Saturday, January 3, 2009

Imperial Liberals and Gaza: Or, the Myth of "They Brought This on Themselves."

The moans of pity that emanate from the corridors of imperial liberalism are a sound that never ceases. Whether their gaze rests upon Bosnia, Darfur, or even Iraq, these veteran consciences of empire can always find a suffering victim in need of pity. Never is their grief so somber, their hearts so heavy, as when they can find victims Who Brought it on Themselves.

The imperial liberals have judged this to be the case with Israel's latest assault on Gaza. Hillel Schenker at The Nation coolly informs us that

In many respects, Hamas brought this war on itself by declaring on December 19 that it was not renewing the cease-fire (tahadiya) and by renewing rocket fire even as it maneuvered for a "better cease-fire" from its point of view--primarily, the lifting of the international blockade. It should be noted, though, that lifting the blockade was a part of the June cease-fire agreement that was not implemented by Israel and the international community.
The generally readable Robert Dreyfuss even insinuates that Hamas' supposedly implacable rejectionism was a ploy to provoke an Israeli attack and thus reverse its flagging popularity:
Writing in the Washington Post, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab points out that, before the latest crisis, Hamas was in sharp decline. The headline on his thoughtful piece is: "Has Israel Revived Hamas?" He says: "Israel appears to have given new life to the fledging Islamic movement in Palestine."

Over the past two years, Kuttab notes, Palestinian support for Hamas -- an ultrareligious, terrorist-inclined wing of the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood movement -- has declined sharply, from a 30 percent in 2006 to 22 percent in August, 2007, to just 17 percent in 2008 -- compared to 40 percent for Fatah, the mainstream, secular nationalist wing of the Palestinian body politic. Kuttab points out that Hamas has "turned down every legitimate offer from its nationalist PLO rivals and Egyptian mediators." Now, he says, the attacks are a "bonanza for Hamas" and says that Israel's assault will achieve "results exactly the opposite of its publicly proclaimed purposes."
That Israel's actions will only strengthen icky Islamists like Hamas is a favored leitmotif in the imperial liberal chorus. If only the hegemon had a brain, all this could be avoided...

The myth of Hamas rejectionism is a significant point of agreement between unabashed warmongers like Bret Stephens and liberal imperialists like Schenker. Hamas' refusal to renew the ceasefire, a typical manifestion of their inner drive towards Judeocide for the warmongers, becomes for the liberals a tragic manifestation of the organization's irrationality. For both, December 19th was a key turning point.

Yet the importance of December 19th is far from self-evident. As Uri Avnery points out, Israel had broken the cease fire more than a month earlier in an attempt to provoke Hamas into providing an excuse for the slaughter:
Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip “in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence”. From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.
It was Israel that rejected the cease-fire, not Hamas. This rejection goes all the way back to the agreement's origin in June, when, as Dreyfus points out, Israel agreed to lighten the blockade, which it subsequently refused to do. Hamas, meanwhile, ceased its own rocket attacks and dramatically lessened those launched by other groups. See the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs own graphs on the subject.


While Hamas very nearly eliminated rocket fire from Gaza, Israel continued its siege and engaged in a series of provocative actions designed to goad Hamas into rejecting the ceasefire. Hamas' leadership, far from being irrational rejectionists, saw clearly that the ceasefire had gained them nothing since Israel routinely violated it, and announced that it would not be renewed.

As the song goes, "we want no condescending saviors." What Palestinians need now is solidarity, not finger wagging. Imperial liberals do little except muddy the waters with their repetition of right wing narratives. That they score these stories in a minor key does nothing to change the essentials.

The one fortunate thing about the imperial liberal construction of Hamas as a subject that cannot comprehend its own interests is its strong tendency towards inaction. Mourning the irrationality of the oppressed doesn't beget any clear strategy for change. While they may be allowed disproportionate representation in liberal publications like The Nation, their total lack of a way forward allows those of us organizing solidarity actions an important advantage on the streets. Let's make sure we use it.