Making Hamas Disappear: Amira Hass’s journalistic sleight of hand evokes fictitious Gaza

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, an Anglo-Israeli writer who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a highly imaginative piece of historical fiction, Amira Hass paints a portrait of a world gone by, Segregating Gazans has made them easier to demonise’, Comment is Free, June 8.

Up until the “Israeli onslaught” of 2008/2009 Gaza and Israel, according to Hass, enjoyed an era of good feeling during which the “global military power” mined hapless Palestinians for cheap labor.

Ms Hass goes on to explain that since the “onslaught” the lack of interaction between Israeli exploiters and Palestinian exploited has transformed the way Gazans are perceived by most Israelis. If ordinary occupiers once perceived the occupied as “…mere functional shadows who disappeared in their dorm shanties… Dispensable ghosts… Savages…An Uncle Tom…” today’s typical Israeli increasingly views Gazans as terrorists.

It’s altogether strange that Ms Hass seems to rue the day when the bonds between Gazans and Israelis were first weakened, when Israel imposed a closure on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 1991. Assuming that such an odious status quo did exist between Israel and Gaza up until 1991, why would Ms Hass wax nostalgic about it?

To read Ms Hass’s piece without knowing any better is to come away with the distinct impression that the Israeli jackboot had stomped out what was once a quaint Swiss canton. Up until 1991, so goes the narrative, Gaza was a bucolic landscape filled with innocent, uncomplicated natives who were perfectly content to shuffle into Israeli towns in order to work in “every restaurant, clothing factory, garage and construction site…”

This logical inconsistency is but a part of a wider obfuscation of the historical forces at play, both in 1991, when Ms Hass began her “professional romance” with Gaza, and 2008.

It is true that during the first 25 years of Israeli control over the Gaza Strip, Palestinian residents were relatively free to move between Gaza and Israel. What changed? The outburst of terrorism inside of Israel, popularly known as the First Intifada.

For the first time in its history Israel was forced to “…confront significant internal terrorism.” The large demonstrations and civil riots that began in 1987 had by 1989 escalated into stabbings, kidnapping Israeli soldiers and shooting attacks against IDF forces.

This Palestinian terror campaign was predominantly carried out by two new groups that had emerged in the territories: Hamas and the Palestinian Islami Jihad. Both organizations combined radical Islamism with nationalist Palestinian sentiments and opposed any conciliatory process with Israel.

Please note that Ms Hass makes but one weak mention (in her entire essay) of the ruling power in Gaza since 2006: the very same Hamas.

Hamas suicide bomber video, 2006

One of the steps that Israel took to literally stem the flow of blood running in the streets was to change its policy of granting general entry permits to Gaza residents, requiring them to apply for personal entry permits. 

Regarding the 2008/2009 “onslaught”, Israel’s Operation Cast Lead‘ was commenced after the country had endured an “8-year-long barrage of 12,000 rockets and had exhausted all other options… “

Similar to the situation in 1991, Israel was once again reacting to Ms Hass’s amazingly irrelevant Hamas. The goal of this ‘onslaught’ was rather limited:

1. To stop the bombardment of Israeli civilians by destroying Hamas’ mortar and rocket launching apparatus and infrastructure.

2. To reduce the ability of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza to perpetrate

Next, there’s Ms Hass’s anecdote about Abu Mustafa, a Fatah activist who was allegedly tortured 30 years ago by an Israeli interrogator. This “thin and shy man” tells a heart wrenching tale indeed. Yet, where is the good, old-fashioned journalistic due diligence? Where is Ms Hass’s verification with at least one other source as to the veracity of the good Mr. Mustafa’s allegation? This spine-tingling yarn is disturbingly bereft of the most basic details: the five Ws  (Who? What? When Where? & Why?) that are regarded as basics in information-gathering.

While one must admire Mr. Mustafa’s witty repartee whilst in the throes of agony, things could have been worse for our demure freedom fighter. Had he been captured and tortured not 30 years ago but today and by Hamas, it’s difficult to say whether Abu Mustafa would even be alive. Hamas is not known for the wittiness of their henchmen.

Which brings us back to Ms Hass’s incredibly shrinking Hamas. The list of human rights violations against Hamas rule over Gaza is as lengthy as it is galling: restricting freedom of the press, forcefully suppressing dissent, banning Fatah members from assembling for public prayers, torture, arrests, arbitrary detentions and more.

Ms Hass’s ahistorical rendering of a time that never was nonetheless elucidates. Her op-ed piece displays an utter disregard for historical fact or implication. The reason for this is that Ms Hass’s essay is undergirded by a dogmatic set of beliefs that are fundamentally immune to the unbearable light of veracity or critical scrutiny.

Ms Hass’s conception of Israel’s relationship with Gaza is notably simple and pure. Yet, as Oscar Wilde said: “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

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