Last Sunday, 300 activists came out to protest the continued Israeli assault on Gaza, the second such protest in 2 weeks. It was one of hundreds of similar actions across the world over the last month, including demonstrations in the tens and hundreds of thousands from New York to London to Cape Town. Chants of “Free Free Palestine” and “Hey Israel, what do you say–how many kids did you kill today” filled downtown as protesters stood on the corner of Fountain Square. Many in the crowd were Palestinians themselves, unable to return to their homeland, drawing attention to the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the horrible conditions that refugees face today.
The protests come after weeks of brutal military action in the Gaza strip following the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli teens earlier in the summer. The Israeli state responded in its usual way: collective punishment of the Palestinian people, launching a massive campaign that included constant bombing, a military incursion and the destruction of hundreds of buildings, including hospitals, schools, mosques and the only power plant in the strip. It ultimately took the lives of over 1800 palestinians, most of them civilians, including many children and rendered 40% of the already crowded Gaza strip uninhabitable. As this article is written, a cease fire has more or less ended the violence and “peace” now occupies the ruins.
Throughout the conflict, Israel claimed it was protecting its citizens, who were forced to take cover from an apparently constant barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza strip by Hamas militants. Even so, the rockets killed relatively few, and the vast majority of the losses on the Israeli side were Israeli Defense Force soldiers killed by gunfire, including many killed by friendly fire. Moreover, the rockets fired by the Qassam Brigades are extremely weak, and are reflective of the comparatively low military prowess of the Palestinian people (who have no official army) compared with the IDF, which receives billions in aid from the United States each year. When Israeli troops finally moved into Gaza, under the auspices of finding and destroying tunnels into Israel, the civilian bloodshed was taken to a new level.
I want to encourage not a wholesale endorsement of Hamas, but an understanding of what led it to use the tactics it does and how it fits into the resistance in general. Hamas traces its roots back to the first intifada, a somewhat spontaneous uprising against Israeli occupation that lasted from 1987 to the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. The organization began as the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, a group that had previously engaged in a program of mutual aid and public services, filling the gaps left behind in the stymied Palestinian infrastructure. Hamas did not initiate the fighting, but came to represent the uncompromising wing of the uprising, rejecting the Oslo Accords, which were brokered by Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, then the most prominent leaders in the conflict.
Today we can see the results of the Accords, which remain the most significant peace documents signed by the two factions and can understand the frustration of the Palestinian people. The accords were relatively weak documents–their most significant act was to establish the Palestinian Authority to represent the palestinians in the occupied territories–left out were demands that have been central to the Palestinian cause since the Nakba Tragedy in 1948 which established the Israeli state: the right of return for expelled Palestinians (a right guaranteed to all people by the UN charter), the end of settlement expansion in the West Bank and the end of military occupation of Gaza. Since then, settlements have only expanded, more palestinians have been driven from their homes, and the “separation walls”–apartheid walls–have continued to grow.
Opposition to the accords was stated most eloquently by Palestinian American scholar Edward Said, who, at the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, wrote, “What [have the accords] achieved and why, if indeed it was a peace process, has the miserable condition of the Palestinians and the loss of life become so much worse than before the Oslo Accords were signed in September 1993? And what does it mean to speak of peace if Israeli troops and settlements are still present in such large numbers?”
The end second intifada in 2005 led to even poorer conditions for the palestinians, particularly in Gaza. When Gazans were finally able to elect a government, and democratically chose Hamas, Israel responded with military force and, with US and Egyptian support, imposed a blockade on resources entering the area, severely rationing food, water, medical care, and other basic necessities all in the name of defending against terrorism. The conditions were desperate and to be an ally of the Gazan citizenship is to understand that such desperate conditions lead to responses by the Palestinian people, including Hamas, which, taken without this context seem like random acts of aggression.
But as Sarah Ali, a writer and teaching assistant at the Islamic University of Gaza, which was destroyed in the recent bombing campaign, wrote “Rockets help us keep the little dignity we have, and they show Israel that bombing civilians has consequences… For instance, the 2012 attack on Gaza stopped, and we got some concessions…because Israel asked Egypt to negotiate with Hamas to stop the rockets.” To have a kneejerk reaction against such a crucial a form of opposition from an occupied people is to deny them of their right to resist.
From afar, our best hope to support the Palestinian people and end the Israeli occupation is to promote BDS-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The call for BDS came in 2005 from a group of Palestinians in 2005 urging the international community to follow in the footsteps of the global movement which helped to end South African apartheid. It is a simple plan: Boycott any products coming out of Israel, divest from Israeli companies and companies that do business in Israel; and Impose sanctions that limit the amount of international support (money and resources) Israel receives. And we’ll continue to protest as part of the the growing Palestinian solidarity movement that has brought millions out onto the streets worldwide.
On Sunday, September 17th, a statewide protest aiming to draw out thousands will be held in Columbus. For more information, visit the “OHIO Peace rally march to state house, for Justice in Palestine!” facebook page.