Palestinian-American Tells Left: Stop Excusing Hamas

This article was originally published in the Forward as “The left must stop apologizing for Hamas.” Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox. (The author, Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, is pictured above.)

Recently, a group of pro-Palestine activists in the San Francisco Bay Area were working together to organize a meeting with a local Congressperson to advocate for promoting a ceasefire in Gaza. A friend of mine who was involved confessed to me how disillusioned she became when the meeting’s conversation turned to explicitly discussing how Hamas should not be called a terrorist organization, and strategizing about how to convince the Congressperson to say so. 

I grew up in Gaza City and became an American citizen 10 years ago, after having received political asylum in the United States due to specific threats by Hamas against a cultural exchange program that I participated in. As someone who has been heavily involved in multiple pro-Palestine efforts and groups in the past, I have been deeply alarmed by this new trend of whitewashing Hamas’ terrorism that is weakening the movement, muddying its urgent message and undermining its ability to reach wider audiences.

Pro-Palestine is not pro-Hamas

It is essential to establish that pro-Palestine activism, such as protests and calls to action, particularly around the Gaza war, is not by default or definition “pro-Hamas.” Many on the left do not support Hamas, its exclusionary ideology, or its violent agenda. Most activists and supporters of Palestinians are motivated by sincere and empathetic sentiments, generated by the sheer horror they are observing unfold in Gaza, and feel an unprecedented sense of desperation to make their voices heard. 

The contemporary left-wing slide into Hamas apologism is not only abhorrent, but not aligned with the goals of Palestinian liberation. If contemporary activists truly grappled with the horror Hamas inflicted on Oct. 7, and understood Hamas’s history of corruption and exploitation of the Gazan people, they would see that Hamas must be abandoned entirely for pro-Palestine activism to actually progress. 

Morally, politically and strategically, the group’s actions are horrible enough to warrant organic and self-initiated critique and criticism. 

Oct. 7 denialism 

Before the Oct. 7 massacre carried out by Hamas, it was common for left-leaning and liberal pro-Palestine activists to state their opposition to the Islamist group as they also readily condemned the Israeli occupation and the repression of Palestinians, especially in Gaza. However, immediately after the attack, and perhaps due to the unprecedented scale and success of the offensive, a shift occurred. 

Tens of thousands of overtly supportive social media posts, statements, protest signs and commentary by leftists expressed approval and enthusiasm for the attack, and praise for Hamas’s ability to carry out such an elaborate offensive despite Israel’s overwhelming military superiority. Furthermore, various activists, protesters and academics within the pro-Palestine movement rationalized or “understood” the attack by attributing it to the injustices Palestinians have experienced for decades.

Some believed that the Oct. 7 attack only targeted military sites. Others were convinced that all Israeli civilian casualties were the result of mistaken IDF counter-fire or the activation of the “Hannibal Directive,” a portion of the IDF Code of Conduct — which has reportedly been revoked since 2016 — which purportedly allows for Israelis to be targeted in order to prevent their captivity. Oct. 7 denialism was further fueled by some reports that turned out to be false or inaccurate, such as the 40 beheaded babies or first responders finding dead children hung on clotheslines in a row.

Nevertheless, overwhelming video and anecdotal evidence unequivocally and definitively prove the unspeakable scale of the atrocities committed against Israeli civilians, many of whom were in fact leftists and even peace activists

I never thought that the Palestinian people and their entirely legitimate grievances would be associated with such brutal acts as those that actually took place on Oct. 7. While Hamas militants are a small part of the Palestinian population, their crimes are a shameful stain in the history of Palestinian resistance to Israeli injustices. Someone who is truly of the left cannot in good conscience explain it away.

What Hamas has actually done for Gazans

Along with the stubborn unwillingness by some on the left to acknowledge how horrendous Oct. 7 was, there exists an equally staunch refusal to denounce Hamas as a seriously violent terror group that not only committed a vile atrocity against Israelis, but has exercised authoritarian violence against Gazans for over 17 years. 

Herein lies the problem: Hamas has hijacked the resistance narrative and even the Arabic word for resistance (muqawama). Since taking over the Gaza Strip, the group has consistently hidden behind the resistance narrative, thus shielding itself from criticism and absolving itself of its dismal political and economic failures. 

Despite nearly two decades of the Israeli blockade that harmed the lives and prospects of ordinary Gazans, Hamas created an environment in which its members, patrons and affiliates were insulated from the blockade’s dire effects. Hamas established a web of businesses and imposed taxes on virtually every financial transaction and exchange, worsening the economic conditions for millions who were living under crushing poverty. 

The height of ironies is that Gaza saw the establishment of its first shopping malls during the blockade by businessmen close to Hamas, even as vast numbers of Gazans could not afford to shop at these fancy establishments. Despite all the hardships in Gaza and the political issues facing the Palestinian national project, Hamas invested in retail and leisure businesses to obtain cash for its members, political activities and military adventures. Meanwhile, smuggling through Egypt enabled the group to obtain enough materials and supplies to sustain its militant activities.

Hamas’s rule implemented and entailed the worst elements of greedy capitalism. Gaza saw an unprecedented widening of the gap between the wealthy few at the top and a vast class of impoverished aid-dependent people at the bottom, a global dynamic of income inequality that is regularly decried by leftist discourse.

In 2017, 2019 and in the summer of 2023, tens of thousands of Gazans protested against their living conditions, the lack of human rights, and the political deadlock between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. In each of these instances, Hamas responded with overwhelming brutality and force. They jailedbeat and tortured protestors and unleashed its thugs and cyber warriors to bully and harass everyday Gazans. 

Hamas is a tool for Netanyahu

Many will point to the PA in the West Bank as an example of why nonviolence does not work, and Hamas’s militant strategies are preferable. This point of view, however, overlooks a fundamental fact: the PA is nonviolent, but it does not engage in organized nonviolent resistance. Due to entrenched corruption, the PA is largely focused on its own survival, and a few leaders maintenance of a lavish lifestyle.

This weakness is not the inevitable result of adopting nonviolence; rather it is the outcome of a hollowed-out political program controlled by the out-of-touch old guard of the Palestinian national movement. Therefore, denouncing Hamas’s immoral and extremely counterproductive violence does not by default mean embracing the PA’s weakness, which many view as the only alternative to the Islamist group’s form of resistance. 

Hamas’s rise to power and entrenched control of Gaza was supported and desired by Netanyahu and his regime of anti-Palestinian extremists. The Islamist group was bolstered in an effort to keep the Palestinians divided and to weaken the PA, preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. With a weak PA and a militant Hamas, Israel could proclaim the lack of a viable partner to negotiate peace with. Netanyahu is now desperate to prolong the worst war that Palestinians have faced in generations to save his political prospects, putting Hamas and Israel’s dictatorial strongman in an unspoken alliance against the people of Gaza.

Hamas’s intransigence and continued refusal to sacrifice some of its demands to achieve a rapid ceasefire agreement illustrates the group’s callous disregard for the lives of its people. Imagine how much more powerful the pro-Palestine movement would be if its actions and strategies were built upon an anti-Hamas framework that acknowledges Palestinians’ rights to resistance but denounces indiscriminate violence against civilians, the theocratic authoritarianism of Islamist groups like Hamas and the human rights abuses that Gazans themselves experienced under Hamas’ rule. Imagine if the pro-Palestine left understood the vast extent to which Hamas was a useful idiot in the nefarious designs of Netanyahu’s regime.

As Gazans turn against the Islamist group in droves due to the horrendous consequences of its deadly actions, it’s time for the pro-Palestine left to follow suit and abandon Hamas.

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