Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Ethics of Resistance

The Ethics of resistance

Since Operation Protective Edge erupted onto the world stage on July 8th and officially ended in late August there has been a deafening chorus of voices on both sides denouncing their opponents. Clearly this has been a war not just of military maneuvers but one of hearts and minds also. Each side claiming moral supremacy over the other. Wherever you stand in the Israel-Gaza conflict one issue that is of the utmost importance is the character of Hamas. The military affairs of Hamas are the cause celebre of the Israeli government, a call to arms that cannot be ignored. Hamas and its military wing the Al-Qassam brigades stand accused of using civilians to shield military equipment and enforcing a violent Jihadist regime that demands the self-sacrifice and martyrdom
.  Indeed on the surface there is much to condemn. On the August 22nd Hamas executed 21 Gazan citizens accused of collaborating with Israel.  The ethics of any armed conflict are difficult to discern. Hamas is certainly no exception. 

'[Hamas are] Digging terror tunnels to send death squads to attack Israeli children'-Benjamin Netanyahu, Hannity

Evidently the decisions that the people of Gaza have to make are not easy ones. The motif of 'victory or martyrdom' certainly has been  prevalent amongst the Al-Qassam. In addition to this worrying culture, Hamas' rhetoric stresses playing the long game, that in time they will inevitably win... Whatever the cost.  However despite calls for Hamas to  tone down its fiery oratory the failure of any diplomatic solution has exacerbated this conflict. The PLO has been sat at the negotiating table since the Oslo Peace agreement in 1993, the West Bank has seen near Half a million Israeli settlers set up homes on Palestinian land. In addition Israel outright refuses to have any official dialogue with Hamas. In contrast the militant Shiite organisation Hezbollah in Lebanon have successfully repelled Israel in 2006 by aggressive military means and received international support from major world powers. Evidently, in this most difficult situation what is ethical and what is successful are separate issues.   

Is any armed activity ethical? If the answer is yes, then are Hamas an 'ethical resistance'? Does the conflict in Gaza even qualify as a war? Or is it an occupation? Whatever our own individual answers to these questions are. These issue of ethics is worth exploring. 

Human Shields

An IDF Picture depicting Hamas rocket launch sites 
Firstly I will asses the most common charge that has been brought against Hamas. 
It is axiomatic that we asses the charge that Hamas uses 'human shields'. 

Since the conflict began in July, the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya has been completely

destroyed. Allegedly this is because of the presence of 'terror tunnels' under it's streets. 
Ultimately the Palestinian tunnel offensives have represented little strategic threat to Israel, and have not targeted civilians. I believe that given the nature of the conflict and the Al-Qassam brigades the ethnics of Hamas are difficult to analyse. Among the people in Gaza there seems to be a definite commitment to the Hamas cause. 

'What kind of government would ask people to leave their homes?'- Khaled Meshaal, BBC HARDtalk

'This man is not related to anything against Israel. He is a member of Hamas, okay but that does not mean that the three families that live in this home should have their home demolished completely'., Abu Middan (Gaza resident) after his house was attacked, Vice: Rockets and Revenge- Dispatch 8

'There wasn't a single resistance fighter here or any military action taking place. We don't like battles, destruction or escalation, but the Israeli occupation is the one hitting civilians in safe areas. Our children don't feel safe now. The resistance is a reaction to the Israeli attacks on our residential areas. The killing of children, women and the elderly. [The resistance] is all a reaction. '  Unnamed Gaza resident, Vice: Rockets and Revenge- Dispatch 12 

Despite a widespread Al-Qasssam operation in Gaza City. The morality of Israels rocket strikes remains dubious at best.

In the face of the widespread devastation of Operation Protective Edge, the will of the Gazan people is unshaken. This isn't unique to Gaza, there was a similar situation in Vietnam with regard to peasants supporting the Viet Cong. Perhaps contrary to what observers might expect, Hamas enjoys wide (and growing) popular support in Gaza and the wider Arab world.  The narrative that the cause of their plight is an external occupier, is widely accepted. Many civilians in Gaza have had to face the dreaded 'knock on the roof' ( a low power rocket fired on a building, signifying that a barrage is about to commence). But are Hamas' tactics ethical?

'Despite all drawbacks we had about Hamas when they took over the Gaza strip and despite criticism, they did well in this battle. And if god wills it, they will get us our rights. I think that the Hamas movement gained popularity during this battle.....we are all with the Hamas resistance movement if they get us the rights we lost.', Unnamed Gaza resident, Vice: Rockets and Revenge- Dispatch 12

IDF 'Buffer Zone'  covers most or Gaza's rural boarder
Therefore the claim Hamas has used 'human Shields' is extremely problematic. Despite evidence that  the IDF uses 'human shields' in the Goldstone report (paragraph 1925) .  The IDF reports that most Al-Qassam activities take place near in densely populated civilian areas. Hamas operatives certainly have their base in Gaza City. Yet despite reports otherwise, from the images that have come out of the conflict, it would appear that most Hamas rocket attacks have taken place near Gaza's rural boarder. It is  necessary to point out here that most of Gaza's rural land has been under a long IDF 'buffer zone' that the Israeli government advises is a no-go area. Any attempts to enter this area are near suicidal. Forcing civilians and resistance fighters into Gaza's already crowded cities.   

In Gaza there has been seemingly wide ranging support for the fight against Israel where morality is not a peripheral concern, it is everything. Are civilians involved in this conflict? Unfortunately yes. However the assumption that they are 'Human Shields' I believe is debatable.

Violent Jihadists or Freedom Fighters? 

Secondly it is important we analyse the character of Hamas. Is Hamas' long game strategy working? Significantly Al-Qassam is highly decentralized in contrast with other resistance movements. Many are claiming that the Israeli shelling of the Gaza strip has been out of frustration. Because the Al-Qassam leaders are often elusive. I believe this is in part, a result of Israels refusal to have diplomatic relations with Hamas. For example the Hannibal Directive issued over the alleged kidnapping of IDF solder Hadar Goldin that turned out to be false. Saw the total obliteration of Khusa'a in Southern Gaza. Arguably this desperate indiscriminate shelling that has become symbolic of the whole conflict is a result of the IDF's inability to target Al-Qassam and Hamas leaders. Despite Israel claiming to  conduct 'precision strikes' against Hamas leaders. Israeli rocket attacks overwhelmingly occur at night and early in the morning when more civilians are likely to be have more difficulty fleeing from an attack. The humanitarian logic of this has always confused me. 

The claim from many in Israel where 96% of people supported the campaign in Gaza is that without their modern 'Iron Dome' defense system Hamas would pulverize Israeli cities into the ground. Despite widespread claims that 'Iron Dome' has (at most) only intercepted 20% of rockets coming from Gaza. The claim that Hamas targets Israeli civilians brings its moral legitimacy into question. 

Hamas has been guilty of providing some extremely vicious rhetoric during this conflict. And as we saw with the execution of 21 Gazan citizens, is capable of some appalling acts of barbarism. Yet I would (cautiously) suggest that there is little to suggest Hamas and the people of Gaza have the desire to do anything more than defend themselves. Ultimately, although the language Hamas uses is often incendiary. The whole idea of Hamas is build around defense. Furthermore, rather than take Hamas' rhetoric literally. It has been suggested that the language of martyrdom in Gaza fulfills a much different role than in other areas. Rather than being a call to arms, many suggest it is a psychological coping mechanism to deal with the widespread destruction. UNICEF has already announced that it is deeply concerned about the psychological effects the conflict is having on Gaza's children.

 Unlike Islamist movements from around the Muslim world. Hamas rallies in Gaza are a sea of Green and Red. A Recent speech by Hamas spokesperson Mushir Al Masri was full of references to a strong Palestinian nation as opposed to a wider Islamic Jihad. Ultimately the imagery depicted in most Hamas occasions bears little resemblance to the black clad Jihadists associated with the various Islamist movements in Iraq, Syria and North Africa. Although there is an Islamic Jihad in Palestine movement ( AL-Quds Brigades)  in Gaza it acts independently of Hamas and the Al-Qassam Brigades.

 'Hamas can arguably be considered the most nationalistic Islamist movement, openly embracing in deed and rhetoric both Islam and the Palestinian people as political objects. The Iranian Khomeinist regime, on the other hand, is skeptical of the nation in theory, but is now enjoying its fourth decade of temporal rule over the Iranian people. This gap between rhetoric and deed in attitudes toward the nation-state runs throughout the Islamist phenomenon, representing an ongoing struggle for legitimacy between different conceptions of what the nation is and what it should be. This in large part stems from the fact that although Islam is a powerful ideology, it presents no clear answers on the question of political agency in the modern era.' Hamas and Iran: Nationalism and Islam, David Donaldson, E-International Relations Students

It is hard to justify violence at any time. Hamas' violent rhetoric against Israel is to be condemned. Yet as a resistance movement, that has its origins in a widespread popular protest. The ethics of Hamas are not easy to discern.  

Ultimately it comes down to our own perception of one of the worlds most controversial issues that will decide whether or not Hamas is ethical. Since the conflict began in July both sides have been brought to a negotiating table in Cairo. Hamas publicly backed the Palestinian delegation led by Azzam al-Ahmad, between them both thay have agreed on a three point plan to create a Palestinian state. With both Hamas and Israel claiming victory it's difficult to see how history will judge Hamas.  But for now the morality of the Islamist organisation matters, because a solution to the long term crisis looks like a distant dream.

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