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Debunking “all Palestinians are Hamas”

Oct 31,2023 - Last updated at Oct 31,2023

Too many comments from Israeli political, military and religious leaders have suggested that all Palestinians are legitimate targets because they support Hamas or that they voted for them and are, therefore, guilty of that group’s many crimes. Here are a few:

The president of Israel said: “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It's absolutely not true.”

An Israeli Knesset member said: “The children of Gaza brought it upon themselves.”

The minister of defence described the current war this way: “We are fighting human animals.”

Statements of this kind, in which an entire group of people are demonised or seen as responsible for the actions of a few, are sheer bigotry. The very same racism when applied to other groups (like Jews, Blacks, or Native Americans) has led to pogroms, persecution, or genocide. 

First, it is important to note, as I do in Palestinians, the Invisible Victims: Political Zionism and Palestinian Human Rights, Political Zionism has long promoted this view of the indigenous people of Palestine as less civilised, more violent and less worthy than the settler movement that sought to displace them.

Theodor Herzl termed his project “an outpost of civilisation against barbarism”. Chaim Weizmann echoed it when appealing for support from the West by describing the Zionist/Arab struggle as one between “the forces of destruction and the desert and the forces of civilisation and building”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used similar dehumanising rhetoric just last week, describing the ongoing conflict as between 21st century progress and “the barbaric fanaticism of the Middle Ages” and a “struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness”. Over the years, Israeli political and religious leaders have also referred to Palestinians as “cockroaches” or “snakes”.

But what about the claim that “all Palestinians support Hamas”?

Our frequent polling across Palestine and Israel provides data that easily debunks that characterisation. In our last poll in Gaza (July, 2023) only 11 per cent identified themselves as Hamas supporters, as opposed to 32 per cent identified with Fatah. Eleven per cent hardly constitutes “all Palestinians”.

As for the claim that Palestinians voted for Hamas and are therefore culpable for their behaviour, the same dangerous generalisation would hold all Americans responsible for the actions of the US government, or all Israelis, or Jews, responsible for the atrocities committed by the Israeli government. But more to the point, most Palestinians did not vote for Hamas, and those who did, did not vote for them for the reasons being suggested.

In our 2006 poll, the Fatah margin over Hamas in Gaza was 34 per cent to 29 per cent. How and why, then, did Hamas win the 2006 legislative elections?

The slim Hamas margin of victory in that year’s election was 44 per cent to 41 per cent. Hamas took control of the legislature because of the way seats were apportioned and because of internal divisions within Fateh. And while “pundits” say Hamas won because of the PA’s corruption, polling tells a different story.

The outcome of the 2006 election was shaped by a classic “throw the bums out” message. Fatah and Hamas were viewed equally as corrupt, but corruption was not the main issue in that election. Palestinians had lost hope in peace and the achievement of an independent state, and identified their most important concerns as the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners and the need for internal security. Interestingly, when asked if the prospects for negotiating peace with Israel were dependent on the outcome of the election, a strong majority (including 70 per cent of Hamas voters) said they would choose Fateh. But peace was not in the offing and they knew it. So instead, voters said to the incumbent Fateh: “You’ve been in office for 10 years and gotten nothing from Israel—no state and no peace—so let’s see what the other guys can do.”

To go from this to justifying killing innocent Palestinian civilians because “all Palestinians are Hamas” and therefore responsible for their actions is both racist and unsupported by facts. By the way, it is the same despicable “logic” used by those who justify killing innocent Israelis because of the hideous actions of their government and military.

 

The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute

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