opinion   |   column

Demonstrations in Gaza born out of desperation, not Hamas incitement



Ever since Palestinians began demonstrating at the fence surrounding Gaza on March 30, the U.S. media has been parroting the propaganda of the Israeli government — the notion that the six weeks of protests in Gaza were actually six weeks of terrorism orchestrated by Hamas.

This misconception also formed the basis of a letter to the editor from Zachary Goldsmith that the Indiana Daily Student recently published. The letter was a response to my column from May 17, “The U.S. is complicit in Israel’s killings in Gaza.”

Unfortunately, Hamas, which is more concerned about how it’s viewed in Gaza than around the world, is playing right into Israel’s narrative by trying to take undue credit for the six weeks of demonstrations. Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil claimed in an interview that 50 of the 62 Palestinians shot dead last Monday were Hamas members. The Israeli government and its supporters say this revelation retroactively justifies Monday’s killings.

This view is problematic for at least two reasons. One is that Bardawil very well may have been lying. The other is that, even if he told the truth, it does not justify the killings.

For any appropriately skeptical listener, Bardawil’s claim should raise questions.

What about the 1,350 Palestinians who survived being shot with live ammunition that day? Were they members of Hamas? And how did the Israelis know to shoot specifically Hamas members? Do Israeli snipers possess a clairvoyant ability to identify plainclothes Hamas operatives from hundreds of yards away?

The inconsistency of claims by both Hamas and Israel casts further doubt. First, Hamas reported after May 14 that 10 of its members were among those killed. Then, Israel announced it had somehow identified 24 of those killed as terrorists, mostly members of Hamas. Then, Bardawil spewed out “50” in an interview, and suddenly Israel discovered its previous tally had been incorrect and verified Bardawil’s claim.

The Times of Israel asked two other Hamas officials to verify by Bardawil’s claim. Neither did so.

Hamas has every reason to play up its involvement in the demonstrations. They were highly popular, impressive and successful in garnering international attention. Hamas is in a historically weak position, and its primary strategy of armed struggle has yielded no positive results. The group is desperate to claim some credit for the only signs of hope that still exist in the Palestinian struggle.

In reality, Hamas is opportunistically jumping on the bandwagon of popular resistance. The protests were organized by Gazans completely unaffiliated with Hamas. Virtually every political organization in Gaza later announced support for the protests, including both Hamas and its main rival, Fatah.

In the black-and-white world of the U.S. media, the fact that Hamas was involved in the protests proves the goal of the protests was to kill as many Israelis as possible. This is a curious explanation, since the six weeks of alleged terrorism by tens of thousands of Palestinians resulted in a grand total of one single soldier being “slightly wounded,” according to an IDF spokesperson

There’s no doubt that Hamas, which came to prominence by criticizing Fatah’s nonviolent approach, would like to kill Israelis if it could. However, the Gazans who tried to breach the fence last Monday knew they had virtually no chance of doing so, and even a cursory glance at the evidence shows Hamas is adopting unarmed resistance as its primary tactic for the time being.

That’s why Hamas offered Israel a long-term ceasefire earlier this month, which Israel ignored. It’s also why Hamas has not fired one of its projectiles at Israel in months.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, announced the group’s support for the protests while standing in front of pictures of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. He urged participants to remain “peaceful.”

Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar did play into Israeli propaganda by telling Al Jazeera “peaceful resistance” is a deceptive term, bragging about Hamas’ military prowess. Again, this is a case of a Hamas official playing to the base — Hamas doesn’t want to be seen as abandoning the armed struggle that has defined its history.

The incessant discussion of Hamas in the U.S. media distracts from the essence of the situation: Gazans approached the fence knowing full well that many of them would be shot. They have been confined to an insufferable ghetto by Israel, with the help of the U.S., Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Many Gazans see no better option than to risk their lives for the sake of sending a message.

One protester explained to a U.K. Channel 4 journalist why he and his fellow demonstrators were willing to risk death by approaching the fence. He said, “We’re dead already.”

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