Gaza and the Responsibility of Intellectuals
The dialogue begins.... Here is Peter Slezak's response to Peter Baldwin's article on the Gaza conflict. This exchange emanated from a dinner discussion that took place after the Blackheath Philosophy Forum meeting on 26 July this year.

Peter Baldwin's article, to which this is a response, can be read here. For Baldwin's reply to this article click here.

Dear Peter,

I want to begin with the point on which you conclude your essay. You end on an ethical note and I start my response on the same note. Your concern with the Hamas Charter, of all things, was particularly disturbing just at the time when the defenceless population of Gaza was being devastated, not for the first time, by the overwhelming might of Israel’s military forces. What exactly is the moral or political point of such a focus and emphasis in the midst of the carnage of Palestinians? The answer which is implicit in your approach and your remarks raises familiar, disturbing questions about our intellectual culture.

The most glaring ethical issue is one that you have not so much as hinted at. Your concern with Hamas and its alleged evils must be understood in the context of the catastrophic military assault which Gaza endured over 50 days from 8 July to 26 August this year. And not for the first time. As you wrote your response to our conversation, the people of Gaza were dragging the dismembered bodies of their children from the rubble. Over 2,000 people were killed of whom almost all were civilians including 500 children. Amid the devastation, harrowing pictures of distraught, bereaved parents and maimed, disfigured survivors cannot be seen without revulsion and outrage.

Discussing the undoubted iniquities of Hamas at this moment is a grave loss of moral perspective. How are we to understand the point of giving an elaborate, detailed account of the virtues of Israel and the sins of Hamas when we have just witnessed mass murder, a large-scale atrocity on the people of Gaza? To put the point more bluntly than you have done, you have sought to demonstrate that the victims somehow deserved it. Not Israel or its US arms supplier but Hamas is to blame for the immense destruction, death toll, trauma and injury. Even the thousands of civilians are, as Israeli propaganda suggests, the victims of Hamas’ evil and not Israel’s justified self-defence. I think this view is a grotesque failure of historical, political and moral judgment.

You have not discussed the time-line of events leading to the Israeli assault or the relevant historical background but these issues are the over-riding moral ones. Presumably, your catalogue of Hamas evils is to insinuate that Israel had no choice but to conduct yet another massive military assault against its implacable foe bent on Israel’s destruction. This is empirically false and indefensible. Presumably that’s why you don’t defend it explicitly. Instead you demonize Hamas according to a familiar formula, allaying any residual human concerns we might have about the Palestinian “unpeople” of Gaza. It is not difficult to find the truth behind the barrage of media propaganda and deceit: Israel was not responding to the Hamas terror of rockets in July 2014, just as in 2008 there were no Hamas rockets until Israel violated the cease-fire (as acknowledged by Israel’s own Ministry of Defence). I regard Israel’s devastation of Gaza as a large-scale atrocity and war-crime both in launching the assault and in its conduct. You neglect to discuss these serious concerns even to reject them. Nor do you mention that the immense destruction of civilian, residential districts is a matter of explicit Israeli military tactics – the so-called ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ after the devastation of a Beirut suburb in 1982. Your case for Israel’s virtue must be judged against its record. The relevant facts have conveniently disappeared from public, intellectual discourse. Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon resulted in around 17,000 civilian deaths, not counting the massacres at Sabra & Shatila for which Ariel Sharon was held personally responsible. This forgotten mass murder is unquestionably the worst single case of terrorism in the recent history of the Middle East. What evil of Hamas or others that you cite can compare?

In this context, it requires a callous indifference to immense suffering to focus on Hamas rhetoric and to ignore what Israel has wrought upon Gaza, not for the first time, with decisive US military aid and our support against a defenceless civilian population. Of course, it is not enough that there has been immense devastation in which entire residential neighbourhoods such as Shujai’ya were reduced to rubble.  You neglect to even mention that Gaza has been and remains under a cruel, crippling blockade which is a crime in international law and was to have been lifted under each cease-fire agreement. The claim that Hamas poses an “existential threat” to Israel is delusional and does not merit serious argument. Israel is the fourth most powerful military regime in the world, supported financially, diplomatically and military by the world’s only superpower. The US provided additional weaponry to Israel in the middle of its assault on Gaza which is essentially defenceless. Gaza has no Merkava tanks, no Apache helicopters, no F-16 fighter jets and no armed forces – all of which were unleashed against Gaza.

It requires considerable effort to overlook the most obvious facts. For all the rhetoric you cite of their murderous intent, if Hamas had the means to create the slightest military damage to Israel one might imagine that, under an assault whose brutality and ferocity astonished senior US military officers, Hamas might have unleashed something more than the utterly ineffective rockets. The sheer discrepancy in casualties and damage is sufficient for any rational person to judge the threat posed by Hamas.

As a further matter of moral concern, on the other side, you are surprisingly blasé about the genocidal racism of leading figures of the Israeli government which easily matches anything emanating from Hamas. You fail to recognize the deep roots of ethnic exceptionalism in Jewish tradition – an ugly undercurrent that is now bursting into public in Israel. The way that the secular state of Israel is disfigured by racist doctrines was described by Israel Shahak, born in the Warsaw Ghetto and a survivor of Belsen who lived in Israel after the Second World War. His classic study Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years first published in 1994 has a new edition in 2008 containing successive prefaces by Gore Vidal, Edward Said, Norton Mezvinky and Ilan Pappe. The devastating picture of Israeli prejudice and intolerance must be understood if Israel’s military and political actions are to make any sense. Here, it is perhaps sufficient to quote from leading government members to recognize the deep and dangerous racism openly expressed by Israeli leaders. Eli Yishai, Deputy Prime Minister said “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.” Journalist Gilad Sharon in the Jerusalem Post has written “There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing … We need to flatten entire neighborhoods … flatten all of Gaza.” Michael Ben-Ari member of the Knesset said “There are no innocents in Gaza. Mow them down … kill the Gazans without thought or mercy.” Avi Dichter, Minister of Home Front Defense says Gaza “should be wiped clean with bombs.” Knesset member Ayalet Shaked said all the mothers of Gaza should be killed because they give birth to little snakes.

Your demonizing Hamas fails to appreciate the understandable reaction of an oppressed people who have been victims of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, violent military occupation and gross injustice for decades, compared to the violent racist rantings of their oppressors. Also relevant on the other side of the balance is the violent racism in the general public reminiscent of the taunting, discrimination and abuse that Jews themselves suffered in Europe in the 1930s. The rosy picture you paint of Israel is unwarranted by evidence widely available outside the mainstream media and commentary. The genocidal racism among Israelis cannot be so easily discounted as you have suggested. Not only the blood-curdling pronouncements by members of the Knesset, but also rampaging crowds chanting “Death to the Arabs” are widespread – as are other public displays of ugly racism among Israelis. All this has been amply documented in videos by David Sheen available online, Israel’s own Ha’aretz newspaper and also in Israel’s own human rights organization B’Tselem. See ‘Israeli teenagers: Racist and proud of it. Ethnic hatred has become a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli youth’. Here is an article more honest than usually seen in our own press, titled The President of Israel (Reuven Rivlin) affirms that “Israeli society is sick with racism”

See also David Sheen’s testimony to the 2014 Russell Tribunal on Palestine in the video below:

Israeli fanaticism and ethnic supremacism is more to be feared for the obvious reason that they have immeasurably more power, the evident, demonstrated willingness to use it, and the unwavering support of the world's only superpower. You must put all this into the balance of your concerns about the Hamas charter and ask which is the most serious source of concern and a more serious obstacle to achieving a just peace. These considerations must be seen in the light of the evidence I will refer to that you have discounted but which leaves no serious doubt about Israel’s systematic, repeated thwarting of any settlement of the Gaza dispute.


Further on the ethical issues, your reference to our shared position of Consequentialism is certainly relevant but you misapply the principle in a way that is familiar and revealing. You dedicate your analysis to the real and imagined evil of Hamas – contrary to the most informed expert opinion. However, your moral outrage is not only unwarranted on the available evidence, but it is a focus on the iniquities of our officially designated enemies rather than our own. We have no conceivable practical influence on the former and, therefore, the moral value of your denunciations, even if entirely justified, which they are not, are essentially zero – on your own account of morality – “the viewpoint that calls on us to focus on practical results … to pursue every opportunity to ameliorate life for those concerned and to implement partial solutions that can build trust and lay the basis for better things.” You offer nothing at all that is morally relevant in the only meaningful sense of this notion which bears on our own responsibilities and actions. Criticizing Hamas, even if entirely justified, is cheap and has no moral value because we can have no direct influence at all on their views, their policies or their actions. This criticism would have been mitigated if your analysis of Hamas were balanced by some serious attempt to assess our own (ie US and Israeli) culpability – their responsibility for the source of conflict and their actions which are at the very least open to question. Your essay is merely exculpatory and apologetics that hardly deserve to be dignified as a moral position when it concerns their crimes and not our own. The crimes of official enemies may be serious and deserve condemnation, but this has no moral value precisely because there is nothing we can do about them. It is, of course, simply the familiar moral principle of Matthew 7:2 – to consider the beam in your own eye and the warning that you will be judged as you judge others. In this regard, your essay is a case-study of Benda’s (1927) La Trahison des Clercs (The Treason of Intellectuals). This is the tendency also criticized by Orwell and it has been the theme of many of Chomsky’s most eloquent and powerful essays.

The issue has a venerable history. Socrates remarks to Callicles that, just as he is himself in love with Alcibiades and also with philosophy, so Callicles is in love with Demos and the state of Athens. The pun on the name of Demos is intended to convey that Callicles the orator, or as we would say today, the intellectual man of letters, is as captive of the whims of the State as a lover to those of his beloved. Socrates says to Callicles:

Now I observe whenever the occasion arises that for all your cleverness you are unable to contradict any assertion made by the object of your love, but shift your ground this way and that.

In apologetics for state crimes today, Socrates’ accusation retains its moral force. It is striking to notice the parallel of Socrates’ accusation of pandering with Orwell’s characterization of “a writer of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty.” In his Notes on Nationalism, Orwell describes some of G.K. Chesterton’s work as “perhaps the most tawdry bits of bombast to be found in our language” and, although “according to his lights a true friend of democracy,” when he looked outward into the international field “he could forsake his principles without even noticing he was doing so.” Precisely echoing Socrates on Callicles’ ardour, Orwell writes “His hold on reality, his literary taste, and even to some extent his moral sense, were dislocated as soon as his nationalistic loyalties were involved.” As Callicles acknowledges, if Socrates is right, “we are doing, apparently, the complete opposite of what we ought."

Socrates’ point has been made by Chomsky in a way that bears directly on the issues I am concerned to highlight. He says with irony,

There is a new and highly regarded literary genre inquiring into the cultural defects that keep us from responding properly to the crimes of others. An interesting question no doubt, though by any reasonable standards it ranks well below a different one: why do we and our allies persist in our own substantial crimes, either directly or through crucial support for murderous clients? That remains unasked, and if raised at the margins, arouses shivers of horror. (Chomsky, 2003. Wars of Terror, New Political Science, 25, 1.)

In the same way, current events make Orwell’s reflections of 1945 sobering. He says “the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings.” Elsewhere, in the same vein, Orwell wrote of the servility of the English intelligentsia and their “complete disregard to historical truth or intellectual decency,” becoming voluntary propagandists in the service of state power. Of course, this is not the Orwell best known and celebrated for his satire of totalitarianism, the official enemy. These remarks concern ‘Freedom of the Press’ in our own democracy, and are to be found in the original, unpublished introduction to Animal Farm, suppressed by the publisher on advice from the Ministry of Information. The same theme has become familiar more recently in Chomsky’s writings on the ‘new mandarins’ and ‘commissars’ of our own culture, the academics and ‘liberal scholars’ who offer their services to the state, making an essential contribution to imperial wars of aggression.

Chomsky wrote of the intellectuals who can be counted on, in significant measure, to provide the ideological justification for such barbarism as the US assault on the populations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. He noted the “natural tendency of significant segments of the American intellectual community to offer their allegiance, not to truth and justice, but to power and the effective exercise of power.” In the same vein, Orwell wrote of the intelligentsia and their ‘complete disregard to his¬torical truth or intellectual decency,’ becoming voluntary agents of state power. Orwell described:

The servility with which the greater part of the … intelligentsia have swallowed and repeated … propaganda ... would be quite astounding if it were not that they have behaved similarly on several earlier occasions.
Other remarks by Chomsky bear directly on the moral issues central to our dispute:

The foreign policy of other states is also in general horrifying -- roughly speaking, states are violent to the extent that they have the power to act in the interests of those with domestic power -- but there is not very much that I can do about it. It is, for example, easy enough for an American intellectual to write critical analyses of the behavior of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe (or in supporting the Argentine generals), but such efforts have little if any effect in modifying or reversing the actions of the U.S.S.R. Rather, such efforts, which are naturally much welcomed by those who dominate the ideological institutions here, may serve to contribute to the violence of the American state, by reinforcing the images of Soviet brutality (often accurate) that are used to frighten Americans into conformity and obedience. I do not suggest that this is a reason to avoid critical analysis of the U.S.S.R.; in fact, I have often written on the foreign policy of the Soviet state. Nor would I criticize someone who devotes much, even all his work to this task. But we should understand that the moral value of this work is at best very slight, where the moral value of an action is judged in terms of its human consequences. In fact, rather delicate judgments sometimes arise, for people who are committed to decent moral values. Suppose, for example, that some German intellectual chose in 1943 to write articles on terrible things done by Britain, or the U.S., or the Jews. What he wrote might be correct, but we would not be very much impressed. (Chomsky, ‘The Reasons for my Concern’, 1983)

Chomsky made the same point forcefully in his speech in Sydney to the Writers Guild in 1995:

Western intellectuals … understand the point very well, and have no trouble applying elementary moral principles in at least one case: official enemies, say, Stalinist Russia.

Within that society, the value system imposed by authority held that the responsibility of the intellectual is to serve power interests: to record with a show of horror the terrible deeds (real or alleged) of designated enemies, and to conceal or prettify the crimes of the state and its agents. Russian intellectuals who fulfilled these responsibilities were praised and honoured; those who rejected these demands were treated rather differently, as we know.

Here, the judgments were reversed. Russian intellectuals who kept to what was expected of them were regarded with contempt, dismissed as commissars and apparatchiks. Those who rejected these demands, we honoured as dissidents, people who tried to tell the truth about things that mattered—for them, in their circumstances. If they failed to condemn Western crimes, or even denied them, it was a matter of no interest to decent people, though the commissars were of course outraged. All of that, again, is trivially obvious, and aroused no controversy, properly.

As if providing a case study of these charges, you complain of the “strange thing that has happened to the Western Left in recent times” You write “The thing I find particularly disturbing is not legitimate criticism of Israel but the tacit or explicit support given to a movement that embodies everything the Left should stand against, one face of a hideous barbarism afflicting multiple locations throughout the Islamic world.” I made a point of saying in my emails that, like many people in Gaza itself, I have no fondness for Hamas. However, there are good reasons Hamas was, and remains, the preferred government to Fatah which is notoriously corrupt. It is no secret, though you nowhere hint at the significant fact that the Palestinian Authority of Abbas is a collaborator with Israel and the US, for whom it is subcontractor for the occupation, outsourcing the oppression of the Palestinians. Abbas has referred to the PA’s “sacred security coordination” with Israel from whom it receives arms, funding and training to repress the Palestinians. A relevant matter that you fail to mention is that the US and Israel armed and funded a planned coup against Hamas in 2007 which was pre-empted and put down. So much for the Western and Israeli commitment to democracy. It is revealing that you describe this attempted military coup against the fairly elected Hamas government euphemistically as merely “armed conflict with Fatah.” You consider this outcome as a “disaster for the Palestinians” and not the criminal blockade or the successive military assaults and regular killing of Palestinians by the IDF.

For all its faults, about which the people of Gaza have no illusions (as I know from friends and connections in Gaza), Hamas is not corrupt, and is responsible for maintaining the entire social system of welfare, health, education and social services in Gaza – under the most extreme hardships of a crippling blockade. None of this seems relevant in your scathing judgment of the “Left” but it is misleading and disingenuous to avoid mentioning any of it. Contrary to your view based on televised ranting of fundamentalist fanatics, Mishal and Sala (2006, xiii) explain:

“Hamas’s victory can be explained by social and economic considerations of the Palestinian electorate rather than ideological identification with the Islamic movement’s political agenda.”

Furthermore it is absurd and offensive to characterise “academic enthusiasts” who are aware of these realities as demonstrating that “the 'pro-Palestinian' Left seems incapable of” properly taking account of Israel’s adversaries, and, thereby “in effect” “lending support to a futile and destructive rejectionism that will ensure the continuing immiseration of the Palestinians.” It is an egregious cynicism to adopt this pose of concern with the continuing “immiseration” of Palestinians by Hamas after nearly a decade of crippling Israeli blockade, punctuated by repeated devastation by entirely one-sided Israeli military assaults in 2008, 2012 and 2014. No honest account can hold that the “continuing immiseration” of the Palestinians is caused by the “destructive rejectionism” of Hamas rather than by the destructive violence of Israel and its Western sponsors, principally the US.

It is also an egregious cynicism to accuse those aware of these uncontroversial realities with a blindness to the true nature of Israel’s adversaries which is “one face of a hideous barbarism” throughout the Muslim world. In view of the upsurge of such stereotypes long ago decried by Edward Said in his 1981 Covering Islam, the recent letter to ISIS from over 100 Muslim scholars around the world is significant: Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi.

In your promotion of the stereotype we see another familiar lapse in historical and moral judgment. I have written about this extensively and won’t attempt to rehearse the arguments here. Rather I give a link to one accessible article Silence Resembling Stupidity in Overland 205 Summer 2011.

Your remark echoes rationalists such as Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens who see Islam according to the same stereotype as a medieval “barbarism.” My article demonstrates that this view requires an unlikely ignorance of recent world history and a selective blindness to the vastly greater barbarity of the “civilized” West. A longer, more detailed defence of this view is in my article Gods of the State: Atheism, Enlightenment and Barbarity, in P. Quadrio and C. Besseling eds., Politics & Religion in the New Century, Sydney: Sydney University Press.

As large regions of Gaza lie devastated following the third large-scale, ferocious military assault, it requires a peculiar intellectual bias or delusion to conclude that “Hamas' primary goal is to annihilate Israel even at the cost of inflicting untold misery on their own people.”  This is just the conception of Israel as the victim, contrary to the facts which are irrelevant to its propagandists and apologists. Since you mentioned my prolific tweeting, I provide one that received an extraordinary response of around 3,000 re-tweets and speaks for itself:

This extraordinary aerial view from a drone also speaks for itself. 


I repeat Gideon Levy’s challenge to you. He asks What does Hamas really want? and suggests to readers “Read the list of conditions published in the name of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them.”

Though you have dismissed such accounts, readers may care to judge the fairness of your analysis with an article in The Guardian in 2006:  Hamas drops call for destruction of Israel from manifesto. And a similarly useful, academic source is Mouin Rabbani: “Khaled Meshaal, The Making of a Palestinian Islamist Leader: An Interview with Khalid Mishal: Part I,” Journal of Palestine Studies, 37.3 (Spring 2008), 71-7.

Jerome Slater’s listing of Hamas efforts and policies just confirms what foremost experts such as Sara Roy and others are saying. I quote these below so readers may judge whether you have answered them adequately. I'm not aware of anything that contradicts this picture besides the official rhetoric from Mark Regev, endlessly repeated in the media and which you echo. I don’t think you have adequately answered the evidence and considerations of these leading analysts. Among these, I forwarded an article by Uri Avnery - one of the founding fathers of Israel who fought in the 1948 War and has been a member of Knesset and significant figure in Israeli political life. I sent it because of his extended remarks on Hamas, their charter and negotiating with them - entirely in the same vein as those views I'd sent from Sara Roy and others. In this regard, I mention two additional recent works among the best scholarly studies which must be considered seriously S. Mishal and A. Sela (2006) The Palestinian Hamas and also J. Gunning (2008) Hamas in Politics.

I repeat here Sara Roy’s remarks for readers to judge whether you have adequately answered her analysis or these others. Sara Roy is senior researcher at Harvard's Centre for Middle East Studies. She's the daughter of Holocaust survivors, a political economist and the foremost expert on Gaza. I note in passing that it is inappropriate and gratuitously offensive to describe her as “one of the best-known academic apologists for Hamas.” You have no justification for such an ad hominem slur besides your own amateur prejudices and disagreement with her views which are based on her highly regarded academic scholarship and research including extensive experience in Gaza. Her published research is cited by other scholars such as Gunning (2008), though perhaps he deserves to be described as another academic apologist for Hamas. In light of my foregoing discussion, and in view of her professional standing, expertise and experience, one might reasonably ask: Who is an apologist for whom?

The importance you attach to the Hamas Charter is misplaced if one is concerned with political realities rather than excuses to avoid them precisely to give spurious justifications for the relentless crimes of collective punishment through the blockade that have now reached catastrophic level. Here's an excerpt from Roy’s book Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza, in the same vein as the other sources I have indicated:

Palestinians had the right to struggle to regain their homeland and freedom. The Hamas Charter, which is undeniably racist and anti-Jewish, articulates Hamas’s reference point. A clear set of objectives was also set forth, but the accompanying discourse was sometimes confused, in part because it derived from the need to fight the occupation and compete with secular political trends within Palestinian society.

More than two decades after its establishment, Hamas has matured and grown in size and popularity. While its frame of reference and objectives remain unchanged, its political discourse has become refined and streamlined particularly with regard to (1) relations with local groups, political factions, and other religious communities and nations; (2) resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and political compromise with the state of Israel; and (3) the nature of the political system it envisages for a Palestine free of occupation. Since Hamas’s victory in the January 2006 legislative elections, there has been a further evolution in its political thinking—as evidenced in some of its key political documents—characterised by a strong emphasis on state building and programmatic work,greater refinement with regard to its position on a two-state solution and the role of resistance, and a progressive de-emphasis on religion. In a May 2009 interview with the Hamas chief, Khaled Meshal, the New York Times described Hamas’s willingness to accept a two-state solution with Israel along the 1967 borders. Commenting on the Hamas Charter and a Palestinian state, Meshal stated: “The most important thing is what Hamas is doing and the policies it is adopting today. . . . Hamas has accepted the national reconciliation document. It has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders including East Jerusalem, dismantling settlements, and the right of return based on a long term truce. Hamas has represented a clear political program through a unity government. This is Hamas’s program regardless of the historic documents. Hamas has offered a vision. Therefore, it’s not logical for the international community to get stuck on sentences written 20 years ago.

Most recently is the news item Hamas proposal for Israel peace plan.

A key article in the recent Israeli press Ha’aretz which I also sent you is by Lorenzo Kamel Why do Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas. Kamel explains “Unlike the Islamic State and other Islamist groups that lack local anchorage and are based on obsolete ideologies, Hamas has evolved into a political movement deeply rooted in Gaza.” The following article, too, is an indication of the imbalance in the usual discourse about the Charter, rockets, human shields etc. Five Misconceptions About the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

All this must be judged in light of the extraordinary, consistent history of Israeli rejectionism which is hidden by the barrage of deceitful mainstream media and commentary. For convenience of readers, and to judge how well you have responded to the evidence, I simply quote the key evidence. Slater also gives a link to an academic article which I sent you, where the case is made in more detail Just War Moral Philosophy and the 2008-09 Israeli Campaign in Gaza. Slater argues that Israel’s earlier 2008 assault on Gaza was not just legally but morally wrong and cannot be justified on the grounds of Israel’s “self-defence” as always claimed. Then, as now, Israel’s explicit strategy has included “deliberate attacks on civilians or their economy, institutions, and infrastructures.” It is the light of these facts which you fail to mention and the litany I quote below that emphasis on Hamas’ Charter may be seen as a diversionary tactic to avoid serious engagement with political realities and the chances for peace. Nothing you have said negates the following extensive, consistent and damning evidence of Israel’s ruthless rejectionism (from Slater article):

  • According to ex-Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, in 1997 King Hussein of Jordan conveyed to Israel an offer from Khalid Meshal, then the chief Hamas leader, to reach an understanding on a ceasefire to last 30 years. Israel not only ignored the offer, a few days later Israeli operatives tried to assassinate Meshal in Jordan.
  • In the months before the January 2006 parliamentary elections in Gaza—free elections, which it won–Hamas downplayed its Charter and did not run on a platform calling for the destruction of Israel. Shortly after winning the January 2006 Gazan parliamentary elections, Hamas sent a message to president George Bush, offering Israel a truce for “many years,” in exchange for a compromise political settlement; neither the Bush administration nor Israel replied.
  • In February 2006, Meshal said that Hamas would not oppose the unified Arab stance expressed in an Arab League summit conference, which offered Israel full recognition and normalized relations in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and a solution to the refugee problem.
  • In May 2006, senior Hamas members imprisoned in Israel joined with Fatah prisoners and issued the “Prisoner’s Declaration,” which went further than the earlier Hamas overtures. It called for the establishment of a Palestinian state “in all the lands occupied in 1967” and reserved the use of armed resistance only in those territories.
  • In August 2006 Gazan prime minister Ismail Hanieh in effect accepted and incorporated the Prisoner’s Declaration into the Hamas position, especially its crucial distinction between the occupied territories and Israel within its 1967 borders, telling an American scholar: “We have no problem with a sovereign Palestinian state over all of our lands within the 1967 borders, living in calm.” (emphasis added).
  • In January 2007, Meshal stated that Hamas would consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state was established; aHaaretz story noted that “this is the first time that a Hamas official has raised the possibility of full and official recognition of Israel in the future.” According to the story, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “shrugged off” Meshal’s statement.
  • Throughout 2008, Hamas’s political positions continued to evolve. In particular, in April Meshal publicly reiterated that Hamas would end its resistance activities if Israel ended the occupation and accepted a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Israel ignored the statement.
  • In a May 2009 interview in the New York Times, Meshal said that Hamas should be judged on its current deeds and policies and that it was “not logical for the international community to get stuck on sentences written 20 years ago” in its Charter.
  • In December 2010 Hamas announced that it would honor any Palestinian referendum that approved a peace plan with Israel: “We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees,” said Haniyeh. “Hamas will respect the results [of a referendum],” he added, “regardless of whether it differs with its ideology and principles.” Zvi Bar’el, a leading Haaretz political analyst, noted: “Not a return of refugees, not the destruction of the State of Israel, no preconditions.”
  • In January 2012 Hamas announced that it was suspending all acts of terror in favor of “popular resistance” (i.e. nonviolent resistance); was joining in a unity government with the Palestinian Authority; would accept past deals between the PA or PLO and Israel, such as the Oslo agreements; would accept Mahmoud Abbas as the prime minister in that government, which would conduct negotiations with Israel; and would agree to a two-state solution if the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum.
  • In May 2012 Haaretz and the New York Times reported that Hamas was taking direct action in Gaza to prevent the firing of rockets into Israel. Later that year top IDF officers said that Hamas had not participated in rocket attacks against Israel for over six months, and the military correspondents of Haaretzreported that since Cast Lead, Hamas “has almost completely refrained from firing rockets into Israel.”
  • In November 2012, the ceasefire ended when Israel initiated an eight-day round of exchanges of fire with Hamas. However, before Israel once again broke the ceasefire (as had been repeatedly the case in past ceasefires), Hamas had apparently been on the verge of a radical change in its policies towards Israel. The story was covered in a series of articles in Haaretz. Gershon Baskin–a prominent Israeli peace activist who had ties both to Hamas and the Israeli government and who had helped negotiate the earlier deal in which an Israeli prisoner of Hamas was released in exchange for 1000 Palestinian prisoners of Israel– had negotiated a draft agreement with Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari that provided for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas: that is, no longer a ten year, or even a thirty year truce, as Hamas had proposed in the past, but a permanent one. A few weeks later, Reuven Pedatzur, the military correspondent of Haaretz, confirmed Baskin’s account, writing that contacts between Baskin and Hamas had taken place “with the knowledge and consent of Defense Minister Ehud Barak,” and who was shown the draft agreement. Several hours later, though, Israel assassinated Jabari, “the man who had the power to make a deal with Israel,” wrote Pedatzur. In an oped column in the New York Times and subsequent interviews in Haaretz, Baskin said that senior officials who knew about Jabari’s agreement to end all military attacks on Israel but decided to proceed with the attack anyway had “made a strategic mistake which will cost the lives of quite a number of innocent people on both sides.” Pedatzur, however, did not buy the “strategic mistake” explanation and did not shrink from reaching the obvious conclusion: 

“The decision to kill Jabari shows that our decision makers decided a cease-fire would be undesirable for Israel at this time, and that attacking Hamas would be preferable.”

  • After eight days of intense Israeli air attacks on Gaza, Israel and Hamas agreed to a new ceasefire, the central terms of which were that as long as Israel was not attacked, it would significantly ease the economic blockade–widely termed, even in Israel, as the “siege” of Gaza. Throughout 2013, however, this agreement was violated by Israel, which not only continued most of the economic sanctions but repeatedly engaged in assassinations and armed attacks inside Gaza. By contrast, Hamas continued not only to observe the ceasefire but cracked down even harder on Islamic Jihad and other militants to prevent them from launching rocket or mortar attacks; as a result, in the first three months after the ceasefire was negotiated there was just one mortar attack from Gaza and throughout the rest of 2013 there were fewer attacks than in any year since 2003, the first year that such attacks had begun. Israeli intelligence was said to be satisfied with Hamas’s efforts to maintain the ceasefire.
  • In January 2014 Hamas and the PA government in the West Bank signed a new reconciliation agreement (the previous agreement of 2012 had broken down). Under its terms an interim unity government would be formed until new elections in six months time, but until then none of the cabinet level positions would be filled by Hamas officials. Even more importantly, Hamas agreed to the PA’s conditions that the Palestinian goal was a two-state settlement generally based on the 1967 lines, and that only nonviolent methods would be employed to reach it.

If we are serious about morality and contributing to a just solution to the conflict, we might focus our efforts where they can make a difference – not the Hamas Charter but Israel’s rejectionist Likud Charter, Israel’s illegal, brutal occupation of the West Bank, it’s violation of human rights, international law and UN resolutions, and the decisive US arming, funding and diplomatic support for Israel’s collective punishment and repeated, one-sided military atrocities on innocent civilians in Gaza.

The Gaza conflict 2014 »The Gaza conflict 2014
Gaza and the Responsibility of Intellectuals
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