The history of modern revolutions is one in which – more often than not – oppressive regimes are threatened and overthrown by the forces of self-proclaimed ‘liberation’ whom themselves become the new oppressive regimes. The Cuban revolution replaced the US backed heartless and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista, with the vicious and oppressive long lasting Castro regime. The French revolution sought to liberate the country from the excesses of monarchy, and resorted to Robespierre’s reign of terror, swiftly followed by Napoleon. The US revolution attempted to enshrine the concepts of human liberty, and the pursuit of individual happiness and did so to a great extent, whilst the Founding generation held slaves and extended democratic rights to propertied white men only (John Adams; the nation’s second President, warned against extending the vote to women). It is for this reason – the replacement of one form of deep oppression with another – that I tend to be reluctant to support a Palestinian state under its current leadership.
As a blogger on secularism and religion, I’m often asked about my thoughts on the Israel & Palestine conflict and which side I find myself on. I’ve neglected to write much on the subject, because I find it a difficult question to answer, whilst simultaneously a simple question to answer. It is a particularly difficult and confusing subject, where the balance of my opinions change from week to week.
It is a difficult question – not least because whatever you say on the subject, someone somewhere takes great offence in a way that no other subject can elicit – because I understand the grievances of both. I understand that Israel is a nation surrounded by nations that wish it extinct, that rockets are fired daily across its borders (today, a rocket from Gaza was intercepted over Tel Aviv), that its establishment (whilst poorly designed and implemented) was the result of historical oppression from Russia to Germany including centuries of anti-Jewish bigotry spewed by the Catholic Church, Mahmoud Abbas’s constant reference to Israel as Muslim and Christian only, and that the Arab press is horrifically racist in its representations of Jewish people as rats controlling some sort of hidden global conspiracy. I understand the paranoia and suspicion driving Israeli policy.
Equally, I understand that the Palestinians have a perfectly reasonable claim to the land and I find it hard to disagree with a ‘right’ to return though recognise how completely unrealistic Israeli acknowledgement of that ‘right’ is to any settlement deal. I understand that recent Palestinian history has been marred by forced removal as well as fleeing in fear from land, their chaining to a strip in Gaza and treated as prisoners, the Israeli right wing who have nothing less than viciously racist views that dehumanise Palestinians enough to make awful policy in the occupied territories palatable. Netanyahu’s deliberately provocative statements in the past, that the Palestinians suffer daily not only from the threat of Israeli bombs dropping around them, but from being used as shields by Hamas, and that the ceaseless building of settlements is a daily provocation. Indeed the average Palestinian is stripped of their natural human dignity by the political squabbles of the fanatical religious leaders of both sides of the argument. Earlier this year, Wajih al-Ramahi – a 15 year old Palestinian boy – was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at the Jalazone refugee camp, for what seems to be no justifiable reason. This sort of crime – and the fear of this sort of crime – is a brutal reminder to the Palestinians that they are not free, and whose lives and liberty are to be treated as occupied and owned indefinitely by Israel.
However, It is an easy question, because my answer is; I take no side on this. I am critical of those who openly support Israel’s provocative policy of settlement development in the West Bank and defend their violent overreactions, and I am critical of those on the Western Galloway-left that are willing to abandon the principles of human rights, civil liberties, and freedom regardless of sexuality, faith, gender, belief and ethnicity if it means tacitly supporting any group that refers to itself as liberators fighting Israeli aggression.
I do however support the establishing of a state of Palestine. I feel I need to make that clear, because it seems that if you register concerns about the details of a future Palestinian state, you’re accused of abandoning the Palestinians in their fight for freedom, when in fact, the opposite is true. For the freedom of all Palestinians, the methods, and goals of their leadership requires thorough analysis and critique. To ignore those methods and goals, regardless of how oppressive they are, for the sake of supporting any reaction against Israel, is to abandon that freedom for a lot of Palestinians.
So, to be clear; my view is that the Palestinians have a right to be free, to self determination, to statehood, and to protection from oppression. That means all Palestinians, not simply Muslim, heterosexual Palestinians. The problem is, that isn’t what the Palestinian leadership has ever promoted. For that reason, it continuously amazes me just how willing Western ‘liberal secularists’ are to abandon their principles and overlook the stated goals and crimes of Hamas, in the quest to form a state of Palestine. The crimes of Hamas, are articulated by Amnesty:
“The human rights violations perpetrated … have included killings of fugitives, prisoners and detainees, injuries caused by severe physical violence, torture and misuse of weapons, the imposition of house arrest, and other restrictions that have been imposed on civil society organisations.”
– It is inexplicable given the circumstances, that anyone claiming to be of the left in the West, would support – in any form – the further enshrining of power for groups like Hamas. It cannot be considered an ‘ends justify the means’ situation – despite a lot of liberal secular Westerners claiming their reluctant support for Hamas is based on – because the end goal for Hamas is not a free state of Palestine, but a state as far removed from democratic, secular liberalism as possible. Indeed, Article (6) of Hamas’s charter notes:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights.”
– Throughout Hamas’s charter, are references to the region being Islamic by divine right, and their goal to ensure all in the region are tied to it. Hamas’s reason for being, isn’t to ‘free’ Palestine, it is to chain Palestine to Hamas’s interpretation of a single faith. Secular liberals cannot reasonably offer any support to Hamas given their aims, methods, and public declarations. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, co-founder and senior leader of Hamas, described gay people as being:
“…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”
– The rights of the LGBT community are not going to be protected in a Palestinian state with Hamas allowed a say in its foundation and constituting. Any defence of Hamas – any defence whatsoever – by those claiming to be secular or liberal, is an insult to those of us who are.
As well as Hamas’s goal being the subordination of the entire region to Islam, President Abbas tends to be just as provocative and hints at religious war for Jerusalem being an obligation on all Muslims when speaking directly to Muslims in Palestine (rather than an international audience, at which point, he advocates two states). For Abbas, this is a religious conflict. In 2010, on Al-Jazeera, Abbas said:
“I say to the leaders of our Arab nation and to its peoples: Jerusalem and its environs are a trust that Allah entrusted to us. Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization and confiscation is a personal commandment incumbent on all of us.”
– Abbas is clear with his “Judaization” anti-Semitic rant; the land belongs to Islam. A revolution to replace one oppressor, with another. Jerusalem has of course been occupied by Jews, invaded by Christians, invaded by Muslims, and should in the 21st Century be open to all to visit and enjoy, not controlled by one faith. I find it impossible to support the establishing of a state whose leadership is infected by religious supremacists. If Hamas achieved their stated aims tomorrow, I would suggest that the tacit support for their cause and defence of their actions from those Western secular liberals over the years, would shroud any future complaints of Hamas’s human rights abuses in a deep sea of hypocrisy, by those who were willing to turn a blind-eye to atrocities and Hamas’s commitment to further abuses, pre-statehood. What good is an international liberal left, if it is only willing to voice concerns over the oppressive nature of a state, after it has facilitated the establishment of the same oppressive state?
The basic law established in 2002 as a proposed constitutional framework for a future Palestinian state and enacted by The Palestinian Legislative Council enshrines one religion, and binds all who live in the proposed state of Palestine, to that one religion in some form, whilst offering the impression of freedom for all. Its authors therefore have assumed for themselves the privilege of state supremacy for one faith:
“The principles of the Islamic shari`a are a main source for legislation.”
“Arabic is the official language and Islam is the official religion in Palestine.”
“The Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations.”
– This privilege for one faith cannot be an acceptable source of law making for anyone claiming to be a secular liberal. The implication is clear; a Palestinian state is to some degree an Islamic state. The two are to be considered inseparable. This is where I tend to part company with many of my fellow liberal secularists who seem unwilling to question, or worse, to offer tacit support to such a framework of state.
For me, Statehood must not precede human and civil rights, on a secular, liberal framework. Liberal, secular, civil rights and protections must precede statehood. The rights of all Palestinians – be they Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jewish, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, Hindu, old, young – must be the starting point of any framework for statehood, with no privilege granted to any single faith.
Enshrining religion into the fabric of a new state brings with it human and civil rights abuses that are evident in the nations that enshrine Islam in the Middle East, and Christianity in Africa, regardless of assurances of “human rights protections”. In Jordan, the state inhibits the right to convert from Islam, does not recognise Baha’i marriages and the King has to be Muslim. In Lebanon (arguably the least oppressive Arab state in the Middle East), the right to legally change gender is prohibited, there are penalties for blasphemy, and Buddhists and Hindus are not allowed to marry. A Palestinian state must not enshrine the oppression of any group, must uphold civil rights with respect to belief, sexuality, gender, ethnicity and the basic right to expression and secular education. At the moment, the Palestinian leadership is far from a force for liberation, severely lacks respect for basic rights, and is extremely oppressive.
In 2012, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights released a report accusing the Palestinian Authority of:
“…inhumane practices and human rights violations.”
– In 2013, blogger Anas Awwad – a critic of the PNA – was arrested and charged with “extending his tongue” against the policies of the PA and President Abbas. Similarly, Ismat Abdul-Khaleq – a lecturer at a university in the West Bank – was arrested for criticising Abbas. Hamas enforced the wearing of the headscarf for all women entering government buildings. The Palestinian Education Ministry is run by Osama al-Muzayni, on his watch, schools in Gaza City have begun teaching children to speak Hebrew as the “language of the enemy”. The BBC found that at one schools in Gaza City, whilst the girls were quick to speak of the enemy of Israel and learning the language so they’ll know if an individual Israeli wishes to harm them, only one in thirty of the girls had actually met an Israeli. As well as not trusting the Palestinian leadership with the liberal and secular civil rights of all, I do not trust them with respect for free expression of the opponents of their policies, nor with the educating of vulnerable minds away from perpetual conflict and hate.
Palestinians are all who live on the land – regardless of gender, faith, ethnicity, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour – Palestinians are not a single religion or a single sect of a religion or a single history. Nor are adherents to one single religion inherently privileged above others. Nor is adherence to one particular religion enough to qualify those believers to legislate and punish others according to its dictates whilst enshrining their own privileg. For me it is simple; there can only be the illusion of human and civil rights, unless a constituted Palestinian state protects all, and privileges none. Palestinians have the right to self determination and a state of their own, with secure boarders and protected civil rights free from fear. Palestinians have a right to a state. Islam doesn’t.