As the new Hamas government is sworn into power in the Palestinian Authority, we might ask: What would bring a people, the most secular of Arab populations with little history of religious fundamentalism, to vote Hamas? Mere protest at Fatah ineffectualness in negotiations and internal corruption doesn’t go far enough. While warning Hamas that their vote did not constitute a mandate for imposing an Iran-like theocracy on Palestine, the Palestinians took the only option left to a powerless people when all other avenues of redress have been closed to them: non-cooperation.
Gandhi put it best: “How can one be compelled to accept slavery? I simply refuse to do the master’s bidding. He may torture me, break my bones to atoms and even kill me. He will then have my dead body, not my obedience. Ultimately, therefore, it is I who am the victor and not he, for he has failed in getting me to do what he wanted done. Non-cooperation is directed not against…the Governors, but against the system they administer. The roots of non-cooperation lie not in hatred but in justice.”
Non-cooperation, perhaps the most powerful means of non-violent resistance, arises in situations when the oppressed have no other avenues to achieve their freedom and their rights. Since it is the international community, the US, Israel and, yes, Fatah, who have closed all avenues of redress to the Palestinians, they carry the “blame” for the rise of Hamas. It is to them that the message of the Palestinian electorate is aimed: “To hell with all of you!”
To hell with the international community that closed off Palestinians’ appeal to international law and human rights conventions. Had only the Fourth Geneva Convention been applied, Israel could never have constructed its Occupation in the first place. International law defines an occupation as a temporary military situation that can only be resolved through negotiations. Therefore an Occupying Power such as Israel is prohibited from taking any unilateral action that makes its control permanent. Besides its military bases, every single element of Israel’s Occupation is patently illegal: settlements and the construction of a massive system of Israel-only highways that link the West Bank settlements to Israel proper; the extension of Israel’s legal and planning system into occupied Palestinian areas; the plunder of Palestinian water and other resources for Israeli use; house demolitions and the expropriation of Palestinian lands; the intentional impoverishment of the local population; military attacks on civilian populations — to name but a few. Even when Israel’s construction of the “Separation Barrier” was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in the Hague and its ruling ratified by the General Assembly, nothing was done to stop it.
To hell with the United States that closed off negotiations as an avenue for redressing Palestinian rights and for enabling Israel to make its Occupation permanent. At the very start of the Oslo “peace process,” at Israel’s urging, the US reclassified the Palestinian areas from “occupied” to “disputed,” thus removing international law as the basis of negotiations and pulling the rug out from under the Palestinians. Had international law been respected, the Occupation would have ended under the weight of its own illegality. But once power became the only basis of negotiations, Israel easily overwhelmed the Palestinians. Until today Palestinians have nothing to look for in negotiations. With the Americans supporting Israeli unilateralism, with the US veto neutralizing the UN as an effective avenue of redress, and with European passivity, they have been cut adrift.
To hell with Israel that has closed off even the possibility of a viable Palestinian state by expanding into Palestinian areas. The world ignored the Palestinians’ “generous offer” to Israel: recognition within the 1967 borders in return for a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. Or in other words, an Israel on 78% of historic Palestine with the Palestinians – today a majority in the country – accepting a state only on 22%. Israel is now posed, with American support and international complicity, to make its Occupation permanent and reduce the Palestinians to a prison-state truncated into five “cantons” all controlled by Israel. No borders, no freedom of movement, no water, no viable economy, no Jerusalem, no possibility of offering a hopeful future to the traumatized, brutalized, undereducated, unskilled, impoverished Palestinian youth.
And to hell with Fatah that, in addition to enabling corruption, did not effectively pursue the Palestinians’ national agenda of self-determination. The Palestinian Authority ran its affairs removed from the people, failing to provide material and moral support to victims of Israeli attacks and policies of house demolitions. Most Palestinians did not vote Hamas (only 44% did), so the door was not closed on Fatah which, most Palestinians seem to hope, will learn its lesson from this setback.
Indeed, the vote for Hamas was not a closing of the door at all, but a rational, intentional and powerful statement of non-cooperation in a political process that is only leading to Palestinian imprisonment. Hamas, if anything, stands for steadfastness, sumud, the refusal to submit. This conflict is too destabilizing to the entire global system to let fester, the Palestinians are saying. You can all impose upon us an apartheid system, blame us for the violence while ignoring Israeli State Terror, pursue your programs of American Empire or your notions of a “clash of civilizations,” we the Palestinians will not submit. We will not cooperate. We will not play your rigged game. In the end, for all your power, you will come to us to sue for peace. And then we will be ready for a just peace that respects the rights of all the peoples of the region, including the Israelis. But you will not beat us.
As an Israeli Jew who sees how the Occupation has eroded the moral foundations of my society and, indeed, my entire people, and as a resident of Israel-Palestine who knows that my fate is intricately intertwined with that of the Palestinians, I pray that such an end will come sooner rather than later.
Jeff Halper is the coordinator of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions