Right-wing propaganda from the United States and Israel often cite the popularity of the Islamist organization Hamas as proof of religious fundamentalism, thus making the idea of a Palestinian state a threat to Israel. However I believe that the fundamentalism displayed in the Palestinian territories is much overstated, and that the support for Hamas doesn’t necessarily equate to theological conservatism.
In Ramallah last week the Islamic court’s offices have a new employee: Amne Hamad, the first female ma’zouna (person with a mandate to preside over Muslim weddings) ever appointed by the Palestinian Authority. As well as being a great step forward for the Palestinian women’s rights movement, Hamad’s appointment challenges the zionist rhetoric that so often portrays Israel as the only socially liberal society in the Middle East.
Hamad’s appointment, despite being historic, is not as surprising as some would think as Hamas, who are portrayed as the entire government of the Palestinian territories, only administer the Gaza Strip, whereas President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party administers Ramallah along with the rest of the West Bank. With Fatah, a secular social-democratic party, running the government of the West Bank, socially progressive policies in the Middle East are being shown not to be the preserve of Israel.
Furthermore the recent escalation of terrorism by Orthodox Jews on Palestinians and homosexuals question whether Israel is the open and accepting society it purports to be, especially given the most right-wing members of Netanyahu’s government have historically advocated a genocide against the Palestinians. What Hamad’s appointment shows is that portraying Palestinians as all supporting Hamas is a lie, and that Fatah’s continued political role is at the forefront in promoting secular governance, which is largely absent from the Middle East.
Rather than religious fundamentalism, which does undoubtedly exist I believe that people in Gaza especially are drawn to Hamas for one reason: Hamas advocate Palestinian nationhood and armed resistance against the Israeli occupation. Hamas is seen by people in the Gaza Strip as freedom fighters to the end of the subjugation of Palestinians by the Israeli Defense (sic) Force.
A similar situation exists between the PKK and Turkey; everybody in south-eastern Turkey who supports the PKK, I would hazard to guess, is not a revolutionary libertarian socialist, which is one of the organization’s more prominent ideological tendencies. The PKK’s support among Turkish Kurds is largely based on their position to establish an independent Kurdish state as well as the party’s armed resistance to the government’s persecution of Turkey’s Kurdish community. I put it to you that this is the same as with Hamas; not every Hamas supporter in Gaza is a Sunni Islamist in the same way as not all supporters of the PKK are militant leftists (as much as I wish the latter were true).
The stated religiosity of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government and US officials is a red herring in order to tie the US government’s unwavering support for Israel to their opposition to terrorist groups like ISIS. I cannot help thinking that the grand irony of this entire situation is that if Israel had a less right-wing government that didn’t oppress the Palestinians are strongly as this one currently does, the Palestinian people wouldn’t support Hamas as strongly as more people would align with Fatah and other secular parties.