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Beating Israel’s ‘But Khamas!’ ploy

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London, March 19—Last year, Israeli soldiers on the perimeter fence with Gaza killed 189 unarmed participants in the “Great March of Return” (GMR), and injured more than 7,500 more, many of them seriously.

In connection with the GMR protests, four Israelis (all of them serving soldiers) were reported injured. None were killed. And now, the Israeli government and its propaganda trolls are trying to accuse the Palestinian movement Hamas of using undue violence!

The continuation of the GMR protests and the support the protestors have received from around the world have clearly touched a raw nerve in Israel. Israel’s worldwide propaganda machine has gone into overdrive with a blizzard of rallies, propaganda films, and social-media posts that peddle a few simplistic arguments. The GMR protests are all “organized by Hamas!” they claim. Hamas “uses mobs as a human weapon.” It “exploits children as human shields,” and so on. One short film the Israeli foreign minister posted on social media spells out these arguments against a background of swirling black smoke and fierce-looking Hamas guys with rockets…

This is what I call the “But Khamas!” ploy. It’s a maneuver the Israelis and their propagandists frequently use. They try to shut down any discussion of the actual plight of Gaza’s two million people and their own responsibility for causing it by invoking (and often, deliberately mispronouncing) Hamas’s name, betting that this all sounds very scary to people in the West.

Their argument is flawed, on both scores. Firstly, the GMR is not a creation or tool of Hamas. And second, Hamas is nowhere near as scary—as mindlessly militant, oppressive, and anti-Semitic– as those Israeli propagandists have worked for decades to portray them.

Last year, the UN Human Rights Council established a three-person Commission of Inquiry, headed by Santiago Canton of Argentina, to investigate the ongoing GMR protests. In late February, the commission issued a preliminary report that noted that the original idea for the GMR had come from 34-year-old Gaza poet Ahmed Abu Artema. (He has recently been touring the United States, describing the difficulties of life in Gaza and the whole GMR project to enthralled audiences.)

In early 2018, Abu Artema worked with colleagues to form a committee to plan and oversee the protests. Its members, as the UN report confirmed, “came from all sectors of Palestinian society, including civil society, cultural and social organizations, student unions, women’s groups, eminent persons and members of clans. Representatives of several political parties…were also members (the armed wings of these parties were not represented on the committee).”

Hamas and Fateh were two of the five participating political parties listed in the report. The report confirmed that all the movements represented on the organizing committee signed on to the principles that the march should be “fully peaceful from beginning to the end,” and that participants would be unarmed.

For the past 71 years, the Israeli government has been hostile to the idea that the United Nations has any right to monitor its behavior, and that hostility has grown in recent years. It did not allow the Commission of Inquiry’s members to visit either Israel or Gaza, so the commission based its reporting on plentiful evidence (including video evidence) that it gathered from on-the-ground civil-society organizations and representatives of other international organizations deployed in the area.

One key matter of contention between the commission and the Israeli government has been over whether the GMR protests are a form of action that is distinct, both operationally and geographically, from the (overwhelmingly defensive) military activities and preparations that most of the political organizations in Gaza also maintain, in addition to their civilian political activities. As noted above, one of the Israeli government’s key talking points been that the GMR protests are no more than a vehicle for Hamas (“Khamas!”), designed to provide some sort of human-shield “cover” for its military activities.

The UN commission’s report refuted this claim. It noted that “episodes of hostilities” between Israel and the Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have indeed continued, including “Israeli airstrikes and incursions into Gaza, and indiscriminate rocket or mortar fire by Palestinian armed groups towards Israel.” But it reported clearly that, “these events occurred outside the time and place of the [GMR] demonstration.”

Hamas and the other political organizations in Gaza had evidently worked hard, within the confines of Gaza’s tight geography, to keep a clear separation between whatever military activities their armed wings may have been pursuing and the participation of their civilian and other noncombatant supporters in the GMR activities. “Non-combatant” is a key term in international law that includes both civilians and persons who may be off-duty fighters—like, for example, Israeli reservists when they take off their uniforms and leave their bases to go home for longer or shorter periods of leave (or Hamas people who may at times be fighters and at times take off their uniforms, lay down their arms, and go to take part in the GMR protests…)

Deliberately nonviolent mass protests and other nonviolent actions are by no means new to the Palestinian liberation movement. In the mid-1980s, after the PLO’s military forces were defeated in Lebanon and were scattered to places far distant from Palestine, the Palestinians still resident inside the homeland took an increasing role in the movement. They built many kinds of civilian networks across Gaza and the West Bank: women’s movements, labor unions, agricultural cooperatives, mobile health clinics, and more. In late 1987, the seemingly random killing of four Palestinian laborers in Gaza by an Israeli military jeep spurred the eruption of the sustained, nonviolent citizen protest movement known as the First Intifada.

One of the great advantages of nonviolent civilian mass actions is that they allow—indeed encourage—the participation of all segments of society, including women, youths, older people, and people with disabilities who may not be able easily to take part in military activities. And in doing this, they can lay the basis for building a better, more inclusive and caring, society in the future.

Supporters of Hamas, both male and female, participated in a wide range of such actions during the First Intifada, as they have done in the numerous other civilian mass actions undertaken since then, in places like Bil’in or Nabi Saleh. In January 2006, when Hamas (at the urging of the Israelis and Americans) took part in the Palestinian legislative elections held throughout the West Bank and Gaza, several of the candidates on its electoral lists were women; and six Hamas women ended up winning their contests.

Shortly thereafter, during a reporting trip to Gaza I was able to meet and interview Hamas women working in a wide variety range of roles. One of those, the recently elected legislator Jamila Shanty, told me that Hamas’s founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin had always stressed the need for women to be active outside the home, as well as within it.

The original plan was that the protests would start last March 30 (a date that Palestinians observe as “Land Day”) and would then be held every Friday until May 14, the date on which a high-ranking American delegation was scheduled to open the United States’ new embassy in Jerusalem. In a very real way, the GMR protests were the Gaza Palestinians’ “response” to President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

On March 30, the Israelis showed what their response to the GMR would be. That day, Israeli sharpshooters deployed to raised berms that were specially built around Gaza’s perimeter fence killed 19 protestors and injured scores more. The GMR participants were undeterred. Over the Fridays that followed, they continued to stage mass, unarmed protests that included numerous cultural activities along with meetings and speeches… and the Israelis continued to kill and wound participants.  

On May 14, there was a massacre. That day, the IDF snipers killed over 60 protestors, ranging from 13 to 58 years old, and injured many hundreds more.

The organizing committee decided to keep the protests going for at least a year, running through this coming March 30.

Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban is the President of Just World Educational (JWE), a non-profit organization, and the CEO of Just World Books. She has had a lengthy career as a journalist, writer, and researcher on international affairs, including 17 years as a columnist on global issues for The Christian Science Monitor. Of the seven books she’s published on international affairs, four have been on Middle Eastern topics. This new series of commentaries she’s writing, “Story/Backstory”, will have an expanded audio component published in JWE’s podcast series. They represent her own opinion and judgments, not those of any organization.

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9 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on March 20, 2019, 3:18 pm

    RE: Israel’s worldwide propaganda machine has gone into overdrive with a blizzard of rallies, propaganda films, and social-media posts that peddle a few simplistic arguments. The GMR protests are all “organized by Hamas!” they claim. Hamas “uses mobs as a human weapon.” It “exploits children as human shields,” and so on. ~ Cobban

    SEE: “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas”, Andrew Higgins, Wall Street Journal, 01/24/09

    [EXCERPTS] Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor’s bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile’s trajectory back to an “enormous, stupid mistake” made 30 years ago.

    “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

    Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. . .

    . . . When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and ’80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

    “When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake,” says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early ’90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. “But at the time nobody thought about the possible results.” . . .


  2. JaapBo on March 20, 2019, 4:16 pm

    Thanks for this good report!

  3. hfouda on March 20, 2019, 5:06 pm

    Thanks to Helena Cobban for her excellent article. I wish to add the following comments about suicide bombers:
    Between 1989 and 2008, in retaliation for Israel’s unleashing of massive violence against Palestinian civilians, all Palestinian resistance factions resorted to suicide bombings of targets in Israel. Some of these targets were civilians. Analysis of suicide bombings between September 2000 through August 2005, found that 39.9 percent of the suicide attacks were carried out by Hamas, 26.4 percent by Fatah, 25.7 percent by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), 5.4 percent by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and 2.7 percent by other organizations or unaffiliated individuals. Hamas, like other resistance factions, recognized the futility of suicide bombing and the last suicide attack claimed by Hamas was on April 19, 2008.

  4. DaBakr on March 21, 2019, 1:33 am

    omg. I KNEW that was all a ploy! and also- the narrative of israel carrying out pretty much any policy wether militarily, socially, politically, geo-strategically since 1948 as a “ploy” of one sort or the other is another toss out in the ‘trope’ game. but nice try. put that in the can with the US based scholar who published a book claiming the idf doesn’t rape arab women as a ‘ploy” to humiliate them as well as don’t shoot-to-kill is really a ploy for zionist to injure legs or arms to purposely humiliate arabs rather then kill them. an arabic word does not really have a firm english spelling translation much like people spell chanuka as hanuka. folks who don’t grow up with the short ‘ch’ sound don’t pronounce it. like the asian diphthong or french rolled ‘r’ this complaint is beyond trivial and enters absurd. israel truly holds nothing over the arabs and pro-palestinian activists in the hasbara department. they have it down.

    • Talkback on March 22, 2019, 5:59 am

      DaBakr: “omg. I KNEW that was all a ploy!”

      What gave it away DaBakr? That nobody fell for your own “But Khamas!” comments?

      DaBakr: “one sort or the other is another toss out in the ‘trope’ game.”

      Good observation DaBakr, the ‘trope’ game is another ploy Israel propagandists use.

      DaBakr: “… hasbara …”

      It’s “Khasbara”, DaBakr, not “hasbara” which is just a ploy to make it sound less scary.

    • Misterioso on March 22, 2019, 10:48 am

      @Da Bakr

      Recently received from Canadian friend:

      “Canadian Apologist for Israeli War Crimes Nominated for Peace Prize”
      By Yves Engler, March 10/19, American Herald Tribune.”

      “Hypocrisy, lying, disdain for the victims of ‘our’ policies and other forms of rot run deep in Canadian political culture.

      “The latest example is former prime minister Paul Martin nominating Irwin Cotler for the Nobel Peace Prize, which has been applauded by the likes of Bernie Farber, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather.

      “This supposed promoter of peace and former Liberal justice minister has devoted much of his life to defending Israeli violence and has recently promoted war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela.

      “In a story titled ‘Irwin Cotler’s daughter running with Ya’alon, Gantz’ the Jerusalem Post recently reported that Michal Cotler-Wunsh was part of the Israel Resilience and Telem joint election list. The story revealed that Irwin Cotler has been an unofficial adviser to Moshe Ya’alon for years. Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli military and defence minister between 2013 and 2016, Ya’alon recently boasted about his role in setting up the West Bank colony of Leshem and said Israel ‘has a right to every part of the Land of Israel.’ In 2002 Ya’alon told Haaretz, ‘the Palestinian threat harbors cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it’s necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy.’

      “Ya’alon’s Telem party is in a formal electoral alliance with Israel Resilience, which is led by Benny Gantz, a former Israeli army chief. To launch his party’s campaign, Gantz released a video boasting about his role in the killing of 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014. It actually notes that ‘parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age.’ Gantz faces a war crimes case in the Netherlands for his role in the deaths of civilians in Gaza.

      “Cotler has described illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank as ‘disputed territories’ and the Canadian lawyer justified Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon that left 1,200 dead. He savagely attacked Richard Goldstone after the South African judge led a UN investigation of Israeli war crimes during operation Cast Lead, which left 1,400 dead in Gaza in 2008–09. Cotler called for the removal of Richard Falk as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and William Schabas from his position on the UN Human Rights Council’s International Commission of Inquiry into the killings in Gaza in 2014. Alongside attacking these three (Jewish) lawyers tasked with investigating human rights violations, Cotler promotes the notion of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ to attack critics of Israeli policy.

      “In an indication of the unquestioning depths of his support for Israeli crimes, Cotler has repeatedly criticized his own party and government’s (mild) expressions of support for Palestinian rights. In May Cotler tweeted his ‘regret [of a] Canadian Government statement’ criticizing Israeli snipers for shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani, in Gaza. In 2000 Cotler complained when the government he was a part of voted for a UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinian protesters. ‘This kind of resolution, which singled out Israel for discriminatory and differential treatment and appeared to exonerate the Palestinians for their violence,’ Cotler said, ‘would tend to encourage those who violently oppose the peace process as well as those who still seek the destruction of Israel.’

      “In 2002 a half dozen activists in Montréal occupied Cotler’s office to protest the self-described ‘human rights lawyer’s’ hostility to Palestinians. Cotler’s wife, Ariela Zeevi, was a ‘close confidant’ of Likud founder Menachem Begin when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics.

      “‘Canada’s Alan Dershowitz’ has also attacked Iran incessantly. He supported the Stephen Harper government’s move to break off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012 and pushed to remove the MEK, which is responsible for thousands of Iranian deaths, from Canada’s terrorist list. As a member of the advisory board of ‘United Against Nuclear Iran.’ Cotler opposed the P5+1Iran Nuclear Agreement. Recently, he called for Canada to invoke the Magnitsky Act to ‘impose sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes’ “

  5. Maghlawatan on March 21, 2019, 4:04 pm

    The Israeli hatred of Gaza is visceral and goes beyond reason. It’s hard to understand why Israel occupied Gaza in 1967 anyway. Gaza was a holding pen for the unwanted non Jews of southern Palestine.

    Israel’s behaviour in Gaza is the main recruiting sergeant for BDS.

  6. Kay24 on March 22, 2019, 12:11 am

    “Khamas” is the reason why Israel can keep the occupation going, keep building illegal settlements on stolen lands, and kill civilians with impunity. Without “Khamas” there can be no justification for the above crimes. So it is ironic they keep blaming “Khamas”, while using them as their tool for covering their bloody crimes.

  7. Vera Gottlieb on March 22, 2019, 12:54 pm

    The Zionists’ continued and never ending hypocrisy makes me want to barf every time I read about it.

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