The Invisible Armada

Ismail Haniyeh, chairman of Hamas' political bureau

Hamas: The Blind Spot

Souhail Chichah



"I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”— Spinoza

The current militarized attacks carried by Hamas represent the pivotal framework within which the “Western” world currently perceives the Israeli-Palestinian question.

The President of the United States extended condolences to Israeli families who had suffered loss, while conspicuously neglecting to express  similar sentiments to Palestinian families, even amidst ongoing intense aerial bombardments targeting Gaza. Concurrently, the United States dispatched naval and aerial military assets to the region in a palpable demonstration of support for Israel.

Following similar steps, the United Kingdom is poised to dispatch a pair of Royal Navy vessels in conjunction with aerial surveillance assets to the eastern Mediterranean, as an initiative aimed at enhancing the power architecture of the region.

The lethal actions by Hamas drew widespread condemnation from European leaders. In denouncing this political organization, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen underscored “Israel's right to self-defense”. The European Commission announced an "urgent review of the European Union's aid to Palestine," when just hours earlier one of its commissioners, Oliver Varhelyi, announced the suspension of all scheduled payments in the context of that development aid.

The issue of condemning Hamas for the killing of Israeli civilians also engages sympathizers of the Palestinian cause. If the “West”’s condemnation of Hamas is rooted in its rejection of political Islam, that is not necessarily the case for many critics of the Israeli occupation.

It is thus in the name of rejecting a double ethical and moral standard that they situate themselves within the current “Western” focus, centered on Hamas's violation of the Geneva Convention.

“These people from Hamas are human beasts" Nobel Prize Shimon Peres

Israeli Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, has just couched the conflict in starkly dehumanizing terms, characterizing it as a "struggle against human animals”. This statement  resonates with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous characterization of Arabs as “wild beasts” thereby contributing to a discourse that dehumanizes Palestinians. 

Shimon Peres, the 1994 Nobel Peace Laureate and former Israeli President, played a role in shaping the rhetoric that depicts Palestinians as inhuman, a narrative deeply ingrained in Israel. Nearly 15 years ago, he characterized members of Hamas as 'human beasts”. This declaration, which was published in a major Brussels newspaper in 2009, did not elicit any significant reaction. Instead, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Free University of Brussels a few years later.

It should be observed that while in the “West”, demonization of Hamas is unanimous, its perspective is largely ignored. This is a condemnation of principle. Nonetheless, a lack of understanding regarding the political rationale of a key player in the Israeli/Palestinian matter precludes the initiation or endorsement of political negotiations that do not entail humiliation, thereby sowing the seeds for the perpetuation of the violence.

The Oslo Accords serve today as a poignant illustration of this reality. Initially, there was widespread hope that they would pave the way for a two-state solution, bringing an end to the protracted violence and tensions in the region. However, as the years passed, the implementation of the Oslo Agreement encountered formidable 

obstacles, including the expansion of settlements, the lack of full sovereignty for Palestinians, and unresolved questions about the status of Jerusalem, among other issues. Consequently, the once-buoyant optimism surrounding the accords gradually dimmed until it faded out. 

Understanding Hamas is thus necessary to reach an agreement on the terms of negotiation; a prerequisite to the negotiation itself.

While “Western” opinion regards Israelis as civilians, Hamas, among many other Palestinians, considers them, particularly  those in the occupied West Bank, as settlers who are perceived as "part of the armed Israeli power”. 

The second justification provided by Hamas is that they themselves are responding to violations of international laws committed by Israel and they denounce the double standard of the indignation that these violations provoke.

Whose law is international law?

The differentiation between civilians and settlers is not merely terminological but imbued with ethical, legal, and political considerations. It demands a hermeneutic analysis that considers not just the legal texts but also the socio-political context and the mutable interpretations of international legal norms. 

Before elaborating further, it is imperative to underscore the extent to which the profound interrelationship between Israeli civil society and its military infrastructure has garnered the scrutiny of a diverse array of Israeli intellectuals. Among these thought leaders, the distinguished Israeli columnist Gideon Levy stands as a notable commentator on this subject matter. 

Regarding Hamas's initial argument, which asserts that Israelis should be categorized as settlers rather than as civilians, international law provides a nuanced set of criteria to distinguish between the two groups, especially in a context involving occupation and conflict. Settlers—as civilians—are typically protected from direct military actions under international humanitarian law (IHL). However, the profundity of occupation and illegality of settlements, as well as of course direct participation in hostilities introduce nuances that affect the application of these protections. Moreover, while  the international community predominantly views settlements  as illegal, Israeli authorities consider them legal under their domestic law. 

This raises ethical and legal questions about whether the settlers should be considered protected persons under IHL or be seen as willing participants in an illegal activity.

Moreover, as for the serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, the international legal consensus largely leans in favor of non-prescription, which makes the question posed by Hamas all the more complex: from 1948 until today, what boundary should be considered to distinguish  settlers from civilians? 

Hamas is posing a foundational question that unravels the intricate historical fabric of the region, stretching from the Nakba and the inception of Israel to the current events. This interrogative compels more than mere acknowledgment; it mandates substantive, engaged deliberation with a view toward negotiated resolution. Given  the existential gravity it holds for the region and its salient implications for global stability, the sustained apathy or neglect from “Western” powers has reached a point of untenability.

Concerning the second point raised by Hamas, which pertains to whether it should adhere to international law that goes unheeded when it intervenes in support of Palestine, it is primarily incumbent upon the United States to initiate a paradigm shift. 

The finger or the moon?

As Derrida so aptly reminds us, everything is a matter of framing. This is also a principle of war propaganda.

Therefore, we must refuse any reductionism in the approach to the Israeli/Palestinian question and restore its full complexity: it cannot be reduced, summarized, or even focused solely on Hamas for the analysis. 

Globally, diplomats from around a hundred nations have presented a range of responses to the current armed confrontation. Under half of these nations openly condemned Hamas. Conversely, others, including regional actors like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, and Iraq, have assigned blame to Israel for the hostilities. Approximately twenty nations consistently upheld Israel’s right to self-defense, while other actors have advocated for a swift de-escalation of the ongoing destruction of Gaza.

The facts speak for themselves; the Israeli/Palestinian issue is a global question. It polarizes the world: for some, a symbol of colonialism and US imperialism; for others, reparation for past European fascism and a flag-bearer of democracy.This was the case long before the formation of Hamas.1

As for the latter, an important voice among other equally important voices of the Palestinian people, it is necessary to humanize it in order to understand it. Contrary to what Nobel laureate Shimon Peres claimed,  Hamas should no longer be regarded as a “beast”. Every political actor has rationality; refusing to listen to this rationality is nothing less than refusing Politics. That is to say, pushing to armed violence in the case of Hamas today, PLO yesterday.

Israeli victims do not stand in opposition to Palestinian victims; instead, they form a collective tragedy. Consequently, it is not a mere breakdown but a comprehensive examination of the Israeli-Palestinian question that is imperative for those committed to achieving a sincere and lasting peace. 

Whether Hamas is currently giving a finger to international law is not the question; it is the moon that should be looked at.

Souhail Chichah is a Visiting Lecturer in American Studies at William College in the U.S. He is a global scholar and a public intellectual. He taught economics in China, Singapore, Japan, Belgium, and France. His teaching in France was on economics of racism at Université de Lyon 2 in the first French master program in Discrimination and Inequality. In addition to his postgraduate degree in Economics from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), he received an M.A. in Business Engineering from The Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management (ULB). He founded the Circle of Arab-European Students, an initiative that earned him the First Prize in Humanism at the ULB. Throughout his career in management, he held several leading positions, including a parliamentary attaché at the Belgian House of Representatives, financial director of the National Center for Development Cooperation, and commercial director of the Belgian National Lottery. As a researcher at the Applied Economics Department of the ULB, he was part of an inter-university team responsible for supporting the Belgium Health Care System in the modeling of financing of health care in Belgium and he published several reports on discrimination in the Belgian labor market. In 2020, his poem, “Prendre langue,” was shortlisted for the European writing competition To Speak Europe in Different Languages. His current research examines theory of capital as well as the anthropology of whiteness and the genealogy of racism. His most recent publication “The “Islamization of France :” Actors and Composers of a Dangerous Tune,” co-authored with François Burgat, was published in Jadaliyya in March 2023.