to Jabotinsky to Ben Gurion — make repeated calls for the destruction of Palestine’s non-Jewish inhabitants: “We must expel the Arabs and take their places.” A number of political parties today control blocs in the Israeli Knesset, while advocating for the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel and the rest of Palestine, envisioning a single Jewish state from the Jordan to the sea. Yet I hear no clamor in the international community for Israel to repudiate these words as a necessary precondition for any discourse whatsoever. The double standard, as always, is in effect for Palestinians.
I, for one, do not trouble myself over “recognizing” Israel’s right to exist — this is not, after all, an epistemological problem; Israel does exist, as any Rafah boy in a hospital bed, with IDF shrapnel in his torso, can tell you. This dance of mutual rejection is a mere distraction when so many are dying or have lived as prisoners for two generations in refugee camps. As I write these words, Israeli forays into Gaza have killed another 15 people, including a child. Who but a Jacobin dares to discuss the “rights” of nations in the face of such relentless state violence against an occupied population?
I look forward to the day when Israel can say to me, and millions of other Palestinians: “Here, here is your family’s house by the sea, here are your lemon trees, the olive grove your father tended: Come home and be whole again.” Then we can speak of a future together.