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Does Supporting Palestinian Resistance Mean Supporting the Strategy and Methods of Hamas?

After last Saturday’s Palestinian offensive, the imperialist governments and press launched a campaign to discredit supporters of the Palestinian cause. The aim is to frame support for the Palestinian people’s right to resistance as political support for Hamas and its methods. As revolutionary socialists, we must refuse this false equivalence.

Philippe Alcoy

October 13, 2023
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Does supporting Palestinian resistance mean supporting the strategy and methods of Hamas? Israel is a colonial state created from scratch in 1948 by the imperialist powers, with the complicity of the Stalinist bureaucracy of the USSR, which sought to take advantage of the division of Palestine to gain new spheres of influence. This imperialist project to create a Jewish state drew on existing Jewish Zionist currents active since the end of the 19th century, often encouraged by non-Jewish Zionist leaders promoting anti-Semitic ideas: to create a Jewish state in Palestine to help legitimize the expulsion of Jews from Europe and the United States. Some non-Zionist Jews even denounced the plan to create Israel as a means of creating an “international ghetto.

However, the Zionist project of creating a Jewish state gradually took on a new dimension: after World War II, Israel was to be a colonial enclave that preserves imperialist interests and polices the region on behalf of these powers. Although the Jewish population represented only 30 percent of the Palestinian territory, most of the land was granted to them through the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Zionist militias. Since its establishment, Israel has only conquered new swathes of Palestinian territory through wars, military offensives, and expulsions of Palestinians, whether in 1967, 1973, or since the late 1990s.

Palestinians Have the Right to Resist the Colonial Rule of the State of Israel

Today, the Palestinian territories have no territorial continuity and are totally dependent on Israel, which exercises almost complete control over vital services such as drinking water, electricity, and even international humanitarian aid. The Palestinian population lives in a clear state of colonial oppression and apartheid, which has been denounced by internationally recognized NGOs such as Amnesty International.

On top of this, the Gaza Strip has been under blockade since Hamas seized power over the territory in 2007. Since then, it has suffered six wars. Since 2000, 10,500 Palestinians have died as a result of Israeli military interventions or police brutality. In this context, and despite enormous suffering and humiliation, the Palestinian people have never stopped resisting.

Palestinians have an indisputable right to resistance and struggle against the aggression and attacks of Israeli colonialism. Beyond our political disagreements with the Palestinian leadership, we unconditionally defend this right, to use the means at their disposal in such a complex situation, including armed struggle. In this respect, we denounce the likening of Palestinian resistance to terrorism. In the context of ongoing war in Palestine, Hamas must be considered a belligerent, not a “terrorist organization.”

The “terrorist” designation is simplistic and tends to conflate this organization with others such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. Politically, as the Israeli journalist Larry Derfner points out, Hamas is very different from these organizations. Hamas came to power through an electoral process, and its popular support is significant. It is by no means a small group disconnected from the population. What’s more, even though Hamas rules Gaza in an authoritarian manner, Christian minorities are allowed to live in the territory it controls, which cannot be said for groups like ISIS.

Rejecting the term “terrorism” does not mean relativizing, still less justifying, Hamas’s crimes against Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Rather, it means countering a fundamentally distorted reading of the situation in Palestine. As journalist Alain Gresh notes in a recent editorial,

It is worth recalling once again that many terrorist organizations, vilified throughout history, have passed from the status of pariah to legitimate interlocutor. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), the African National Congress (ANC), and many others have all been alternately branded as “terrorists,” a word designed to depoliticize their struggle, in order to present the situation as a confrontation between Good and Evil.

The simplistic definitions employed by the Israeli government and echoed by all imperialist governments and media aim to legitimize Israel’s total war against the Palestinian population under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.” They also enable imperialist states to criminalize any support for the Palestinian struggle. The primary perpetrator of all violence in the region is the colonial power of Israel, funded and armed to the teeth by the United States. The atrocities committed by the Israeli army or the settlers it protects against Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, or Israel itself, are at the root of any violence carried out by the Palestinian resistance. This is precisely what Western governments and the chorus of mainstream media aligned with imperialist interests aim to conceal.

The Strategies of Fatah and Hamas

In their struggle for national liberation and self-determination, the Palestinian people have had, and still have, organizations leading them with which we have profound and radical differences as regards their political project, their strategy, and their methods of action.

The Palestinian resistance has not always been led by Islamist organizations. The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), a left-wing nationalist coalition with a sometimes socialist rhetoric, made up of several Palestinian organizations including Fatah, had long been the hegemonic organization of the Palestinian cause. Yet today it is in a total state of crisis owing to its role in the signing of the Oslo Accords. Under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, these agreements sold out the Palestinian cause — the right of return and the creation of a Palestinian state — and transformed it into a vague compromise that led to the creation of a fictional Palestinian Authority under Israeli supervision. Thus, the PLO, in the end, capitulated to Israeli colonialism.

Alongside the PLO, from the 1980s onwards, several politico-religious organizations, notably linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, consolidated their base. Their popularity grew as the traditional nationalist leadership and the Palestinian Left lost ground as a result of the failure of their policies. Israel encouraged and financially supported the emergence of Islamist organizations such as Hamas in the hope of weakening the influence of the PLO and the more radical left-wing tendencies. Over time, Hamas succeeded in establishing itself as the leader of Gaza in 2006, and since then it has sought to extend its influence in the West Bank. However, like Fatah, and despite its less overtly conciliatory policy, Hamas has pursued a strategy, established political objectives, and undertaken methods of struggle that cannot resolve the issue of Palestinian self-determination.

As we wrote in 2015,

While opposing the Zionist occupation, [Hamas] relies on alliances with bourgeois Muslim governments, such as Iran and the Qatari regime, which have constituted the counterrevolutionary vanguard against the Arab Spring, for whom the Palestinian movement is a bargaining chip in their commercial dealings with imperialism. Hamas’s program to establish an Islamist state is a reactionary political project.

This bourgeois, reactionary character of Hamas is not without consequence for its strategy, methods, and actions against the Israeli occupation. For example, during the “Al-Aqsa Storm” on October 7, the military groups led by Hamas went after a number of military targets (checkpoints, barracks, IDF positions, etc.) or other targets considered as such (e.g., settlements built on lands annexed since 1967). This gave rise to the scenes of jubilation we saw, symbolized by the destruction of the wall separating Gaza from the occupied territories and the neutralization or temporary occupation of enemy military positions on a scale not seen since 1973. The images had a massive impact on the streets of Arab countries, where people consider the Palestinian cause as their own. But the incursions also led to attacks on civilians on the ground and in the occupied territories on the edge of Gaza, who can in no way be regarded as military or political targets.

This method of targeting the Israeli civilian population is utterly reactionary as well as counterproductive for the Palestinian cause; shooting civilians at a party is not just a crime we denounce, but it does nothing to stop Israeli oppression. On the contrary, even as Netanyahu and his government have in recent months found themselves in a difficult position, challenged by a section of Israeli public opinion, such actions can only help to rebuild Zionist national unity behind the government, as has unfortunately always been the case since 1948. Today, this allows the government to legitimize its brutal reprisals against the Palestinians and further distances any prospect of class unity between Palestinian and Jewish workers.

In addition, Hamas’s military and repressive policies in Gaza hinder the development of self-organization among Palestinian workers and the masses in their struggle against Israeli apartheid. In recent years, for example, Hamas has systematically suppressed the protests against the miserable conditions in the Gaza Strip, whether they be popular movements denouncing the corruption of the authorities, the inequalities within the territory, the organization’s role in the selective, clientelist distribution of humanitarian aid, or strikes by local civil servants protesting against unpaid and delayed salaries. In this sense, Hamas, like Fatah, acts as an obstacle not only to the construction of mass mobilizations, but also to the emergence of workers’ and socialist organizations in Palestine. Therefore, in terms of their political objectives, methods, and strategies, both Fatah and Hamas are diametrically opposed to what we stand for.

For a Revolutionary Workers’ Strategy for the National Liberation of Palestine

As revolutionaries rooted in the Trotskyist tradition of struggle, we defend Palestine’s right to national self-determination, which has been trampled underfoot by the imperialists and their regional accomplices through the creation of the State of Israel on the basis of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, as exposed by Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappé. The realization of this Zionist project, which fraudulently claims to represent all Jews around the world, has provoked a profound division between the Muslim and Jewish Palestinian populations, as well as the Christian Arab and Armenian minorities who have inhabited the region for centuries.

The Nakba, the great catastrophe against the Palestinian people that marked the creation of the State of Israel, the successive wars, the expulsions and deportations, and the seizure of Palestinian land — all this has aggravated this situation right up to the present day. Today, the Arabs of the Palestinian territories are subjected to a veritable apartheid system and live under military occupation; the Palestinians of Israel are at best second-class citizens, not to mention the millions of Palestinian refugees living in camps in neighboring countries, for whom the right of return is denied.

To guarantee the national rights of the Palestinians, we fight for a workers’ state that is secular and socialist across all of historic Palestine; a state in which Muslim or Christian or Jewish Palestinians, as well as current Israeli citizens, can live together in peace, free from oppression and violence. This entails attacking the material bases of oppression and exploitation of Palestinian workers, but also of the Jewish toiling masses: private property and the capitalist classes not only in Israel but also in Palestine. This means struggling against the interests of the imperialist powers, which are the primary perpetrators of the tragedy that has been unfolding in the region for 75 years — not to mention the complicity of the Arab bourgeoisie, which, even today, despite years of rhetorical support for the Palestinian cause, has never ceased to betray it in its bids to normalize relations with Tel Aviv.

This is why we fight for the deepest unity between the workers, the peasants, the exploited and oppressed youth, and the precarious and impoverished of Palestine, in alliance with the entire labor movement of the Middle East and neighboring regions, but also with the workers of Israel who are prepared to break with Zionism, of which they too are ultimately victims, as a step toward putting an end to this reactionary ideology.

This program and strategy is totally opposed to the existence of a colonialist, theocratic, Jewish supremacist ethnostate, as is the case in Israel today. But our perspective also opposes the illusory, reactionary prospect of a two-state solution, or the creation of a theocratic Muslim state in place of Israel, or even simply on the pre-1967 Palestinian territories, as advocated by the pragmatic wing of the Hamas leadership. Such proposals are based on a logic of purification and oppression of Hamas opponents. What is certain is that the first condition for peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews is an end to Israel’s colonial apartheid system. For us, this is possible only by fighting for a free, workers’, socialist Palestine — a project that is not that of Hamas and its Islamist allies, but a project that entails full and unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian cause, with their right of return, with their self-determination and resistance against Zionist oppression and occupation.

First published in French on Révolution Permanente on October 11, 2023.

Translation by Antoine Ramboz

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Philippe Alcoy

Philippe is an editor of Révolution Permanente, our sister site in France.

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