Is Israel right to try to destroy Hamas?

 

HEAD TO HEAD: Yes: Sean Gannon. No: David Morrison.

YES

THE IRELAND-PALESTINE Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) has long appeared to operate according to the principle of "my enemy's enemy is my friend". Throughout the so-called Second Intifada, it generally defended the irredeemably corrupt arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat and championed as his successor Marwan Barghouti, sentenced to five life sentences for his murderous role in that conflict.

Nevertheless, the IPSC's recent embrace of Hamas still has the capacity to shock. For the IPSC it seems its victory in the January 2006 Palestinian general election has miraculously turned Hamas from reviled paramilitaries into respected parliamentarians deserving of international support and assistance, and it has castigated the world's refusal to conduct a business-like relationship with the Gaza regime.

But the fact is that Hamas is an unreconstructed jihadist organisation, the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose self-declared raison d'etre is the "liberation of the region from the impurity of the Jews". According to its 1988 charter, the entirety of Mandated Palestine (today's Israel, West Bank and Gaza) is an Islamic Waqf [territorial trust] "for all the generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection", no part of which can be abandoned or renounced "for renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing [our] religion".

The existence of Israel is therefore, in the words of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, "an affront to Islam" and Hamas's campaign against Israelis is "an expression of the Divine Will".

And not just Israelis, but all Jews: Article 22 of the charter is an anti-Semitic screed, blaming the Jews for all the ills of the world, from the French and Bolshevik revolutions to the first and second World Wars, and Article 7 states that Judgment Day will not come to pass until Muslims have killed all the Jews.

According to Yassin, Israel cannot be removed "except with force of weapons" and consequently Article 13 of the charter dismisses "peace initiatives" and "peaceful solutions" as "contrary to [our] beliefs". For Hamas "there is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad", a jihad which has to date claimed over 500 Israeli lives.

The Hamas charter thus makes a nonsense of the claim of the IPSC (and many others) that recent statements by Hamas leaders such as Khaled Meshaal offering a long-term truce with Israel in return for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders are indicative of the increasing moderation and pragmatism of the organisation.

Indeed, one need only look to Gaza to see what such an withdrawal/truce would involve. Hamas has repaid Israel's complete evacuation of the Gaza Strip with a rocket, missile and mortar campaign against Israel's southern communities; 5,600 have been fired since August 2005, 3,000 in the last year alone. Today, half a million Israelis are living within range and only sheer good fortune has prevented mass casualties.

Meanwhile, Hamas used the recent six-month truce with Israel to accelerate the process of turning Gaza into a de facto terrorist statelet, stockpiling massive quantities of locally manufactured rockets and smuggled Iranian-supplied missiles, weaponry and explosives, and building an extensive military infrastructure in Gaza city and along the border with Israel, including over 50kms of tunnels, underground bunkers and other fortifications.

With Iranian assistance, it has also created what amounts to a 15,000-strong standing army highly trained in field warfare and weaponry. And according to PA president Mahmoud Abbas, it has allowed al-Qaeda to establish a presence in the Strip.

Hamas has facilitated the process of Gaza's militarisation by ousting it rivals in Fatah in a June 2007 murderous coup (one Palestinian human rights group estimates that over 700 Fatah members were killed) and through the political repression of Gaza's population by means of arrests, arbitrary detentions, kidnappings, beatings and killings.

Its campaign to Islamisise Gaza society has led to the intimidation of secular Muslims through arson, sackings and other daily harassments, while the Strip's tiny Christian population has been subject to violent attacks.

Furthermore, Hamas has exploited Gaza's civilians as human shields by positioning its military installations in residential areas, what one commentator described as placing its "infantry among infants".

In this, Hamas has effectively subjugated Palestinian interests to its own religious and ideological agenda and Gaza today is paying the price. Little wonder that the PA, while decrying Israel's recent actions, has laid the blame for them squarely at Hamas's door and that Arab governments such as Jordan, the Gulf States and Egypt (which has described Hamas-run Gaza as its "border with Iran") are, though compelled to assuage so-called Arab street anger with harsh anti-Israel rhetoric, privately hoping that Operation Cast Lead deals Hamas a death blow.

The fact is that, like al-Qaeda, no political accommodation is possible with the extremists of Hamas, either with Israel or within Palestinian society. If there is to be any prospect of a Middle East peace, it must therefore be destroyed.

Seán Gannon is chairman of Irish Friends of Israel

NO

IN 1967, Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza by force, contrary to Article 2 of the UN Charter. It has held on to the fruits of this armed aggression to this day.

Israel also annexed East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. It has built settlements throughout the occupied territories, contrary to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies". Today, and illegally under international law, around 500,000 Israeli settlers now live in enclosed settlements on Palestinian territory and the number is growing all the time.

There seems to be no limit to Israel's ambition to plant settlers on Arab land.

Israel has resisted all pressure from the international community to reverse this land grab. It has refused to comply with UN Security Council demands to cease building settlements and remove those it has built (resolutions 446, 452 and 465).

It has also refused to comply with Security Council resolutions demanding a reversal of its annexation of East Jerusalem (252, 267, 271, 298, 476 and 478) and of the Golan Heights (497).

Invasion, occupation and plantation of Arab land is the reality that Palestinians have faced for decades and still face on virtually a daily basis, as their country is reduced remorselessly.

The right of resistance to unlawful occupation is an established international principle. It is the circumstance in which Palestinian resistance, including armed resistance, has arisen. How can French resistance to Nazi occupation in the second World War be celebrated while Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation is condemned as "terrorism"?

A political process must be initiated to bring about a just settlement for Palestinians, a settlement that would eliminate the need for Palestinian resistance of any kind.

That process must be backed up by the international community ensuring that Israel comply with outstanding Security Council resolutions on annexations and settlements, so that Palestinians are assured that Israeli expansion is at an end.

In January 2006, Hamas contested the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and won a majority of the seats, 74 out of 132.

It had not engaged in armed resistance for nearly a year, having announced a truce and ceased suicide bombings in Israel in February 2005. Hamas spokesmen made it clear that they were seeking a long-term truce with Israel, the price being Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. This was an opportunity for a more peaceful phase in the Middle East.

But, instead of taking this opportunity, the Quartet (the US, the EU, Russia and the UN secretary general) refused to accept the verdict of the ballot box and deal with the elected Hamas-led governments, despite universal agreement that the elections were free and fair.

This refusal by the US and the EU to accept the Hamas electoral mandate made it easy for Israel to do likewise and to set about attempting to destroy Hamas as a political and military movement.

Elected members of the PLC from the West Bank, belonging to Hamas, including the Speaker, were detained - nearly all of them are still detained - and a fierce military assault was mounted against Hamas in Gaza, despite it being on ceasefire. In all, nearly 700 Palestinians (and 23 Israelis, including 17 civilians) were killed in 2006, a year which began with Hamas on ceasefire and engaging in electoral politics for the first time. But this attempt to destroy Hamas failed.

There was hope in 2008 that Israel might be prepared to deal with Hamas rather than attempting to destroy it. While in February Israel's deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai was threatening a "shoa" (the Hebrew term for the Nazi Holocaust) against Gaza if rocket fire didn't cease, by June a ceasefire was in place, brokered by Egypt.

Israel agreed to cease military operations in Gaza and its economic strangulation of Gaza in exchange for Hamas and other groups ceasing the firing of rockets into Israel.

The agreement brought about comparative quiet along the border between Israel and Gaza for over four months, even though Israel failed to honour its commitment to lift its economic blockade of Gaza.

On November 4th, Israel broke the ceasefire altogether with the killing of six Palestinians, and on December 27th, the "shoa" threatened by Matan Vilnai last February was finally unleashed, with the overt aim of destroying Hamas.

It has failed to achieve that aim. The most likely outcome, after more than 420 dead and 2,000 injured, is a reinstatement, under international pressure, of the ceasefire, which, unlike the current military action, had been successful in protecting Israeli citizens from rocket fire out of Gaza.

David Morrison is political officer with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign