Israel, Hamas and Gazan Democracy
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Schusterman Visiting Israeli Scholar, Brown University
The military campaign in Gaza might be receding into the mist of history, but not so the political campaign to delegitimize Israel’s incursion or at least the “disproportionate” level of “civilian” destruction. Indeed, many critics have taken to accusing Israel of undermining democracy itself, for after all, didn’t Hamas come to power in legitimate democratic elections?
This broad-based attack, a “throw in everything but the kitchen sink” form of propagandistic vilification, actually undercuts its own logic – and when one thinks about it, actually strengthens Israel’s case. Here’s how.
If Hamas came to power through fair elections, then that means that the public supports its governance and policies. And if indeed Gaza remains a “democracy”, then certainly that same public could do much to make its displeasure known if Hamas were pursuing policies inimical to that public’s interests. One need not look further than Pakistan’s very recent mass protest and subsequent government concessions on the issue of the judiciary to understand how democratic extra-parliamentary activity can force policy change in Third World democracies.
The picture in Gaza is quite different from what we have just seen in Pakistan: most Gazans voted for Hamas because of its anti-Israeli policy (correction: terrorist missile lobbing policy), continued supporting it up to the Israeli incursion, and continue to support Hamas despite the massive Israeli destruction which their government brought upon them.
What that essentially means is that the concept of “innocent civilians” caught in the crossfire is meaningless or worse: it is outright misleading. Anyone supporting a combatant – not just militarily or logistically but politically as well – is fair game in war. Otherwise, FDR and the entire Allied leadership during World War 2 should have been held accountable as “war criminals” for bringing destruction on Germany’s civilian population, despite the fact that they voted Hitler into power and continued to support his regime for years thereafter. But of course, precisely that civilian support is what immunized the Allies from being “war criminals”. And lest there be no mistake, I am not over-reaching in such a parallel. From Israel’s (Jewish) perspective, Hamas is Hitler redux: a violent, ideologically-driven movement that has explicitly declared its policy of making Palestine judenrein.
The critics of Israel’s attack on Gaza make a fundamental error in conflating legitimate democratic processes with the automatic legitimacy of any policy that derives from such a process. The second does not follow from the first: on a personal level I can sign a “legal” contract with another person (legal in the sense that all provisions and remunerations for such agency are properly spelled out), but if the contract is for murder, such legalistic niceties have no moral force in law! The same with Gazan democracy: those who voted Hamas into power and continue to support its murderous policies “democratically”, should remember Shakespeare’s warning of being “hoist with his own petard”. Such democratic support makes the supporter an accomplice to murderous-terrorist policies, and as such fair game by the rules of warfare.
And when Hamas is not shooting missiles at Israel? Where is the legitimacy of Israel’s blockade (other than humanitarian supplies) when there’s a hudna (temporary truce)? Here too – to mix my metaphors – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If Hamas refuses to recognize the “Zionist entity” in principle, why should Israel be asked to do anything that enables the “Hamas entity” to survive? And if Gazans support such a negation of Israel’s right to exist, why should Israel enable anyone from the outside to support the Gazans beyond the minimum necessary for human sustenance? Let Hamas publicly recognize Israel’s right to exist and we shall see how fast the borders open up and trade ensues (fror proof, see “Fatah: West Bank” as an example of Israel’s underlying philosophy of tit for tat, this time in a positive direction).
The bottom line: those who use Gazan Democracy as “proof” of Israeli perfidy should think twice about their position. Democracy in Gaza that maintains Hamas’s hold on power only strengthens Israel’s case and provides ample legitimacy for its policies, past and present.
March 16, 2009