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Israeli scholar and historian Ilan Pappe argues the media’s demonization of Hamas provides Israel cover for continuing its siege and occupation of Palestinian territories

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Early Tuesday, fuel tanks at Gaza’s only power plant came under attack. With already limited electricity, this will certainly exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation. Israel carried out 76 strikes overnight, one of the biggest bombardments in the nearly month-long campaign. A coalition of water and sanitation organizations in the Palestinian territories recently released a statement saying, quote,

“Since the start of the Israeli assault on Gaza on 8 July 2014, the water and wastewater infrastructure in Gaza has been heavily affected by Israeli airstrikes. (…) The targeting of civilian objects under situation of hostilities is prohibited according to International Humanitarian Law and is considered a war crime.”

But with attacks ramping up instead of winding down, a ceasefire between both sides seems more and more elusive.

Here to discuss the mainstream narrative around this crisis and how both sides can reach a ceasefire is our guest, Ilan Pappé. He is a professor of history and the director of European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.
Ilan is also the author of several books, including his most recent book, The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge.

Thank you for joining us, Ilan.

ILAN PAPPÉ, PROF. HISTORY, UNIV. OF EXETER: It’s a pleasure to be on the show, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So, Ilan, coming from an American perspective and what we’re sort of hearing from the media and leaders is probably best exemplified in a statement made by former President Bill Clinton. He said, quote,

“Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets into Israel. They fired a thousand of them. And they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.”

So, first of all, is this an accurate portrayal of the situation? And what context is missing here?

PAPPÉ: No, it is not, really. I mean, it’s a very narrow kind of context that doesn’t widen the picture.

There are two kinds of contexts one should point to in order to understand the situation. One refers to a more immediate past and one to a more distant one.

The more immediate past that is relevant to what goes on should take us back to just a month or two months ago, when Israel decided to use the pretext of an abduction and killing of three settlers in order to implement a plan that it already had in mind many years ago, and that is a plan to try and destroy the Hamas as a political force in the West Bank, and if possible also the military force in the Gaza Strip.

The reason that Israel chose this particular timing for this initiative was the creation of a unity government and the fact that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank decided to try a new strategy, with the help of the Hamas, to go to the international community, especially to the United Nations, and demand an engagement with the 46 year long Israeli occupation on the basis of a human rights and civil rights agenda, which Israel totally refuses.

So the Hamas was keeping its part of the deal, back from 2012, for a long ceasefire, but Israel broke it, violated the ceasefire, by arresting all the political leadership and activists in the West Bank, including those Israel was pledged to release under the prisoner exchange deal known as the Shalit exchange deal.

So that’s the immediate background, but there’s far more important, probably, and deeper historical background.

Since 2006, since the people of Gaza elected democratically the Hamas to try and take them out of the ghetto that Israel created to them long before the Hamas took over Gaza, already 1994–because of the special location, geopolitical location of the Gaza Strip, Israel doesn’t really know what to do with it, so it ghettoized it already in 1994. The PA or the Fatah failed to salvage the people of Gaza from that situation. So the people of Gaza gave a chance to the Hamas. And the Israeli reaction was, even at first, a brutal military response to this election. And so the whole issue of how the Hamas responded, namely, through the launching of missiles, has to be seen in this context. It may be there is another way. I’m not sure there is, but definitely this is a response to a policy of strangulation, of siege, of starvation. It’s not coming out of blue as one would have thought that one can understand from the way Bill Clinton and others in the United States describe the context of this crisis.

DESVARIEUX: I’m glad you mentione Hamas, because there’s an interview that’s actually picking up a lot of traction here in America. It’s an exclusive interview with Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal. CBS anchor Charlie Rose, he basically asked the leader of Hamas, what does Hamas want? Take a listen to what he had to say.


KHALED MASHAL, CHIEF OF THE POLITICAL BUREAU, HAMAS (VOICEOVER TRANSL.): We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists. We do not actually fight the Jews because they are Jews, per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers.

On the contrary, we actually respect the religious people. We ask for tolerance, for coexistence between the Buddhists, the Jews, the Christians, or the Muslims. As God created us as nations, we are different. And the Quran says that, in order for the nations to live together and coexist together without occupation and without any blockade.

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: I think I just heard you say–and we’ll close on this–you believe in the coexistence of peoples, and therefore you believe in the coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East.

MASHAL: I can’t coexist with occupation.

ROSE: Without occupation you can coexist.

MASHAL: I am ready to coexist with which the Jews, with the Christians, and with the Arabs and non-Arabs, and with those who agree with my ideas and those who disagree with them. However, I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers, and those who took siege of us.

ROSE: It’s one thing to say you want to coexist with the Jews. It’s another thing, you want to coexist with the state of Israel. Do you want to coexist with the state of Israel? Do you want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MASHAL: No, I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers. I do coexist with other [crosstalk]

ROSE: I’m assuming they’re no longer occupiers. At that point do you want to coexist and recognize their right to exist as they would recognize your right to exist?

MASHAL: When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. But you cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you. But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation. In natural situations, they can decide policies vis-à-vis others.

ROSE: Thank you.

MASHAL: You’re welcome.


DESVARIEUX: Ilan, you just heard that, a lot of back-and-forth going on between the Hamas leader and Charlie Rose there. So I’m trying to wrap my head around this, and I think a lot of us here in the United States, we don’t get a sense of who Hamas is, what they represent. So I’ll just ask you about their origins, ’cause I know you wrote recently about sort of how Israel empowered Hamas to come about. Can you just explain that a bit?

PAPPÉ: Yeah, definitely. First of all, I think–but before we do that, it’s important to say that also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), does not–refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So Charlie Rose’s sort of allegation that Hamas is inflexible or unwilling to be a partner for reconciliation because it refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a consensual Palestinian position shared by the leaders of the Palestinian Authority. So I think that’s very important to understand.

Secondly, one has to understand the Palestinian perspective on the Israeli colonization of Palestine that started in the late 19th century. I think three generations later, Palestinians understand that the Israelis are there to stay. I don’t think there is any serious Palestinian leader, including in the Hamas, that really believes that it can make the Israelis go, or that even want the Israelis to go. It’s a question of what kind of regime would reign between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Now, the secular Palestinian forces led by the Fatah in the ’60s and the ’70s were moving towards the idea of a two-state solution with the hope that one day they will be able to live in one democratic state, to which the Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 could return. Israel rejected any of these ideas, either a two-state solution or a one-state solution, and the occupation continued, and the Judaization, colonization of the West Bank expanded, in fact to such a degree that it’s ridiculous today to talk about a two-state solution. So what you are left with is an equal number of Jews and Palestinians living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean under one regime that discriminates in various ways towards anyone who is a Palestinian. And there was a strategy, a secular strategy, if you want, a national strategy, to try and change it.

Now, people were a bit fed up with the failure of that strategy and gave a chance to a more religious version of that strategy. Now, one of the reasons that version became more popular is because Israel believed that this should be enhanced and supported as a counterbalance to the secular leadership of the Palestinians, namely the Fatah. So they didn’t invent the Hamas, but they definitely allowed it to emerge, to prosper, to become powerful, hoping that this would defeat the secular leadership of the Palestinians. This is not limited to Israeli policies. As you probably know, the United States did the same with the Taliban and the jihadists in Afghanistan when they wanted to defeat the Russian influence (or, in those days, the Soviet influence) there, and they did a similar thing in Egypt and in Iraq. Israel follows them, the United States, in attempting to determine who would rule, who would be the leader, who would be the representative of the people of the Middle East under the discourse of democracy. And that’s why we have this kind of crisis.

So Hamas today is both democratically representing what some Palestinians feel, but it’s also representing an alternative to the policies that so far have not ended the occupation and the colonization.

I still think the only way forward–and I think many people in the Hamas now seem to agree–the only way forward for the Palestinians is in a unity, a united leadership. And that kind of unity is what brought this present wave of violence from Israel’s side. A united Palestinian leadership that bases the Palestinian demands on human rights and civil rights is something Israel would not be able to defeat. It’s far more dangerous than any rocket the Qassam can launch into Israel.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. So, basically, if I’m understanding you correctly, Israel essentially empowered their current enemy, as they deem it, Hamas. So how do you then resolve this issue? Can you just talk specifically about lifting the blockade? Is this even an option right now on the table?

PAPPÉ: Well, if the blockade will not be relieved, if the ghetto of Gaza would continue to be sealed and Israel would continue to determine even the level of calories the people are entitled to have there in order not to starve but not to live too well, if this kind of abuse, collective abuse of the Palestinians who are incarcerated in the Gaza Strip would continue, then the Hamas will use any desperate means at its disposal to continue the struggle. And that could even lead to a third intifada; namely, the people in the West Bank, regardless of whether they are Hamas or not, will join in, and maybe even the Hezbollah [in the north (?)]. So a continued Israeli policy of siege has the potential for a much wider and bloodier conflict.

A removal of the siege, an ability of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including the political factions of the Hamas, to be reunited with their brothers and sisters in the West Bank, to be reunited with the world, and the end of the kind of boycott that America and the E.U. imposed on the Hamas will include them in a political process that can change the reality in Israel and Palestine for the better. But for that to happen, you have to change the basic attitude of Israel. Israel today is the political system that believes that it has the military power to dictate to the Palestinians how to live and where to live. Once this kind of an Israeli conviction would be weakened, hopefully by international pressure, then there is a chance for a very painful but a more hopeful dialog about a different legal regime, a different political regime all over what used to be historical Palestine.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Ilan Pappé, thank you so much for joining us.

PAPPÉ: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and socialist activist. He is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, director of the university's European Centre for Palestine Studies, and co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. He is the author of many books, including his most recent book, The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge.