Hamas and the politics of silencing

It is not to be supposed the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, in announcing her ban on the political wing of Hamas, that she based her proposed policy on a dispassionate, objective consideration of Palestine/Israel issues.  Rather, her motivations are in part domestic, the proposed ban pandering to the strong UK Zionist lobby, not least in the Conservative Party; and, in part, to further bolster Israel’s determination to avoid any possibility of having to curb its expansionist, colonising project between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. However, if history teaches anything, it is that stifling voices one finds uncongenial prolongs conflict, rather than addresses its causes and manifestations.

Depressingly, though of no surprise, Patel, in part justification for banning Hamas, prayed in aid that ever-ready-to-hand blanket justification ‘the fight against anti-Semitism’. Somehow, the fight against anti-Semitism in the UK is, apparently, to be much aided by banning Hamas in this country.

Patel, of course, comes to Middle East issues tainted by questionable, indeed condemned, resigning issue behaviour, this in respect of her earlier under-the-table dealings with Israel. 

The Home Secretary has form in this part of the Middle East. A supporter of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI),  Patel caused a British media scandal when, in August 2017, whilst then the UK minister for international development, she used the cover of a ‘holiday’ in Israel to attend a series of secret meetings with Israeli ministers organised by the CFI.  The meetings were in defiance of UK ministerial rules which require a civil servant to take notes of any discussion. This did not occur – there is no way of knowing exactly what was discussed at the meetings. The scandal resulted in her resignation in November of that year.

Malign, Tiggerish zeal

But Patel, now Home Secretary, has bounced back with malign Tiggerish zeal as the scourge of would-be refugees and asylum seekers, whilst at the same time piloting through Parliament measures that will curb the right to protest. So, if you feel you should attend a public demonstration in favour of a more humane refugee and asylum policy, or in support of justice for Palestine, or indeed Hamas, well, watch out, you may be heading for trouble with the law.

But particularly in relation to Hamas, now that it is listed as a terrorist organisation, you and I would be committing an offence if we held a meeting with them. The Hamas which, as indicated above, won the democratic election of 2006 – overturned at the behest of the ‘democratic’ governments of the USA and Israel – and which, in a recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, found that 53 percent of Palestinians agree with the statement ‘Hamas is most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people,’ versus only 14 percent who say the same of Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas. Yet Western governments efforts are directed to propping up the widely discredited PA and its leader.


The ban on Hamas is not only scandalously inappropriate in terms of the politics of the Middle East, it is also an egregious assault on the democratic norms assumed to be held dear here in the UK. The ban on Hamas – we are not allowed to speak with it, nor hear it – is a ban on knowing and understanding the perspective of an organisation which, whether we like it or not, has significant support among Palestinians.  The corollary to this is that our sources of information about Palestine/Israel will not only be more limited than they might otherwise have been; they will also be, almost by definition, inherently distorted and unbalanced.  

Mainstream media, already in general woeful in its coverage of Palestine/Israel issues, both in terms of the extent of its coverage, but also in how coverage is framed, will now be institutionally incapable of informing us of the full range of factors, actors and perspectives that affect the Palestine/Israel issue.

We’ve been here before

We’ve been here before.  In 2003 the EU made the decision to add Hamas to a list of terrorist organisations, a policy promoted ‘largely as a result of efforts made by Jack Straw’[1], at that time the UK’s foreign secretary under Tony Blair’s premiership. However, in 2006 Straw changed his position, telling Journalists that the West should be talking to Hamas because it had won the 2006 elections. Straw was sacked once his position became publicly known[2].

But, as if to demonstrate the purblind futility, the utter counter-productiveness, of pursuing a no recognition, no talks policy, be that with the IRA, the Taliban or, in this case, Hamas, Blair, by now ex-Prime Minister, and about to resign as envoy to Middle East Quartet – UN, USA, EU, Russia – held six meetings between 2015 – 2017 with Khaled Meshaal of Hamas’s political bureau.

In a 2017 interview, Blair regretted excluding Hamas from dialogue, and admitted that he was wrong to succumb to Israeli pressure to support the 2006 blockade of Gaza. ‘In retrospect, he said, ‘I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into dialogue and shifted their positions’.  

Blair, perhaps, would have benefited from heeding Eliza Manningham-Buller, former director of MI5 (UK’s internal security service) 2002-2007 who pointedly said ‘Terrorism is resolved through politics and economics not through arms and intelligence, however important a role these play.’

We’ve been here before – favouring bans and proscriptions of organisations deemed to be ‘terrorist’.  Such moves often add up to no more than gesture politics, though with potential lethal consequences as legitimate channels of communication are closed down.

None of which deters Israel in its quest to silence, indeed erase, authentic Palestinian voices. Hence its attempts to label as terrorists and ban six legitimate human rights organisations[3]. The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders said ‘human rights defenders are not terrorists and should never be smeared like this.’ The targeted groups include “key partners” of the UN Human Rights Office in the West Bank and Gaza.

Trapped by its own self-conception

Israel has a congenital reluctance to engage in meaningful dialogue with the people whose land it has stolen, and continues to steal. Israel, by its own self-definition – see its Basic Law of 2018 – is founded on ethno-religious principles and thus rightly found to be an apartheid, racist state, not least by its own Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem.

At its core, racism, by its own logic, cleaves to notions of purity. It is therefore obsessional in its quest to delineate firm and clear boundaries between categories of people based on, for example, skin colour, ideas about blood, and for the Israeli state, in terms of an ethno-religious category that it designates ‘Jewish’.  

Purity abhors, cannot tolerate, the possibility of contamination, of permeable boundaries. Israel, as currently constituted, cannot contemplate deviation from the exclusivist nature of its state as expressed in, for example Clauses 1B & 1C of its Basic Law:

  • The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfils its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
  • The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

Israel recognises, though does not say, that were it to engage with Palestinians in good faith, addressing key outstanding issues, that would necessarily call into question the fundamental provisions of the Basic Law.  A good faith engagement would, by implication, represent an existential threat to Israel’s current self-conception and manner of existence.  It would have to move from building spiritual, metaphorical, psychological and material barriers around itself, and instead hear what it wishes not to hear; and to see in itself, that which it so assiduously strives not to see. 

Acting in good faith implies that the state will have to accept that boundaries can be both fuzzy and permeable. And be all the better for that.

[1] Source: The masking of Hamas’s foreign policy, by Daud Abdull

[2] ibid

[3] The six organisations are: Al-Haq, a human rights group, Addameer, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. 

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