Opinion

Somebody in Hamas Got Scared, and This Sentence Was Deleted

The more Israel dispossesses and kills, the easier it is for Hamas to persuade Palestinians to accept its new document of principles

Amira Hass
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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (R) with the son of senior Hamas militant Mazen Fuqaha, sitting on the shoulders of Hamas Gaza Chief Yehya Al-Sinwar during a memorial service for Fuqaha, in Gaza City March 27, 2017.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (R) with the son of senior Hamas militant Mazen Fuqaha, sitting on the shoulders of Hamas Gaza Chief Yehya Al-Sinwar during a memorial service for Fuqaha, in Gaza City MarcCredit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS
Amira Hass

One sentence from a draft of Hamas’ new “Document of General Principles and Policies” that was leaked about a month ago stood out for the way it differed from the ordinary Palestinian discourse.

The sentence was part of a paragraph about anti-Semitism, “the Jewish problem” and the persecution of Jews, which, it said, was linked to the history of Europe and had nothing to do with Arab and Muslim history.

“Anti-Semitism was a basic reason for the appearance of the Zionist movement,” it declared.

The document then continued in a familiar fashion. “The Zionist movement, which was able with the help of Western powers to occupy Palestine, is the most dangerous form of colonial occupation which has already disappeared from much of the world and must disappear from Palestine.”

Perhaps someday we’ll find out who proposed that sentence. Was it Hamas supporters in the West? Members of the organization sealed off in Gaza, for whom surfing the internet is their only freedom of movement, including to other ideas? Friendly historians who aren’t part of Hamas but advised the drafting committee? Hamas head Khaled Meshal?

The process of writing this document took about four years, and a large number of people read it and proposed changes. Hamas has a proven ability to carry out cooperative democratic processes. And indeed, this sentence – which added a refreshing complexity to the historical chain of events as described in the standard Palestinian narrative – doesn’t appear in the final version. Somebody got scared, raised a fuss, protested.

This regrettable excision nevertheless tells us something about the process of reflection that preceded the drafting of the document. Whoever demanded that this sentence be erased evidently understood it as a concession, an unnecessary emotional identification with and display of a smidgen of understanding for the Jewish Zionist presence in this land. They apparently thought that distinguishing Zionism in such a way from international colonialism wouldn’t be seen as a nuance, but as a contradiction, one that would weaken the claim that the Zionist movement is the most dangerous form of colonialist occupation.

Another significant change that I found between the draft and the final version was in the article stating that Hamas distinguishes between “Zionism” and “Jews.” The draft said Hamas “distinguishes between Jews as a people of the book and Judaism as a religion, on the one hand, and the occupation and the Zionist project on the other.”

But the final version includes this distinction only via a negative. It says the conflict “is with the Zionist project, not with the Jews because of their religion.” Somebody, or several somebodies, was willing to delete a fundamental definition found in the Koran – that Jews (like Christians) are “people of the book” – in order to avoid the emotional/political concession of making any positive statement about Jews.

The third difference is in the article dealing with Hamas’ positions on the occupation and political agreements. According to the draft, “It is inconceivable that any peace in Palestine should be based on transgression against the Palestinian people, usurping their land and banishing them from their homeland.” But the final version says “transgression against the Palestinian people, usurping their land and banishing them from their homeland cannot be called peace.”

This is a fine but clear distinction. In the draft, peace is the subject, and perhaps also the desire, even if on absolutist terms. But in the final version, “peace” is merely a derivative, an imposed, an expected facade.

In terms of its rejection of a Jewish existence in this land, the document is no less hard-line than Hamas’ 1988 charter. But Israel is responding to Hamas’ positions and its potential to persuade others with even more destruction, closures, attacks, dispossessions and persecution. And the more it dispossesses and kills, the easier Hamas can persuade more of its countrymen to trust it and accept this document’s principles as written.

The nuances in the document, even though they were ultimately omitted, show that there are different views within Hamas. These nuances were born of exposure to other voices. But the isolation that Europe continues to impose on Hamas, as a foolish and irresponsible collaborator with the Israeli siege, greatly reduces the opportunity for Hamas members and their supporters to hear new premises.

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