The rhetoric coming from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have never been similar, but comments from each in the past week have galvanized their differences. While Hamas and Fatah met in Cairo to discuss the terms of Palestinian unity and attempt to break down the political barriers between Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addressed students and faculty at the Cooper Union in New York in order to pander to American liberals with a half-assed call for peace and toothless criticisms of the Israeli regime.
Abbas delivered a speech Tuesday night at the Cooper Union in Manhattan entitled “Rethinking Palestine.” The speech aimed largely at painting the Palestinian struggle for statehood as something not so foreign to the American consciousness; he related it to the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and the anti-war movement. In order to do so, Abbas continually referenced the fact that Abraham Lincoln had once delivered a speech from the same podium and made use of quotes from JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Before prostrating himself at the feet of the American historical narrative, however, Abbas had nothing but praise for the Obama administration.
“Thank you, America, for extraordinary efforts that you have made to create peace in Palestine, and in particular to President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, for their endless trips, back and forth, in search of peace. What President Obama and Secretary Kerry did took courage.”
Imagine being an occupied person living in an occupied territory. Now imagine that you’ve spent most of your life in fear of dying at the hands of the occupying power, and felt increasingly more fearful of doing so in the past few months. Airstrikes rain down on you, your family, and your people. You have little access to water or electricity and you are subject to arrest without due process or reason. In prison, you can be tortured with impunity. The international community calls for a cessation of the assault, but it’s a whimper more than a demand, it lacks teeth, there is no bite to accompany the mild barking, and it falls flat.
Then, shortly after the “war” ends, you see your proclaimed leader. He’s on your television, if you have one. He is thanking the leader of the country that supplied the bombs that killed your friends, family, and would-be countrymen, if only you had a country. And the US expects Palestinian civilians to feel the same.
You’ll have to excuse Palestinians if they politely refuse.
From then on, Abbas only distanced himself from the Palestinian people. He spoke more about those who died in 9/11 than about the Gazans who died this past summer. He weakly criticized Israel’s post-ceasefire theft of land in the West Bank, which claimed about 1,000 acres of Palestinian Territory for Israel as a punitive punishment for the summer’s activities. He remarked a few times that the settlement-building and a few other occupatory actions on Israel’s part were “not acceptable,” a weak criticism that any Palestinian 5-year-old could’ve spit into a microphone. Then he played up the power of youth and peace and freedom and politely asked the students of Cooper Union to join hands with him and ask Benjamin Netanyahu to “make peace,” a phrase that does not and has never registered on Bibi’s linguistic metric.
On the other side of the world, Hamas is learning. The leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, recently gave a speech in Qatar that focused on his desire to reconcile the differences between Hamas and Fatah as well as his willingness to make concessions to Fatah in order to foster this unity. On the subject of Israel, however, Mashaal was not so generous.
“Negotiations without a show of force and without resistance would be like begging for charity at the enemy’s feet,” said the leader. He went on to say that he war in Gaza taught Hamas “an important lesson,” which was that Israel “understands only the language of force.”
“We are in favor of political and diplomatic processes, but such processes must be leveraged from a position of resistance.”
Pandering has gotten Abbas and his Palestinian Authority nowhere with Israel, and Mashaal has decided that his organization, as it always has, is going to take a different route. Call them terrorists, call them evil, call them whatever you like, but one thing is certain: Mashaal and Hamas have teeth, and they are not begging Benjamin Netanyahu for a damned thing.
Both Hamas and Israel have been accused of utilizing terroristic tactics in their acts against one another. The widely-heard rhetoric in western media is that Hamas uses human shields and convinces Palestinians to stay in their homes and brave Israeli airstrikes against their will, which ignores the fact that no indigenous people have ever willingly removed themselves from their land in the face of danger and completely discounts the obvious truths that Palestinians don’t want to be displaced. International communities like the UN and Amnesty International have criticized Israel for using Palestinians as human shields, including military operations in which IDF soldiers send Palestinian children into homes and other buildings in order to safeguard against their own deaths if the houses are rigged with explosives, but somehow that’s less sinister than Hamas’s alleged use of human shields. UNICEF released a report criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children and the state’s use of systematic torture against minors. Most Palestinians have limited access to water, electricity, or safe housing, especially in Gaza. Gaza has been placed in a state of humanitarian emergency by the UNRWA.
So if you’re a Palestinian teenager, you’ve grown up through Operation Cast Lead, Operation Protective Edge, Operation Defensive Shield, and a slew of other cryptically-titled Israeli military initiatives. An extensive portion of the armaments with which those operations were conducted was supplied by the US or by US funds. In spite of all this, you now see the leader of the Palestinian Authority praising the US government. On the flipside, you see Hamas. Chartered as a Palestinian Resistance movement to Israeli Occupation (Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza because of Hamas, as many American outlets ridiculously paint the situation; Israel was massacring Palestinians far before Hamas was chartered in the 1987), Hamas vows that they will “not give up an inch of Palestinian land.” Khaled Mashaal gives a speech about the necessity of Palestinian unity in the effort to throw off the Israeli occupation. In an interview with CBS, Meshaal says this of occupation: “I can die because of Israel. I cannot live under occupation.” The group promises to fight the Israeli regime that displaced your grandparents in the Nakba, killed some of your family members in Operation Cast Lead, destroyed your home during Operation Protective Edge.
With whom do you identify?
Forgive Palestine if you put your ear to the sky and hear a unified cry to throw off its own oppression, to reject our tepid, weak, unsatisfactory slaves, and commit itself to the act of resistance.