This time, for the first time in my life, I do feel a change in the air. … the rebellion spirit of the Palestinian resistance is a spirit people can empathise with. You know why? Because the Palestinians are in the forefront of the war against evil. (Gilad Atzmon) 
A new era in the Palestinian liberation struggle is upon us. Rather than just a electoral repudiation of Fatah’s long years of corruption, mismanagement and collaboration with the Israeli plutocracy, the extraordinary success of Hamas at the polls comes from the gut, the depths of despair of an entire population. It is a powerful protest against the Occupation, a loud NO to persistent efforts by the Israeli military and political class to force Palestinian surrender and crush their national rights.
This vote by the Palestinian working masses was a resounding NO to political Zionism and its century-old agenda of Zionist segregation and land expropriation. NO to a pseudo-‘settlement’ imposed by Washington. NO to abandonment of the demand for a right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees. NO to shredding Palestine into Bantustans. NO to the Great Wall of Palestine. A massive electoral expression of muqawama, resistance. As embodied in the name Hamas itself, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement).
This article reflects on that victory, and on future pathways out of the impasse in Palestine/Israel, beyond the dead-end of the two-state solution. The social action of Hamas, its local dynamic pragmatism in addressing the everyday needs of Palestinians, may become the mother of inspiration for far more than observers at present can imagine.
Israeli jazz artist, novelist and peace activist Gilad Atzmon put it pointedly:
those who dwell in occupied Palestine had their say, they went to the poll and gave all us a major lesson. They presented us with the most heroic spirit of resistance. They told the West, and Israel, and the EU, and the Arab world … and the other gatekeepers, “you can all bugger off. We know what we want. We are tired of your phoney kindness. We are exhausted of your hypocritical willingness to help. We are sick of your solidarity. We don’t want you to tell us what we are and what we should be. Don’t liberate us and don’t save our women. We will take care of it all from now on” [ibid.].
Resistance to Ihtilal: the ‘Suffocation’
It’s useful to ponder a few facts of the singular political ecology of this election: it was carried out under the most grinding Occupation (Ihtilal, the ‘Suffocation’) currently in force anywhere on the planet — a free vote by ordinary people living under appalling oppression, in extreme poverty, their villages and towns turned into locked cages. Some two-thirds of the population lives below the official poverty line of $2.20 a day. A WB Report for 2004 described the economic situation as the “worst economic depression in history,” with unemployment of 60-70 percent in Gaza and 30-40 percent in the West Bank. The PA itself is a major employer, with some 136,000 on its staff rolls, their salaries supplied largely by international donor Capital.
31 of the candidates, 15 now elected, are behind bars in Israeli jails, probably unprecedented for any democratic poll in the world.
The Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi were openly assassinated by Israeli air strikes in March and April 2004. So the massive pro-Hamas vote is also in part a payback and political ‘blowback’ for that kind of targeted state violence by the Israeli political elite, tacitly supported by Washington.
To compound matters, some of those who won election are wanted by the Israeli authorities for ‘suspected involvement’ in anti-Israel violence. Most of these men are now in semi-seclusion, and fear arrest if they try to travel to Ramallah, the site of the Palestinian parliament. Is this the fruit of ‘free elections’ under an iron Occupation?
Nor should we forget: this election was a poll by a clear minority of the true electorate of the Palestinian people, the far greater majority of whom live as refugees in a vast Diaspora — mainly in the Middle East, mostly ‘ethnically cleansed’ in 1948 and 1967, and as second-class citizens inside Israel proper. If all Palestinians could vote in a pan-Palestinian plebiscite, who knows what the results might be. Their right of return should be high on the agenda. Hamas is absolutely committed to it . Meanwhile, Washington, its allies and the UN went to extraordinary lengths to allow Iraqi “out of country voters” (even in Israel) to participate in the poll in Iraq. But those same powers have shown no interest in giving Palestinian refugees a voice of any kind. They are ‘silenced’ in a classic sense.
Rooted in the Working People
Most centrally, Hamas is a multi-sided grassroots movement rooted since its founding in 1988 in the working people, the neighborhoods: its activities in the Palestinian street have concentrated on building an extensive education network, distribution of basic foodstuffs for the holidays, aid to the poor, youth camps, sports, care for the elderly, scholarships, sponsorship of light industry, and religious services in the mosques.
Armed resistance, the activity of the jihadist shahid (martyr for the faith) and the Ezzedin al-Qassem brigades, is a relatively small part of its program, demonized by the Western media as “terrorism” with no cause. It is Palestine’s principal weapon against military occupation. One of the Hamas women elected in Gaza, Mariam Farahat, known as Um Nidal (Mother of the Struggle), helped send three of her sons as shahid. She told ABC news: “Our land is occupied. You take all the means to banish the occupier. I sacrificed my children for this holy, patriotic duty. I love my children, but as Muslims we pressure ourselves and sacrifice our emotions for the interest of the homeland.”
Islamic fundamentalism is a major strand in Hamas ideology and integrity, but many of their supporters in the Palestinian street are secular and will remain so. As anarchist activist Ilan Shalif stressed: “From the polls it seems that the voters of Fatah and Hamas did not differ so much where their level of religious fervour was concerned” . Some of its leaders and rank-and-file are hard-line, others are ‘pragmatists.’ People learn to distinguish between rhetoric and action.
The Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya has anchored itself not as a political party but a genuine people’s movement of mutual aid, highly efficient — and resistance to an entire choreography of systematic oppression. As one Palestinian village resident put it in response to ‘why people chose Hamas’: “If you sit with them they will say: ‘We hate Fatah. They did nothing for us. A few poor people suddenly became rich people. Hamas worked in another way. They worked with society. They worked with the poor.’ ” Many Palestinian Christians also cast their ballot for Hamas. Now anticipating a heavier Israel military hand in their daily lives, another villager commented: “They knew what they voted for … They know the consequences. If they want to liberate their land, they have to suffer” . And the big gains for Hamas were among the local candidates, precisely at this scale. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. secretly channeled $2 million to Fatah in the closing phase of the campaign.
Imperative Now: Fight the “Wall of Siege” Against the Hamas Leadership
Despite the “wall of siege” the U.S. and many Western powers have erected to try to suffocate any attempts by Hamas to form a viable new government, Hamas is standing resolute. What baffles the Western oligarchies is that here you have a principled political movement, rooted in popular democratic support, and unwilling to yield to Western pressures, the “world according to Condy Rice” and financial blackmail.
Hamas deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk stated very
clearly in early March 2006 in Moscow that recognizing Israel would negate all Palestinian rights. He said: “I gave the Russian officials a white sheet and I asked them to draw me a map of the Israel they want me to recognize and nobody was able to draw the map.” No one could. No one in the present or future Israeli government can do so. Israel is by definition a state without fixed borders that its own political class can recognize. Since its inception as a movement 120 years ago, political Zionism has been dedicated to grabbing ever more Palestinian land, territorial expansionism as a principle of political life. The building of the Great Wall is part of that. The expanding network of “apartheid highways” (for Jews only) around Jerusalem and throughout the occupied West Bank is part of that. The Israeli military takeover of the Jordan River Valley, in effect the West Bank’s “eastern boundary” with Jordan, now being consolidated, is also part of it. Hamas knows this. No doubt Washington will do everything to isolate, discredit and suffocate the Hamas leadership. And to split its ranks. Progressives everywhere, including inside Israel, need to fight against these moves.
What is emerging as of mid-March 2006 is indeed a kind of “Class War from Above,” orchestrated by international donor Capital, on Hamas and the will of the Palestinian people to resist, a form of geopolitical extortion.
It is time to de-demonize Hamas and listen to the will of the Palestinians, their voice. Gilad Atzmon echoes this:
If we are as democratic as we claim to be, it is down to us to respect and welcome the Palestinian people’s choice. I would suggest that to support Palestine is to support the Palestinian people and their right of return regardless of their political, theological or cultural choices .
Ever more Israelis may come to share that view. Ever more are disgusted with the militarization of their society and concomitant brutalization, its colonial-settler ideology of inequality, segregation and might over right, the endless bloodshed, the insanity of the ever expanding West Bank settlements . Whatever the fundamentalist views of some strands in Hamas leadership, are they any more ‘extreme’ than some of the Jewish religious parties that may play a role in the next Israeli government? The sacralization of politics is a distinctive element on both sides of this divide.
Beyond the Rotting of Oslo: Thinking Outside the Box
The Hamas victory is a watershed. It is time for a new political class in Israel to move forward to a just solution. Beyond the contradictions, hypocrisies and cul-de-sac of the Oslo process. Mahmud al-Zahar, a key harder-line Hamas leader in Gaza, put it well: “As for a future government, we are putting all the possibilities on the table. What has the Israeli government presented to us? Nothing. Oslo is not only dead, it has rotted.” Khalid Mish’al, head of the Hamas Political Bureau, wrote:
Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion “the people of the book” who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. … But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice .
If the “‘two state solution’ has been all but killed off by the very powers who today claim to be supporting it, primarily Israel and the U.S. [and] the fictitious ‘Road Map’ is as much on life support as is Ariel Sharon himself” , perhaps other options can begin to be envisioned and pragmatic steps taken toward their realization. Many foresaw that the Oslo agreement would not bring stability to the region because it spelled Palestinian capitulation to colonization, no settlement freeze, the continuation of apartheid within Israel and across the West Bank and the de-Arabization of Palestine. Adam Hanieh notes: “The Hamas victory helps to dispel the myths surrounding the negotiations of the last decade. The Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has overwhelmingly stated that these negotiations have merely been a cover for the deepening of Israeli apartheid” .
Whatever the prevailing ‘two-state fantasies’ in the pipeline, none can provide a lasting just solution to the intractable impasse in Palestine. The populations are too massively intertwined (1.3 million Palestinians live in Israel, and 450,000 Jews in the West Bank), the physical geography of water and transport militates against it. The apartheid nature of the Israeli ‘ethnocracy’ , marginalizing its large Arab citizenry, cries out for radical change and civil equality within Israel. Moreover, both peoples’ identities and national meta-narratives are now interwoven with the total area of historic Palestine, most especially that of Hamas. In a unitary state, those narratives would move to revision. The very upending of old structures and command networks on both sides of the divide signaled by the Hamas breakthrough at the municipal level (and Sharon’s demise) may open up new wormholes in anti-state space.
An Old Vision Revitalized: One Democratic State
Can we imagine ordinary people working together to build a single democratic state for all Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, one democratic polity, its citizens living in ta’ayush (solidarity) and full equality? Sound totally utopian? This is the concrete vision of the Palestinian-American peace activist Mazin Qumsiyeh, as laid out in a powerful article in 2005. The compelling 2004 Olga Appeal by a group of non-Zionist Israeli intellectuals is also in this spirit .
And now there is an association: a growing fusion of people across the planet, including Israeli Jews and Palestinians, banded together in the organization ‘The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel’ (www.one-democratic-state.org). There is a broad spectrum of political opinion, united by orientation to a few core principles for a unitary state.
Writing on the Hamas victory, Whitbeck is visionary:
The “destruction of Israel” is clearly a negative formulation. The “creation of a fully democratic state with equal rights for all” in all of Israel/Palestine could be a positive reformulation which would be recognized by the world as just and offer genuine hope for peace and reconciliation .
The revitalizing of the demand for refugee return could be part of that new agenda, as Hanieh suggests.
‘One State’ and Beyond
Perhaps the election victory of Hamas is a first step on that path to building a polity and society beyond the nation-state, a ‘no-state solution’ — a cooperative Arab-Jewish commonwealth in the ancient land of Canaan. Hamas’s own practical agenda, as it emerges, will initially likely be quite different, anchored in its 1988 Charter. But politics is in powerful flux, if people can discover new modalities for political organization in the workplace and neighborhood. Hamas may prove to be an inventive amalgam of pragmatism and principle. Radical pragmatism says: see what can emerge. But fight to let it emerge. It needs the midwives of grassroots activism.
Zapatismo in Palestine/Israel: Ya Basta/Khalas!
Social pragmatist paradigms for such bottom-up organizing are now multiplying in Latin America, within Zapatismo in Chiapas, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil, the rise of the indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere, and as a complex of autonomous movements across Argentina, a “socialism of the people, participatory and decentralized” . An analogous ferment is needed as an organizing tactic and avenue forward here. Holloway talks about it:
Probably we have to think of advancing through experiments a
nd questions: “preguntando caminamos” “walking we ask questions”, as the Zapatistas put it. To think of moving forward through questions rather than answers means a different sort of politics, a different sort of organization. If nobody has the answers, then we have to think not of hierarchical structures of leadership, but horizontal structures that involve everyone as much as possible. What do we want? I think we want self-determination — the possibility of creating our own lives, the assumption of our own humanity. This means collective self-determination .
In Palestine, that would require a massive popular movement to “regain the commons” among ordinary Jews and Arabs, energizing a new ensemble of struggles for direct & inclusive democracy and participatory economy. It means bringing people in the neighborhoods into a new kind of political and economic decision-making in their own streets and communities, a pro-active role in the management of their own affairs, their work places.
Building an infrastructure of what was called in the togetherness of Arabs and Sephardic Jews in Spain in the Golden Age of Arab-Jewish symbiosis, living together, ‘convivencia.’
The goal of a libertarian-socialist multicultural and multi-faith Commonwealth could begin to energize new forms of decentralized direct democracy, people’s participation and horizontalism, neighborhood autonomy as it moves beyond notions of any conventional capitalist ‘state’ run by a corporate ruling class, in Israel a veiled dictatorship of 15 families over the Israeli economy, media and politics.
The people’s NO to the old politics in Palestine was a protest against their own lack of political participation and disaffection, their daily ordeal of dispossession and denigration under the Ihtilal. Those masses may well be open to proposals for new forms of political life, based on local control, autonomy and creative resistance . Perhaps, as realism will require, initially within a Hamas-Green armature for transformation. Mousa Abu Marzook has emphasized: “Hamas has pledged transparency in government. Honest leadership will result from the accountability of its public servants. Hamas has elected 15 female legislators poised to play a significant role in public life. The movement has forged genuine and lasting relationships with Christian candidates.” It is explicitly open to pluralism, a major role for Palestinian women on the political road ahead. Marzook: “fair governance demands that the Palestinian nation be represented in a pluralistic environment. A new breed of Islamic leadership is ready to put into practice faith-based principles in a setting of tolerance and unity” .
One Big Union
Grassroots working-class syndicalism among Palestinians and Israelis, forging new bonds of solidarity, is one pathway out of the morass of the ‘national question’ — and the immense ever widening gap between poor and rich in Israeli-Jewish society. It can become a hands-on incubator for overcoming mutual distrust. One option that can appeal to workers and the many unemployed is to create IWW-like base groups in both communities. Not a small political party, but a work-oriented horizontally structured independent movement –- oriented to people’s everyday problems to make ends meet and have a say, and broader issues of self-determination and vernacular dignity. Building, from the bottom up, a scaffolding for organizing and change, aspiring to “a world in which production and distribution are organized by workers ourselves to meet the needs of the entire population, not merely a handful of exploiters” . A Wobbly union is one such non-hierarchical vessel for nurturing autonomy. It is lean, concrete, a structure workers and their families can understand.
Or imagine a movement like that of Argentina’s Piquetaros (picketers) across Israel and Palestine: protesters, many unemployed and underemployed workers, staging marches again and again against the government to draw attention to the people’s plight.
But authentic organization springs from struggle, not vice versa. That must begin and be sustained.
A Call for Urgent Solidarity: Anarchists Against the Wall
Kobi Snitz in Tel Aviv has issued a call for online donations to the legal fund of Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW, Anarkhistim Neged ha-Gader): www.awalls.org. Help of various kinds, including direct participation on the front lines, is much welcome. The repression of internationals on this front by the Israeli military and police has been vicious.
AATW is involved in both direct action and demonstrations against the Wall, especially at the embattled villages of Budrus and Bil’in in the West Bank. It is committed to a joint struggle of Palestinians and Israelis. AATW’s contribution, an unprecedented mode of joint Arab-Jewish sumud (steadfastness), is widely recognized in both the Palestinian and Israeli media, and is regularly reported on AINFOS.
In part linked with them is the organization One Struggle/Ma’avak Ehad (www.onestruggle.org), another dedicated vegan anarchist group in frontal confrontation with all aspects of the Israeli state. Ma’avak Ehad, which initially helped spawn AATW, also deserves libertarian solidarity .
In its fierce commitment to direct action, AATW could serve as a mini-paradigm of joint Palestinian-Israeli action, its praxis perhaps a template for future more systematic radical organizing of workers (and students as workers-to-be), One Big Union ‘from the river to the sea.’ New beginnings for convivencia. Whether that is ‘Western cultural colonialism’ in the political sense that Atzmon criticizes only joint struggle will determine. Mazin Qumsiyeh has a good website with suggestions about what you can do where you live and work to aid the struggle for justice in Palestine, and the forging of new paths forward: http://qumsiyeh.org/whatyoucando/
1. Gilad Atzmon, “Western Cultural Colonialism and the Palestinian Choice,” http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/ ; see also www.axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/article_20915.shtml
2. As Khalid Mish’al stated: “Our message to the Palestinians is this: our people are not only those who live under siege in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also the millions languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and the millions spread around the world unable to return home. We promise you that nothing in the world will deter us from pursuing our goal of liberation and return.” See Khalid Mish’al, “We will not sell our people or principles for foreign aid,” Guardian, Jan. 31, 2006, www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1698702,00.html
3. Ilan Shalif, “Palestinian Parliamentary Elections: The Hamas Victory ,” www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=2320
4. I. Fisher, “Villagers Who Voted for Hamas Saw Hope Despite Obstacles,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/01/27/international/middleeast/27cnd-voices.html
5. G. Atzmon, “Where to now, Palestine? Some reflections,” http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2006/01/gilad-atzmon-where-to-now-palestine.html .
6. See especially the work of New Profile, www.newprofile.org/default.asp?language=en .
7. Khalid Mish’al, “We will not sell our people or principles for foreign aid.”
8. “Hamastan Indeed,” Mid East Realities, Jan. 26, 2006, www.middleeast.org/mernew.htm .
9. Oren Yiftachel, “‘Ethnocracy’: The Politics of Judaizing Israel/Palestine,” Constellations 6 (1999), www.geog.bgu.ac.il/members/yiftachel/new_papers_eng/Constellations-print.htm .
10. Adam Hanieh, “The End of a Political Fiction?,” http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/1772?PHPSESSID=81750c8739aeb00401b669854c9e0bff
11. M. Qumsiyeh, “A Two-State Solution is No Solution: Thinking Outside the Box on Israel / Palestine” (CounterPunch, June 2005, www.qumsiyeh.org/thinkingoutsidethebox/ ); Olga Appeal at www.qumsiyeh.org/theolgaappeal/ ). See also “One State for Palestine – Israel: Silvia Cattori in
terviews Mahmoud Musa,” Dec. 3, 2005, http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2005/12/one-state-for-palestine-israel-silvia.html .
12. J. V. Whitbeck, “De-demonize Hamas and support democracy,” posted on USQuagmire listserv, Jan. 28, 2006.
13. Judy Rebick, “Socialism in the 21st Century,” http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/1767?PHPSESSID=30a53693842caebbebbe0d8bd9bb22ed ; see also Marina Sitrin, “Horizontalidad in Argentina,” http://info.interactivist.net/article.pl?sid=05/07/26/1417232 and idem, Horizontalidad: Voces de Poder Popular en Argentina, Chilavert 2005.
14. See M. Sitrin and J. Holloway, “Walking We Ask Questions,” http://spip.red.m2014.net/article.php3?id_article=118 . The ongoing re-establishment of the SDS in North America is a kindred potential paradigm for ideas for participatory social activism, with a strong libertarian socialist thrust, www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org .
15. See B. Templer, “Tanks & Ostriches,” http://the-dawn.org/2004/08/ostriches.html and idem, “Thirteen Theses,” http://midwestpopulistparty.org/Bill_Templer_Article_2.html
16. Mousa Abu Marzook, “What Hamas is Seeking,” Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2006.
17. IWW homepage. The IWW grew internationally by some 35% in 2005, celebrating its 100th anniversary in struggle. An active exemplary IWW local is the Edmonton General Membership Branch (http://edmonton.iww.ca/ ).
18. A well-informed analysis of the work of the anarchist collective One Struggle is W. Budington, “Animal Rights Activists: Up against the Wall,” the student underground, Oct. 2005, www.thestudentunderground.org/article.php? id=16&issue=51