“Divide and Rule”: How Israel Helped Start Hamas to Weaken Palestinian Hopes for Statehood
Written by GRB on 20/10/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The death toll in Gaza from Israel’s 14-day bombardment has topped 4,100 as Israel continues to block food, water and fuel from entering the besieged territory. Over 13,000 Palestinians have been injured over the past two weeks.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres traveled today to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing to Gaza to demand humanitarian aid convoys be allowed entry.
SECRETARY–GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: These trucks are not just trucks. They are a lifeline. They are the difference between life and death for so many people in Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: Guterres said the U.N. is actively engaging with Israel and Egypt to get the aid trucks into Gaza.
The BBC is reporting Hamas has offered to release some of the hostages it seized during its attack on October 7th in exchange for a ceasefire, but Israel has rejected the deal. Earlier today, the Israeli military said it believes the majority of the 200 hostages seized are still alive.
Israel’s defense minister hinted Thursday a ground invasion of Gaza is imminent, telling troops they will soon see Gaza, quote, “from inside.”
Israel is ramping up its crackdown on the occupied West Bank. Israeli forces killed 13 Palestinians in a raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp near the city of Tulkarm.
In recent days, Israel has also detained 750 Palestinians, including lawmakers and journalists.
On Thursday night, President Biden gave a primetime speech from the Oval Office calling for Congress to approve $14 billion for Israel, another $60 billion for Ukraine and some for Taiwan. This comes as HuffPost is reporting there’s a, quote, “mutiny brewing” inside the State Department over Biden’s policy on Israel.
Joining us now in New York is Tareq Baconi, Palestinian analyst and writer, president of the board of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and former senior analyst for the International Crisis Group on Israel/Palestine. His recent piece for The New York Review is headlined “Gaza Without Pretenses: For years Israel and Hamas maintained an unstable equilibrium that kept the Gaza Strip contained. But it was always likely to be temporary.” Tareq is author of the book Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance.
Tareq, welcome back to Democracy Now! Before we go to the history of Hamas —
TAREQ BACONI: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: — I wanted to ask you about the current situation, the latest that we hear, the — looks like a ground invasion is imminent. The Rafah border is still closed, although there had been a deal to allow in 20 trucks of aid, coming from Egypt into Gaza, though those inside, medical groups are saying even a hundred trucks a day wouldn’t quite deal with the crisis and the need inside.
TAREQ BACONI: Well, Amy, as the situation in the Gaza Strip is quite dire, what we see today is really a continuation of efforts by Israel to place the Gaza Strip under a complete blockade. And this has been ongoing for about 16 years now. And then, after the offensive by Hamas on the 7th of October, Israel placed the Gaza Strip under what it called a total siege. What this means is that it’s prevented the entry of water, fuel, electricity and medicine into the Gaza Strip.
Now, this is a form of collective punishment. We have to understand the Gaza Strip has about 2.3 million Palestinians. About two-thirds of them are refugees from homes in what is now Israel. And about half of that are minors and children. This is a form of collective punishment and is essentially reliant on a total dehumanization of Palestinians in Gaza.
What we’re seeing happening at the moment is that humanitarian aid is being politicized, that humanitarian aid to the civilian population in Gaza is linked to political goals. And any form of effort to try to deescalate is being blocked by the U.S. The fact that the U.S. vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution yesterday is an indication of its willingness to allow Israel to continue both its bombardment of the Gaza Strip as well as the strangulation of Gaza’s civilian population through the blocking of entry of humanitarian aid.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what that resolution was that the U.S. rejected.
TAREQ BACONI: Well, it was a resolution that was tabled by Brazil, and it called for an immediate deescalation and a ceasefire. It was a humanitarian ceasefire, which meant that the bombardment from the Israeli authorities would have to cease and allow for humanitarian aid to come into the Gaza Strip and for the restrictions to be eased. However, we see that this continues to — first of all, the U.S. blocked the resolution. And then, when there were agreements to have, as you said, 20 truckloads to enter the Gaza Strip, which is far less than the minimum that would be required to sustain Gaza’s civilian population, there are still obstacles to the entry of those trucks.
We also have to understand that Gaza has — Gaza’s population has been forced by Israeli authorities to evacuate the majority of the northern part of the strip. This has resulted in a forced displacement of about — or, the order was for the forced displacement of 1.1 million Palestinians. Now, the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated strips of land in the world. Any form of evacuation is really impossible. There’s nowhere for Palestinians to leave. What that means is that any kind of bombardment that the Israeli authorities are carrying out in the Gaza Strip are killing Palestinians in their thousands. And unlike in previous military assaults, here Israel is actually quite explicit about wanting to target civilian infrastructure, ambulances, healthcare centers, clinics. And the bombing is indiscriminate, as Palestinians in Gaza are reporting, by intent.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking Tuesday about Hamas.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: This is a part of an axis of evil of Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas. Their goal, open goal, is to eradicate the state of Israel. The open goal of Hamas is to kill as many Jews as they could. And the only difference is, they would have killed every last one of us, murdered every last one of us, if they could; they just don’t have the capacity. But they murdered an extraordinary 1,300 civilians, which, in American terms, is like many, many, many 9/11s.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Tareq Baconi, you wrote the book Hamas Contained. Can you respond?
TAREQ BACONI: Well, I mean, this language that the Israelis and the American officials have been using to demonize Hamas has been entirely based in the effort to depoliticize the Palestinian struggle and to present any form of armed resistance against what is a violent apartheid regime as a form of terrorism. The impact of this is really to try to give Israel a carte blanche to continue dealing with the question of Palestine, with the quest by the Palestinian people to gain their inalienable rights, through force and through a security doctrine. The President Biden’s linking of the attack that happened on 7th October to 9/11 is really a carte blanche for Israel to do what it wants to in the Gaza Strip. And it’s an affirmation that all the lessons that have been learned after Israel’s — after America’s own 9/11 have really been lost.
Now, this language isn’t new. Successive Israeli governments have linked Palestinian resistance generally, and Hamas specifically, to 9/11 and to terrorism, and has used that link in order to reinforce and reentrench its occupation. What we have to understand here is that this isn’t an effort to try to quell, to destroy Hamas specifically. This is an effort to pursue an ethnic cleansing campaign in the Gaza Strip and beyond the Gaza Strip, as we see the violence rising in the West Bank. The effort to link Hamas’s attack to 9/11 is really to give cover to pursue genocidal tendencies that the Israeli political establishment has articulated long before October 7th.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the Israeli military — also Biden very much bonded, sort of bound to this analysis, as well — talks about the Hamas attack on October 7th killing over 1,300 Israelis. Over 200 are being held by Hamas, looks like the majority of them, according to the Israeli government, are still alive. The Israeli government says Hamas uses civilians as human shields. And in this comment of the Israeli military saying they’ve given a green light to move into Gaza whenever it’s ready, the economy minister, Nir Barkat, said in an interview with ABC News, concerns over hostages and civilian casualties will be secondary to destroying Hamas. Were you surprised by the October 7th attack? And talk about what Israel is saying right now and, of course, what’s happening in Gaza.
TAREQ BACONI: Well, the 7th of October attack was certainly surprising for someone like myself who’s been studying Hamas for a long time, but I imagine also for many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, as well as probably for Hamas’s leadership. It was surprising not in its timing, obviously, and not in the offensive — the nature of the offensive and how it took place. But it was surprising mostly in the scale of it and the ability of Hamas to really penetrate into Israeli-controlled territory around the Gaza Strip and to spend the length of time that fighters, Hamas and otherwise, were able to spend in Israeli towns. You have to understand that for many Palestinians and more broadly, there’s a myth of an Israeli invincibility, that Israel is impenetrable, at least from the Gaza Strip, and that its army is unparalleled. And that expectation was probably in the minds of Hamas’s leadership when they were planning and staging this attack. And instead of any form of effective defense on the Israeli side, what we was a complete shattering of this illusion. We saw the reality that actually Israel’s army is not invincible and that the blockade that is placed around the Gaza Strip is perfectly penetrable and that Hamas was able to overturn Israel’s myth of invincibility very, very quickly.
Now, the scale of the attack and the number of hostages that Hamas was able to capture and take back into the Gaza Strip probably exceeded its expectations, which also meant that the retaliation that we now see is also probably far worse than Hamas might have anticipated. Now, that’s not to say that Hamas didn’t anticipate some form of retaliation, because that has always been, at least in the past 16 years, the equilibrium between Hamas and Israel, that Hamas would try to pressure Israel, through rockets or otherwise, to lift or ease restrictions on the blockade, because the blockade itself is a form of violence that’s strangulating 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, and Israel would respond with disproportionate military force, military force that would result in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Now, the expectation has always been, from the Israeli side, that this situation is tenable, that it can be sustained, and it adopted what it called the military doctrine of “mowing the lawn,” that it would do this every few years, and then that this equilibrium would be sustained indefinitely. What we saw on the 7th of October was Hamas overturning that equilibrium and saying, “Actually, you cannot have any kind of calm or security for your citizens as long as your boot remains on our necks. The Palestinians will not acquiesce to their imprisonment silently.” So that equilibrium has now shattered.
AMY GOODMAN: I waned to ask you if you could talk about Israel’s involvement in Hamas gaining power. In 2009, Avner Cohen, a former Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza for over 20 years, told The Wall Street Journal, quote, “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation.” Another former Israeli official, Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev, said he was given a budget to help finance Islamist movements in Gaza to counter Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement. Another former Israeli military official, David Hacham, said, quote, “When I look back at the chain of events, I think we made a mistake. But at the time, nobody thought about the possible results.” Your response, Tareq Baconi?
TAREQ BACONI: Well, the origins of that is really Hamas emerged as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood chapter in the Gaza Strip. And the Muslim Brotherhood chapter was not a political party. It was a social party. And its operations in the Gaza Strip and throughout the Palestinian territories were actually granted licenses by Israeli occupying forces at the time, so there was a license for the Muslim Brotherhood chapter to operate openly in the Gaza Strip. When Hamas was established in 1987 and became a political party and a military party that was engaged in active resistance against Israel’s occupation, the policies within the Israeli government shifted, and obviously it became less open to allowing Hamas to function. However, that did not deter Israeli authorities from encouraging and promoting divide-and-rule tactics between the Islamist national movement, so Hamas, and secular nationalism around Fatah. And this has always been a tactic that the colonial forces have used globally, and obviously Israeli colonialism is no different. So it has directly and implicitly attempted divide-and-rule policies.
This really turned and came to a head in 2007, when Hamas, after winning democratic elections in 2006, rose to power, and the Israeli authorities, along with the U.S., attempted to initiate a regime change operation, which facilitated a civil war between Hamas and Fatah and allowed Hamas to take over the Gaza Strip. Since then, Israeli authorities have actively embraced the idea that Hamas would be accepted as a governing authority in the Gaza Strip. Now, part of the calculus in that is because of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians. This is a demographic issue. Israel wanted to sever the Gaza Strip from the rest of historic Palestine in order to reinforce its claim that it’s a Jewish-majority state. By getting rid of 2 million Palestinians, two-thirds of whom are refugees demanding return, Israel can claim to be both a Jewish state and a democracy and restructure what is its apartheid regime. Now, in order to do that, it acquiesced to maintaining Hamas in governance, and it claimed that it placed a blockade around the Gaza Strip because Hamas was in power. And obviously this was bought in the international community, using what we were just talking about, the idea that Hamas is a terrorist organization, axis of evil, and, therefore, that this blockade makes sense.
What policymakers don’t understand is that Israel has engaged in blockades around the Gaza Strip and attempted to get rid of the population in the Gaza Strip long before Hamas was even established as a party. But with Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip, this created a perfect fig leaf for Israel to maintain the Gaza Strip as a separate strip of land. And to do that, it had to acquiesce and, in some ways, even enable Hamas to maintain its position as a governing authority there. And this also further reinforced its efforts to try to maintain division among the Palestinian leadership and play divide-and-rule policies between the PA and Hamas.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you like to see happen, Tareq, right now? It looks like Israel is on the verge of a ground invasion of Gaza. What do you think needs to happen?
TAREQ BACONI: Well, the most immediate need right now is for a deescalation. World leaders, and specifically the U.S. and the Biden administration, need to understand that this is not a retaliation by Israel towards Hamas. What we are seeing now is the effort by Israel to pursue an ethnic cleansing campaign and to continue the Nakba, which began in 1948 and which has been ongoing since in fits and starts here and there. What we’re seeing is a massive rupture in the daily ethnic cleansing that Israeli authorities are going — are implementing against the Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, as well as in the Gaza Strip. And now we’re seeing that rupture take the ethnic cleansing campaign from a daily continual basis into a significantly more focused attempt at getting rid of millions of Palestinians. We need to deescalate, and we need to ensure that humanitarian aid comes into the Gaza Strip, because this is impacting Gaza’s civilian population. This is a starting step.
The next step needs to be an acknowledgment that Israel is an apartheid regime that is maintaining a system of domination against millions of Palestinians. It’s the only sovereign power in the land of historic Palestine, and it allows rights only to Israeli Jewish citizens, not to Palestinians. What happened on October 7th is a testament to the fact that that reality cannot go on. And that overturned the assumption that the U.S. administration as well as regional powers have always had, which is that Israel can continue to act with impunity, without any cost to its citizens. And I believe we cannot go back to that paradigm anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: Tareq Baconi, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Palestinian analyst and writer, president of the board of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, author of the book Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance. We will link to your piece in The New York Review headlined “Gaza Without Pretenses: For years Israel and Hamas maintained an unstable equilibrium that kept the Gaza Strip contained. But it was always likely to be temporary.”
When we come back, we continue our conversation with the legendary Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who’s reported from the Occupied Territories for over three decades. Back in 20 seconds.